Four teenagers each get too caught up in a moment to act rationally.
DIRECTED BY: Carol Morley
FEATURING: Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh
PLOT: The students at an all-girls school experience a collective mass hysteria after one of their group unexpectedly passes away. But what is really causing this strange illness, and can its spell be broken?
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Falling is a symphony of opposites, a nauseating yet excessively beautiful film, one that simultaneously rejects and then accepts the extremes of female sexuality. Purposefully instilled with a sense of obscurity, it could be viewed as an extended analogy or a horror film without a monster, depending on how weird you want it to be.
COMMENTS: Following in the footsteps of more familiar New Weird British directorsand , Carol Morely has crafted a film full of plausible deniability. Actions and reactions seem to offer explanations, before wrenching them away from you at the last moment. Like its recent predecessors, The Falling is impressive in that it can be so disturbing in direct opposition to its visual presentation: stark and quiet, empty but beautiful, each frame uncluttered, the pace perfectly languid. Not many films can find stability between intellectual stimulation and visceral distraction, but The Falling manages it more often than not, primarily due to its dedication to the autumnal, timeless setting and lack of any exposition.
This lack of exposition could be mistaken for general weirdness in any other film but, a lot like Innocence (another brilliant film set in an all-girls school), The Falling isn’t obfuscating for the sake of obfuscation. Morley has written extensively on her obsession with mass hysteria among teenage girls (a more common occurrence than you would think) along with the total lack of explanation for these mysterious events. Seeing the phenomenon presented on screen is a chilling, confusing experience. It is also an immediately arresting concept, and Morley runs with it, from the humble beginnings of an eerie teenage friendship through to sexual awakening, identity issues, and even suggestions of witchcraft. Whilst there is never an overt explanation for the fainting spells, facial tics and personality changes that the girls go through, the sexual awakenings of many characters seem to be a starting point for their sudden transformations. At some points, the film is a satire of Catholicism’s fear of sexuality: the idea that if just one teenage girl were to become sexually active and pregnant then it would sweep through their ranks like an epidemic, stealing their individuality away from them and creating beings who act impulsively, flustered by their sexual desires. At other times, it’s character-driven, a study of youthful diversion and identity crisis for our young protagonist Lydia.’s
The films provocation would not be as powerful without the stirring performances of the girls that inhabit the pristine surroundings of the school. Maisie Williams, better known as “Game of Thrones”‘s Arya Stark, sheds her more famous character with immense maturity, willing her character forward despite challenging scenes of incest, abuse and supposed insanity. In fact, credit should go to Morley and all her actresses for working together to eek out impressively subtle performances, especially in a film with such difficult content. The constant musical dream-pop interludes are a little excessive and redundant, and the conclusion isn’t quite worth the set-up, but if this is the future of British film, we should have a lot to look forward to because of the continually expressive and experimental efforts that Morley should certainly be a part of in the future.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“There are shades here of Joseph Losey and Ken Russell, albeit with a staunch feminist perspective. The storytelling may waver in conviction after a woozily riveting setup, but not enough to impede healthy domestic arthouse prospects…” – Guy Lodge, Variety
DIRECTED BY: Hooroo Jackson
FEATURING: Allisyn Ashley Arm, Michael William Hunter, Sara Murphy, Terry Moore,
PLOT: While a mysterious virus ravages the outside world, a quirky teenage girl is forced to undergo brain surgery to become “normal,” then imprisoned by her family.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Weird? Yes, indeed. But this stylish debut, while pretty, doesn’t quite pull all its ribbons together into the tidiest of bows.
