Walter leads his wife, Diane, through a minefield to find a time capsule he left forty years ago.
CONTENT WARNING: This short contains some strong violence.
Walter leads his wife, Diane, through a minefield to find a time capsule he left forty years ago.
CONTENT WARNING: This short contains some strong violence.
DIRECTED BY: Chase Dudley
FEATURING: Paula Marcenaro Solinger, Jonathan Stottmann, Keith Nicholson
PLOT: A lonely single father falls in love with the author of his daughter’s favorite books, only to discover that she may not be all she seems.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Marvelous Mandy is a straightforward Secret Sociopath thriller. Early misdirection helps create a certain confusion about the kind of movie we’re in for, but once the killing starts, it’s merely a race to each successive murder. Despite brief jaunts into the headspace of the two leads, there’s very little here that’s weird beyond the psychopathy of the killer.
COMMENTS: Before going any further, let’s be clear that this is absolutely loaded with SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. I’m giving away everything. With that in mind, let’s start with a fundamental question that Marvelous Mandy raises about horror-slasher-thriller movies.
Do you kill the kid?
The horror genre, perhaps more than any other, requires constant re-invention to maintain freshness in the eyes of its audience. How many ways can you find to yell “boo”? What happens when blood isn’t enough? Do you add in intestines? Where can you go after gore, other than more gore? Can you succeed entirely through twists and misdirections like M. Night Shyamalan, or do you pursue the nobody-gets-out-alive nihilism of an Eli Roth? Each movie must walk a delicate line, between restraint and wild abandon, between growing unease and sudden shock.
So, is killing the kid a step too far, signifying a plotter’s desperation, or possibly even an unsettled mind? Or is it a sign of the filmmaker’s purity of intent, preying on inherent fears, doing whatever is necessary to get a rise out of a jaded audience? The kind of movie you’re dealing with relies very heavily upon how the filmmaker has answered this question. (Speaking personally, I gave up on “CSI” after kids kept turning up on the slab too often, so my tolerance registers pretty low. But I understand the storytelling impulse.)
Marvelous Mandy attempts the difficult dance of being a little bit of both. Screenwriter (and Great Name Hall of Famer) Brentt Slabchuck introduces us to Harvey, a dedicated dad and wannabe stand-up comic with no chops who is so desperate for love that he makes an embarrassing plea to a way-too-young barista in front of half of Louisville. He then pairs this lovable loser with Mandy, a woman who projects instability from the first frame, a children’s author mysteriously slumming as a bookstore clerk who spurs every man who crosses her path to make some very ill-informed decisions. The film tries to play with suspense by extending Harvey’s ignorance of his danger long past the point where we see his peril, but because we’ve seen Mandy in action (which is not her real name), the only mystery remaining is when he will finally catch up to us, and whether it will be in time to make a difference. Harvey turns out to be a lot sharper than other men, but the die is cast.
Although Marvelous Mandy is a semi-professional production, director Dudley has assembled a game and determined cast. As Harvey, Stottmann is convincing as a man who knows he’s in over his head but unbowed, while Solinger plays Mandy’s madness to the hilt. There are also nice turns in the supporting cast, including Ryley Nicole as Mandy’s delightfully pissy co-worker, and Kenna Hardin, natural as Harvey’s faithful daughter. But the true standout is Keith Nicholson as a jovial, Stetson-wearing, tea-chugging private eye who does all the due diligence that nobody else manages to accomplish. Arriving in the third act to pursue Harvey’s spot-on suspicions about Mandy, he’s a breath of fresh air, wearing his enthusiasm and his character quirks loudly and proudly.
Dudley himself has some keen directorial instincts. He uses locations well, and he films Mandy’s violent attacks with skillful verisimilitude. Most impressive is a Hitchcockian tracking shot that begins with an attack and continues outside a house while the fight rages on, only catching up to the actors again at the end of the bloody assault.
Marvelous Mandy hints at certain ideas that might have taken the plot into unexplored territory. What would cause a children’s author’s mind to bisect into nurturing and violent halves? Would a man yearning for love still accept if it came with a dark side? What makes one man succumb to the lure of a femme fatale while another resists her deadly charms? Any of these might have lent shading or novelty to a subspecies of the genre—the Fatal Attraction trope—that threatens to become tired and boring. It never quite makes the turn on any of these, though, content instead to offer a woman with a messed-up brain and a drive for murder, and to turn her loose to do her thing.