COMMENTS: Allisyn Ashley Arm may headline, and Crispin Glover’s name may sell tickets, but the real star of Aimy in a Cage is Chloe Barcelou, the production and costume designer. She creates an arresting world that looks like a post-apocalyptic “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” Set in a single sprawling flat that recalls visual icons like , and even or a wacked-out at times, the movie looks like a trippy graphic novel come to life. In Terry Moore’s first scene, she wears improvised beer can rollers in her hair. Aimy earns herself headgear that looks like
Unfortunately, the story does not engage us nearly as much as the film’s visual milieu does. The problem is with Aimy herself. Not with the performance of Arm, an ex-Disney Channel star who seems like she would be lovable in another project. She does exactly what she is asked to do here, which is to act bratty and scream a lot. Aimy is totally narcissistic, in that bright teenage girl way; she’s the kind of character who complains, “why can’t you all just accept me for who I am?” while doing an interpretive dance and throwing fistfuls of candy into the face of her long-suffering boyfriend. The movie starts out with misunderstood Aimy breaking her grandmother’s treasured vintage doll and getting into a shrieking contest with the old bat, and it just gets more and more shrill as it goes on. Aimy is abused, its true, but in the opening reels she gives as good as she gets, and we can totally understand and sympathize with the family’s decision to tie her to a chair and gag her. When the girl taunts her grandmother, hateful though the old harridan may be, about her fiancé’s recent abandonment and laughs that the old woman will die alone, are we really supposed to take her side? It’s as if the script simply assumes we will side with the young against the old and the artist against the conformist, and so doesn’t feel the need to make Aimy likable in any way.
Does that mean the girl earns the torture that is heaped on her in the later reels, which ranges from psychological abuse to lobotomy to being tied in a chair and force-fed while begging to die? Of course not. But successful antiheroes, from Alex deLarge to the Comedian of Entertainment, have two things Aimy doesn’t: they are given some redeeming, humanizing characteristic for the audience to latch on to, and their suffering is treated seriously, as something real, no matter how unreal their surroundings may otherwise be. Aimy’s chaotic character is closer to abrasive roles in ‘ early comedies, but she doesn’t have the drag queen’s perversely lovable outrageousness.
Glover’s character, a sort of southern gentleman gigolo in a fur coat, is decent, but the role’s subdued nature means his casting takes more advantage of the actor’s weirdo cred than his gonzo energy. For Glover, however, not spazzing out all over the screen is stretching as an actor, and it’s interesting to see him take on a subtler weird role.is prominently billed, but her appearance amounts to a forgettable cameo that makes no difference in the story.
In Aimy‘s defense, it does effectively capture a budding teenager’s sense of self-absorption and paranoia; that alone does not, however, make for a pleasant or rewarding moviegoing experience. Still, there will be those who will want to uncage Aimy for the visuals alone, and I won’t dissuade you: as long as you have a high tolerance for abrasive adolescent antics, it may be worth a VOD rental. Aimy in a Cage does not have an official release set yet, although a Blu-ray is listed with the possibly specious date of April 1, 2016.
There is one additional weird point to make about Aimy in a Cage, but it relates to the film’s funding rather than its content. Writer Hooroo Jackson invested almost everything he had in Bitcoin in 2012, when the price of a digital coin stood at $10, and cashed out when the virtual currency rose to $650. He used the proceeds to fund a movie version of his own graphic novel. I can’t think of any nobler way to dissipate a lightning-in-a-bottle windfall than that.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s not just that the always quirky Crispin Glover is featured in Aimy in a Cage that makes it weird… Fans of twisted independent cinema might celebrate Aimy in the Cage (it won the Director’s Prize at the Portland (Oregon) Film Festival), and it is a beautiful film to behold, but the damn thing is madder than Alice’s Hatter!”–Elias Savada, Film International (contemporaneous)
“We realized why Debora and I have such extraordinary telepathy, and why people treat us and look at us the way they do. It is because we are mad—we are both stark raving mad!”–Pauline Parker, diary entry
FEATURING: Melanie Lynskey, , Sarah Peirse
PLOT: Pauline, a socially awkward young teen, finds a friend in Juliet, a new arrival at her girls’ school in 1950s Christchurch, New Zealand. Juliet is witty and has traveled the world, and together she and Pauline invent a rich epic about the royal family of the fictional kingdom Borovnia, complete with stories chronicling the dynasty’s adventures and clay figurines Juliet molds to represent the main characters. As their relationship grows closer and develops a sexual component, the girls shut out the rest of the world, living out a fantasy of shared hallucinations and referring to each other by invented names, until their parents grow concerned and try to separate them.
- The story is based on a real-life murder that shocked New Zealand in the 1950s. The film’s voiceovers are direct quotes from Pauline Parker’s diaries.
- After being released from prison, Juliet Hulme became a successful writer of mysteries working under her new name, Anne Perry. She publicly revealed her identity as Heavenly Creatures was being produced. Pauline Parker did not wish to be found, but was later discovered working with handicapped children.
- After the film was released Perry stated that the two girls had never had a lesbian relationship, as had been commonly supposed, although this denial was not public information when Heavenly Creatures‘ script was written. Pauline’s diary entries clearly hinted at a sexual relationship, but these could have been a young girl’s confused fantasies.
- Heavenly Creatures was a totally unexpected arthouse outing from New Zealand director Peter Jackson, whose previous works had all been outrageous exploitation films: the gory Bad Taste, the transgressive puppet show Meet the Feebles, and the zombie comedy Dead-Alive [AKA Brain Dead].
- Nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (where it lost, understandably, to Pulp Fiction).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The plasticine Borovnians, particularly the homicidal Diello, who decapitates a homophobic psychiatrist, among his other crimes.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: The Fourth World; deflowering hallucination; hideous Orson Welles.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Adolescent melodrama blossoms into mature tragedy in the delirious Heavenly Creatures. Odd, overdramatic lighting schemes and a flighty camera track two young girls’ trajectory from obsessive daydreaming to outright madness. Peter Jackson’s stunning, surreal realizations of the girls’ fantasies about celebrity heartthrobs and a kingdom of killers sculpted from clay put the film over the top.
Trailer for heavenly Creatures
COMMENTS: In 1994, if you imagined Peter Jackson directing a Continue reading 210. HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)
Sala Samobójców, AKA Suicide Room
DIRECTED BY: Jan Komasa
FEATURING: Jakub Gierszal, Agata Kulesza, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Roma Gasiorowska-Zurawska
PLOT: When a spoiled rich boy is mocked after an embarrassing high school incident publicly
reveals his homosexual desires, he retreats into a virtual world, a community called “suicide room” full of teens trying to work up the courage to kill themselves.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The hallucinatory virtual reality episodes that look like video captures from “Sims 3: Depressed Emo Kid Expansion Pack” add a novelty and curiosity factor, but @suicideroom isn’t weird at its core: it’s an earnest look at teen depression and suicide.
COMMENTS: Call it a gimmick if you must, but @suicideroom‘s animated sequences are the drawing card rather than a distraction in this teen depression drama. Without the virtual reality wrinkle, this Polish import would play a bit like a suicide-prevention after-school special with a budget, complete with almost comically uninvolved, clueless parents and an appropriately over-emoting tortured teen. The backstory is simple enough. Dominik is handsome, popular and privileged. He’s already got a date for the prom and a private chauffeur supplied by his absentee parents. He’s got everything a slightly-Bieberish looking kid could want, and is the last guy in his class who you’d expect to suffer from depression—but after a male-on-male dare-kiss goes viral, he quickly goes from heartthrob to pariah. And here’s where things get a little strange. Dominik retreats to his room, where after thrashing about a bit and beating his mattress in despair, a chat window pops up on his laptop and invites him to join an online community. After personalizing his avatar he finds himself set loose in an impossibly detailed virtual nightclub, chasing a comely toon with pink hair; they go to video chat and he meets Sylwia, a weepy blonde shut-in wearing a plastic mask who is also the proprietress of the “Suicide Room.” Sylwia is both a character in the real-life story and a symbol of the romantic allure of youthful melancholia; there is a mysterious, allegorical feel to her unlikely online recruitment/seduction of Dominik. Once Dominik is initiated into the secret suicide society, any pretense that this is a real virtual community disappears; the impossibly fluid and responsive world of Suicide Room follows the rules of an animated cartoon, not the clunky mechanics of online community like World of Warcraft. Characters fight ridiculously complicated anime-inspired duels seen through multiple angles and split-screens, sail over oceans of polygonal waves, and turn into howling banshees when they get angry. What we see is the online world as embellished by Dominik’s imagination, a wired existence that’s realer and more appealing to him than the harsh realities of the world outside his door. The stylistic strategy could be described either as “virtual magical realism” or “digital Expressionism.” Whatever you call it, it may be in fact too successful, since whenever we’re following Dominik’s “real” story we’re always looking forward to our next trip inside the dreamlike magical box for a peek at what the electronic pixies have been up to in our absence. Unfortunately, nothing good can last, and Dominik’s return to the real world when his Internet is pulled ends in tragedy, and with a phone number for a suicide prevention hotline. It’s not entirely clear whether the director means to criticize social media for encouraging isolation from the real world and allowing the spread of dangerous ideas like suicide-promotion support groups, or whether its prominence in the story simply reflects teen reality at this point in history. Regardless, such musings add a bit more interest to this well-intentioned, semi-successful, slightly odd drama that may resonate with the younger crowd.