Because, Mandy? She kills the kid. Turns out to be that kind of movie.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Marvelous Mandy is a darkly enjoyable movie that really doesn’t let on what it’s about until you’re already sucked in to then twist and turn into directions not thought possible…. add to that the film’s colour chart that for the most part feels a bit off and unreal, a directorial effort that stays away from spectacle to give the story space to breathe, and a great cast, and you’ve got yourself a really cool movie!”–Mike Haberfelner, [re] Search My Trash
DIRECTED BY: ,
FEATURING: Joana Castro, Bruno Senune, Carina de Matos, Falvia Barabas, Daniel Pires
PLOT: Shuffling between the interior and exterior of a building (with guest appearances from some jagged cliffside rocks), various symbolic events occur because of the actions of various symbolic people.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This clutter of film scenes might be interpreted as “weird”, but I’m leery to describe the onscreen capering as a “movie”. Perhaps it’s just my staggering lack of interpretive skills, but when the characters are only somewhat explainable because you read the opening credits, I find the “movie” part a bit wanting. Not much is clear, and the lack of dialogue handily augments the altogether excessive incoherence of the narrative.
COMMENTS: I shall begin by saying that Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais may well have accomplished something impressive with their symbol-ridden film, The Kingdom of Shadows. Throughout the film there are little hiccups of inspired images that, in isolation, would make for compelling photographs to ponder. The lack of dialogue lends itself to a lack of explanation, but that allows for a mutuality of incomprehension across the globe. Unfortunately, it leaves the viewer grasping blindly for what it is the filmmakers are trying to say.
The story proper (I am guessing) begins weirdly enough with a pair of golden hands magically boiling up a pot of water. What ensues is a long-form mishmash of figurative images and sequences that vaguely intrigue, and certainly baffle, the viewer. A furtive young man appears during the bridging sequences, who may be acting as witness, along with us viewers. Inside a 19th-century (?) house, a clutch of people (indicated in the credits as “mother”, “daughter”, “uncle”, and so on) interact in strange ways with motives that are impossible to divine. An inspector comes along at some point (again, we know his vocation only from the credits) and twirls his mustache a lot. Eventually the gang inside the house takes up arms against the “daughter,” driving her outside. Interrupting the action is a pair of (usually naked) young people having quasi-dance-like interactions of joy, terror, and sundry other feelings.
As I’ve hinted in the preceding paragraphs, while there may be a lot going on in the movie, very little of it makes any sense. It would help if I knew what the directors were trying to say, and a commentary would no doubt be illuminating. That said, this presents a problem: any movie that cannot stand up to unsupervised viewing is of dubious merit. If there isn’t clarity, there needs to be a “vibe” of some sort, or at least an ambience. However, The Kingdom of Shadows is too scattered to have such a vibe, and any ambience is sabotaged by incoherent or careless touches. To support the latter, I give the example of a slow-moving “pursuit” scene through one of the house’s corridors. The turn-of-the-last-century feel is utterly destroyed by a very obvious smoke detector on the wall. Its square plastic frame and glowing electric light immediately crush whatever mood may have been built.
I have no doubt that all those involved poured their hearts and souls into making this movie, so it pains me a little to have to be so down on it. After the sturm und drang of various troubled moans from the young observer, after the not-quite balletic artiness of the “Adam and Eve” vignettes, and after the cranked up symbolism, we’re still left with something that’s a bit amateurish and more than a bit boring. If there were an unhealthy halfway point between How the Sky Will Melt and Begotten, this movie hits it, and hits it hard. ‘s piece—while perhaps incomprehensible—has that dream-like “thing” required for such an exercise in post-narrative film. That “thing” is never found by the directors of The Kingdom of Shadows, which is more the pity.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a film that does never try to make perfect sense, instead using impressive, often tableau-like imagery to get its point across… a film like this might not be for everybody, but those with open minds are up for a fascinating journey…”–Mike Haberfelner, [re]Search My Trash (contemoraneous)
Less than a month ago reaction channels unearthed this monstrosity from deep within YouTube. The idea alone isn’t incredibly weird, but the ambiguity of the intent behind creating this video makes many wish they could simply unsee it.
Tenemos la Carne
DIRECTED BY: Emiliano Rocha Minter
FEATURING: Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel
PLOT: A teenage brother and sister find their way to the lair of a hermit, who seduces them into acting out increasingly depraved, increasingly hallucinatory scenarios.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The overall project may seem to lack much purpose, but it’s intense and uncompromising—and weird—enough to merit a look.