While it’s a worthwhile watch, @suicideroom is a tough movie to market outside of its native Poland. In the U.S.A., emo went out of style in November 2011, exactly one year after silly bandz, and even the most depressed American teenager would watch that Katy Perry movie before tuning in to a subtitled Polish film with opera on the soundtrack.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…helmer-writer Jan Komasa overplays his hand… ultimately creating an unsympathetic protagonist whose fate doesn’t inspire much interest… Replete with bizarre avatars, the pic’s slick animated segments convey the feeling of being inside an online sword-and-sorcery game.”–Alissa Simon, Variety (contemporaneous)
A socially inept boy covered in boils is reluctantly invited to a party by a girl who does not seem to share his feelings of infatuation.
Content Warning: The Virgin Herod contains some sexual content and graphic, nauseating imagery. You may want to wash your hands after viewing.
DIRECTED BY: Jim Henson
PLOT: A dreamy teenage girl must rescue her kidnapped baby brother by journeying to the Goblin City at the center of a bizarre labyrinth.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite the MC Escher-inspired set-design, the unexpected sexual tension between teenaged Connelly and fruitily-dressed goblin king Bowie, and a devout cult following, Labryinth is ultimately just too close to a mainstream Muppet fantasy to place on a List of the 366 Weirdest movies. We’ve passed over slightly stranger movies in this genre—the visually similar Henson-directed The Dark Crystal and the thematically similar Henson-produced MirrorMask—and, although I think Labyrinth is a better film than either of those, it’s difficult to justify certifying this one when its companion films don’t even get to sniff the List.
COMMENTS: In The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland’s breasts were famously flattened out with tape so the 16-year old could play a pre-pubescent girl. Labyrinth takes a different strategy: 14-old Jennifer Connelly plays exactly her age, portraying a hormonally testy girl-woman caught at the stage where her attention starts to shift from stuffed animals to the well-stuffed pants of strutting rock stars. That shot of rising estrogen distinguishes Labyrinth from other Oz/Alice in Wonderland fairy tale variations, giving it a subtext that goes over the heads of the tots in the audience but leaves adults with additional nuggets to ponder (and no, that’s not another reference to Bowie’s stretch pants).
There’s an impressive amount of imagination on display here, starting with Henson’s puppets, who reveal an almost limitless variety (each individual goblin looks like a representative of its own species) and a nearly human expressiveness (to be honest, the puppets out-act both Connelly and Bowie). The girl’s three companions—the cowardly dwarf Hoggle, the bestial Ludo, and Sir Didymus, the comic relief knight/terrier—are all worthy additions to Henson’s Muppet menagerie, and there is a zoo full of eccentric Wonderland-esque supporting creatures, including walking playing cards, Continue reading CAPSULE: LABYRINTH (1986)
DIRECTED BY: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Hideaki Anno
FEATURING: Spike Spencer, Allison Keith-Shipp (English dub)
PLOT: Following the events of Evangelion 1.11, the Angel incursions against Tokyo-3 increase
in intensity, and two new teenage Evangelion pilots are integrated into the NERV defense team. Also, the world ends, I think.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What to do with Evangelion? A combo teen soap opera/end-of-the-world saga starring giant robots, the series is weird, but in a way that’s actually sort of conventional (in anime terms). Even worse, there are now four movies (and a long running TV series) telling essentially the same story—with two more on the way. Should all the movies make the List? None? Only the weirdest one? Whatever the case, I don’t think this installment is capable of being counted among the best weird movies ever made; but I’m also thankful we get to defer the issue until we’ve checked out the series’ entire run.