COMMENTS: The new year is only a few weeks old, and already we have a contender for Weirdest Movie of 2017. A demonic hermit uses two disciples—one reluctant, one willing—to transform his habitat into a womblike space where he enacts bizarre, perverse fantasies eventually incorporating sadism, rape, orgies, murder, cannibalism, and more. As the ringmaster in this cavalcade of perversions, Noé Hernández is believably crazy. He looks like he stinks, and rants like a guy you’d cross the street to avoid meeting. He projects a very specific form of charisma: like a Mexican Manson, he has a gravity capable of capturing those irretrievably lost to themselves in his orbit. “People shy from certain thoughts. Their lives are a continuous distraction from their own perversion,” the wild-eyed messiah preaches to an improbably intrigued teenage girl, while flapping his arms like a bird in the void. “Solitude drags you, forces you to come face to face with your darkest fantasies. And when nothing happens, you stop being afraid of your most grotesque thoughts.”
With siblings and a perverted Svengali, the story goes exactly where you think it will; but, incest is only the beginning. Once they indulge that taboo, all the walls come crashing down—and the plot immediately hops onto whatever crazy train it can catch, going to places you can’t possibly predict. In fact, after the strangely beautiful incest montage, shot in psychedelic thermal imaging and scored to a romantic Spanish ballad, there can hardly be said to be a plot at all, only a series of deranged, escalating provocations. (One presumes that in Catholic Mexico, the movie’s blasphemous parody of Christ—both the resurrection and the Eucharist—is the most shocking element). On a literal level, you might try to explain it all as the result of an all-purpose drug the hermit keeps in an eyedropper, which is capable of producing intoxication, serving as an antidote to his own homebrewed poisons, and possibly preserving the brains of those he’s lobotomized. More likely, the hermit simply personifies perverse desire, and the movie is a representation of the nightmare of a narcissistic world of pure desire without taboos or boundaries. The tumbling of moral walls allows the irrational to flood in.
As shock cinema goes, Flesh displays far more artistry than most. The lighting is extraordinary—purple-lit faces in front of glowing yellow portals that serve to block, rather than lead to, the opaque outside world. These touches elevate the minimalist set into a true dream space. The music is also well-deployed, with horror-standard rumblings alternating with ironically beautiful ballads and a Bach concerto. Flesh shows the imagination of Salo., mixed with the despairing nihilism of , in a scenario reminiscent of
As for misgivings: I wonder if Flesh has enough substance to compensate us for its unpleasantness. Late in the film, it takes a stab at social relevance, with a subversive recital of the Mexican national anthem and a paradigm-shifting final scene. But these digressions come off as afterthoughts to a movie whose main interest is to indulge its own most grotesque thoughts. And there, I wonder if the film doesn’t pull its own perverse punch. A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex was deeply chilling because he made you feel the appeal and charm of evil; the hermit here does not. He’s too clearly insane, too cartoonish in his fleshy villainy. The ominous music and horror movie atmosphere also instruct you to be repulsed rather than aroused. Despite the madman’s advice, this movie does want you to be afraid of its most grotesque thoughts. But fans of extremity cinema will—pardon the pun—eat it up.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Two astronauts are stranded on an Earth-like planet where the biome appears chaotic, but actually behaves in an orderly, mechanical way. This short originally aired on the Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim.”
Dear viewer, the time has come to open your heart and empty your wallet to help cure whatever is wrong with these people.
Merriam-Webster anointed “surreal” the “Word of the Year” for 2016, so maybe the film world was just capitalizing on the zeitgeist when movies about a hotel prison for single people, a farting corpse, and an underage model devoured by the beautiful people all got major exposure on cinema screens this year. Old hands like and were joined by a promising crop of (often bloody) new blood: “ ,” , and Anna Biller. Pregnant druggies, greasy stranglers, and hooty-tooty disco cuties paraded across screens, while castaways rode corpses to freedom and Muppets assisted at the birth of Satanic alien spawn.
We had no problem filling out our list of ten weird ones for you to check out, and that’s not even counting the revival of 1973’s Belladonna of Sadness, the softcore psychedelic witchcraft rape-revenge anime that was so unseen it basically could count as a new release in 2016. We’re also leaving off a trio of features seen only at film festivals: the Polish mermaid musical The Lure; Psychonauts: The Forgotten Children, the feature-length expansion of the hit Spanish short film “Birdboy“; and She’s Allergic to Cats, the underground/avant-garde romantic comedy filled with grimy video art montages exploring the struggles of an L.A. dog groomer who wants to make a version of Carrie starring cats. (Plus the dialogue-free pharmaceutical horror [?] Atmo HorroX which, while not a favorite, beat everything in 2016 in terms of sheer weirdness). Any of those films would have made the list had they received actual distribution; hopefully, all of them will show up on next year’s list.
As for the choice of movies, I personally pick them using a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the level of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I rank them in whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that. As always, we list the films in random order—the weirdest of orders.