COMMENTS: Here’s a typical battle between an Angel (periodically appearing bad guy) and an Evangelion (giant robot that can only be piloted by a teenager). Battleships fire pink and yellow shells at the Angel, a wire-frame robot with a pendulum hanging between its legs, as it marches towards them, instantly freezing the blood red sea with every stride and leaving a huge snowflake as a footstep. It shoots laser beams from a globe and blows the battleships, causing the scarlet water to erupt into cross-shaped spouts. A warplane drops a giant robot (hereafter “Eva”); it evades the green-tipped black lines the Angel fires at it as it falls. The Eva blows up the Angel with a gun, but it immediately reconstitutes itself. The Eva next stomps on the Angel’s laser-firing spike, which causes translucent pink and yellow auras to fill up the sky. Eventually the Eva’s foot forces the spike all the way into its command globe, and the Angel explodes into a pink cross. Each melee shot lasts for a second or less, increasing the confusion as to what the hell is supposed to be going on. In Evangelion Angels can take any form, including scuttling robots with dinosaur-skull heads and 1970s-era Pink Floyd laser light shows, and they operate according to rules that are never explained. (I’m fairly sure the Angels have no actual protocols Continue reading CAPSULE: EVANGELION 2.22: YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE (2009)
DIRECTED BY: Ari Folman, Ori Sivan
FEATURING: Lucy Dubinchik, Halil Elohev, Johnny Peterson, Yigal Naor, Israel Damidov, Joe El Dror
PLOT: An Israeli girl uses her psychic powers to help classmates cheat on tests, but she will
lose them if she falls in love.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Clara Hakedosha mixes quirkiness, magical realism, coming-of-age drama and light absurdity together in exotic and unfamiliar proportions, like a postmodern twist on some ancient Israeli narrative recipe. After watching it twice and thinking about it for weeks, I’m still not sure I know what the point is, and can’t decide whether I enjoyed it or not. Maybe that’s the sign of a truly weird movie?
COMMENTS: Lucy Dubinchik plays 13-year old Clara, “a weird Russian girl with purple eyes,” with a blank face that makes it hard to figure out what she’s thinking or feeling. Given that her character is defined by her mysterious psychic powers, it’s appropriate that she’s inscrutable; but it’s still a relief when a recognizable emotion like fear or contentment briefly flits across her face. Though it often does an excellent job of evoking that period of early adolescence on the eve of your first kiss, the filmmakers’ motives in Saint Clara can be as inscrutable as those of a 13-year old girl—you may find yourself watching the action and wondering what the filmmakers intended you to feel. For example, there’s a scene where a baseball bat-wielding child gangster (chauffeured by his 16-year old sister) and his female sidekick (in an aviator’s helmet) demand the passing Clara climb in their convertible: “Get in, fairy. We’ll take you for a ride in heaven.” Sitting in the backseat, the kids ride through a neon-drenched city with completely expressionless faces as organ-driven cruising music chugs on in a minor key. Is Clara a captive, or just a kid out on a joyride with schoolmates? Is her host trying to intimidate her, or make her fall in love with him? Saint Clara contain odd, alienating moments that strangen what might otherwise be a simple, quirky love story between a boy and his psychic fantasy girl. There’s the reporter on television with the puffy black hat who’s always warning of impending nuclear or ecological disasters while carrying a lapdog or sporting a yellow raincoat; the constant talk of rebellion, as if the kids are a bunch of Marxist revolutionaries from the 1960s; the peculiar anecdotes their teachers tell about meeting Bobby Fischer and Edith Piaf; Uncle Elvis, a former psychic who lost his powers just as Clara will one day, who walks his pet goat through town like a dog; and there’s the huge bird that crashes through the classroom window one day, somehow turning the sky blood red in the process. Adolescence here is a brief, bored slice of time perched perpetually on the brink of an apocalypse—although when the disaster finally arrives, it turns out to be a letdown. For these kids, the onset erotic love entails the loss of childhood magic and vitality. The story is as much, if not more, about Clara’s would-be beau as it is about her; his infatuation with this “weird Russian girl” may cost him his position in the punk pecking order. Barry Sakharov’s instrumental rock soundtrack, with its main theme with guitars screeching like birds of prey in the distance, adds to the film’s odd ambiance. Saint Clara seems to beg for an allegorical explanation, and there are allusions to political events that may make more sense to an Israeli than to an outsider; but perhaps its only purpose is to capture the iherent surrealism of puberty. If so, it hits the mark squarely.
Co-director Ori Sivan disappeared from the cinema stage but found a home in television, adapting his hit Israeli series “Be Tipul” as “In Treatment” for HBO, starring Gabriel Byrne as a psychotherapist who is in therapy himself. The other co-director, Ari Folman, went on to score a big arthouse hit with the fairly weird Waltz With Bashir (2008), an animated examination of the Israeli national conscience, and is currently in post-production on the animated sci-fi adaptation The Congress (see this post).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
AKA The Never Dead (Australia)
“…when you’re dealing with a movie with this many oddball ideas, and a director who’s not afraid to ‘go weird’ just because he wants to, your best bet is probably just to keep quiet, enjoy the ride, and then see how you feel once the whole crazy experience is over with.”–Scott Weinberg, Fearnet
DIRECTED BY: Don Coscarelli
PLOT: While secretly observing services for a deceased family friend, recently orphaned 13 year-old Mike witnesses an impossible feat performed by the funeral director known only as The Tall Man. Later, while following the older brother he adores to a tryst in a cemetery, he spoils the romantic ambiance when he tries to warn his brother of a dwarf-like creature he sees scurrying in the shadows. The Tall Man begins appearing in Mike’s nightmares, and he journeys alone to the isolated funeral home to gather evidence to support his belief that the mortician is responsible for the strange happenings in his New England town.
- The kernel of the idea for Phantasm came from a dream writer/director Coscarelli had in his late teens where he was “being pursued through a corridor by some kind of flying steel ball.”
- Coscarelli, only 23 years old when Phantasm began production, not only wrote and directed the film but also served as cinematographer and editor.
- The film originally received an “X” rating in the United States (a kiss of death at that time for anyone seeking wide theatrical distribution) due to the blood and violence in the silver sphere scene (and the shot of urine seeping out of the dead man’s pants leg). The scene is frightening and effective, but relatively tame by twenty-first century standards. According to a widely repeated anecdote, Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin, who liked the film, intervened with the MPAA to secure an “R” rating for Phantasm. Per co-producer Paul Pepperman, however, it was someone from the distribution company who convinced the ratings board to change their verdict. Champlin’s role was actually to recommend Universal pick the picture up for distribution.
- A scene where the Tall Man appears in Mike’s dream was selected as the 25th entry in Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.”
- The film cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to make, and eventually earned over $15 million.
- Phantasm spawned four sequels, all directed by Coscarelli. None were as well received or fondly remembered as the original. Coscarelli would eventually score an underground hit again with the bizarre horror/comedy Bubba Ho-Tep (2002).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without a doubt, the unexplained appearance of the flying sphere zooming through the sublimely creepy marble halls of the mausoleum.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Phantasm appears to be a standard horror film at first blush, but as it heedlessly races along from one fright to another, it becomes increasingly obvious that the plot is not resolving, or at least not resolving in any sensible way. It is also obvious that this scattershot plotting, which elevates atmosphere and psychological subtext by frustrating the literal sense, is a deliberate choice to “go weird” and not a result of incompetence.
Original trailer for Phantasm
COMMENTS: Mike wakes up to discover the Tall Man looming over the head of his bed like Continue reading 32. PHANTASM (1979)