9. The Brand New Testament: God is alive and living in Brussels, and he’s a jerk. His 10-year old daughter hacks his computer and leaks humanity’s death dates, then goes to Earth to write a new Gospel. Literate and genially blasphemous comedy with bizarre touches, like Catherine Deneuve sleeping with a gorilla. Also #6 on our 2016 mainstream movie list, which should tell you that it’s quality exceeds its weirdness. Director Weirdest Movies of All Time.
It’s fashionable to rag on 2016—with good reason—but this was an excellent year in film. My honorable mentions from the year past include a couple of fantastic foreign animated features that were ignored by the mainstream press: the French steampunk fantasy April and the Extraordinary World and ‘ Harmony, the only movie where the World Health Organization is cast as a villain. Also worthy of a mention are two-time Certified Weird director Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival (almost a postmodern Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and I Am Not Your Negro, which is basically just Samuel L. Jackson reading unpublished reflections of writer James Baldwin—making it the most authoritative commentary on race relations in a year that included 13th and the epic O.J.: Made in America. Either could have made the top ten in a weaker year. We should also mention Weiner, a documentary giving us unprecedented access to the title character’s bizarre act of political self-destruction—a man so hounded by his own incomprehensible demons that he could not keep from publicly humiliating himself again even after the movie’s release. And how could we forget Swiss Army Man, which easily made the list of the but barely missed 2016’s pan-genre top ten.
10. Peter and the Farm: Documentary following Peter Dunning, a depressed 68-year old alcoholic Vermonter who works his declining farm alone. Poetic and honest; Peter despairs, but keeps drinking and keeps farming, realizing he and his farm have become one. A good antidote to the populist and inspirational Gleason: not everyone is cheerfully persistent in the face of death. Some critics felt the documentary was exploitative, but I believe the articulate Peter is in full possession of his faculties (when sober) and is deliberately pushing our noses in a view of mortality we would prefer to deny.
9. Finding Dory: A fish with very early onset Alzheimer’s is lost in the ocean for years and tries to find her way back to her home and parents, assisted by characters from Finding Nemo, a “septopus,” and other colorful aquatic anthromorphs. There are four great things about this movie: the fast-moving plot, the cute sea creatures, the excellent animation, and I forgot the other one.
8. The Jungle Book: Mogwli, an orphaned “man cub” raised in the jungles of India by a pack of wolves, has adventures with the talking animals while fleeing the man-killing tiger Shere Khan. This is the first of Disney’s recent series of live action remakes that is clearly superior to the animated original. Jon Favreau keeps most of the humor and a little bit of the music but ramps up the peril and expands the scope so the movie feels like an epic adventure rather than a lightweight musical comedy.
7. Moana: Defying her parents, an island princess sails off to find a mischievous trickster demigod (voiced by the Rock) to help save her home. Once again, Disney successfully tweaks their formula with this Polynesian themed winner that features unique sidekicks (a particularly dumb chicken, an impudent tattoo) and adversaries (coconut pirates, a giant singing crab). The name had to be changed in Continue reading TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016: THE MAINSTREAM EDITION
“I was surprised by reactions to the film. I thought people would find it funny or absurd, but people look really shaken when they come out. When we screened it at South by Southwest, there was a filmmaker I know who makes very strange films. And afterward, he looked like he had been through the wringer: ‘I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ What can seem fun to one person can seem totally deranged to someone else.”–Jim Hosking, Rolling Stone
FEATURING: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo
PLOT: Big Ronnie eats an extremely greasy diet and runs a scam tour of L.A. disco locations with his unmarried adult son and live-in cook Brayden. At night he transforms into a lard-soaked monster who strangles people. When Brayden catches the eye of a girl on the tour, Big Ronnie becomes jealous and determines to seduce her himself.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Big Ronnie’s big prosthetic, flapping in the car wash blower’s breeze.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Disco spotlight; pig-nosed stranglee; “hootie tootie disco cutie”
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Gross, greasy and bizarre, Jim Hosking‘s debut feature is the closest thing you’ll see to a modern John Waters Trash Trilogy film, filtered through the fashionable surreal comedy sensibilities of Tim and Eric or Quentin Dupieux. Strangler is more than the sum of those influences, however: it is its own little world where a lisping man with a pig snout can walk around town without raising an eyebrow, and a spotlight might suddenly appear on an alley wall for a character to do a spontaneous dance number. The fat-to-nutrient content is too out-of-whack for this to count as healthy entertainment, but it’s fine as a guilty pleasure treat. It’s too big, bold and weird to be ignored; it’s not 2016’s best movie, or even the year’s best weird movie, but it is this season’s most insistently in-your-face assault on taste and reality.
COMMENTS: “Let’s get greasy!” shouted the producers from the Continue reading 262. THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)