DIRECTED BY: Pat Tremblay
FEATURING: Navin Pratap, Jamie Abrams
PLOT: An amnesiac man awakens in the post-apocalyptic future encased in a protective suit
and patrols the desolate landscape searching for explanations.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its microbudget aesthetic of abandoned barns and homemade black leather cyborg-suits, this sci-fi indie set on the post-apocalyptic Canadian prairie is nothing like a Hollywood movie; but the minimal story is not engaging enough to justify considering it for a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time.
COMMENTS: In a sense, it may be pointless to review Hellacious Acres. This is a movie that doesn’t care what you think of it; it just wants to be itself. It stars a character who wakes up trapped in a synthetic, computerized black protective suit without knowing who he is or why he’s there, and who ends up in a hallucinatory delirium without accomplishing whatever his goal was. In between, he consults his video-game console glove for info on the world around him, learns how to eat and expel waste through the hose attached to his suit, and walks, walks, WALKS. (The trailer takes a perverse pride in pointing out the amount of WALKING in Acres, as does the soundtrack, which launches into an epic, doom-laden sludgy drone whenever John Glass puts his heels to the prairie grass). Events play out in real time. When Glass needs to find something to eat, most movies would either skip the sequence or compress the action through editing; here, we watch every second of him searching every inch of an abandoned house, forcing his way into a stubborn cabinet, studying each label he finds, laboriously sawing through the tin can, then discovering the contents are rancid—and starting all over again with a new can. It sounds like a cruel joke on the audience, but Acres‘ subtle sense of humor about its own lack of pace helps win you over: that involuntary wince you give when you see Glass reach for that second can, or the way he throws up his hands in exasperation as he circles through a menu on his control panel while trying to arm his deadly plasma weapon in the middle of a melee. The effects are not that special but Tremblay has uses his minimal budget with maximum effectiveness; the faceless costuming is creepy, and the video-game interface looks futuristic enough for the film’s purposes. The blasted farmland setting, with its almost comical number of barns repurposed to house teleporters, is also novel; it’s a more laid-back, rural apocalypse than we’re used to seeing in the movies. Most importantly, there’s plenty of weirdness filling up the empty spaces: a psychedelic opening with a disembodied voice giving the backstory while we look at a heat-imaging map of the resuscitated John Glass, a mutant baby encased in a jar, Glass carrying around (and carrying on conversations with) the severed hand of a fellow soldier, bad trips caused by teleportation drugs, a hallucinated waiter of the wasteland, and of course the lightbulb-shaped alien energy jellyfish that now prowl the Earth. In a final spit in the face to storytelling conventions, the tale ends in futility, with the protagonist insane, having failed at a mission that was never really clearly explained, having learned nothing of importance about himself and having unlocked no significant mysteries about the strange world he found himself in. This whole exercise in perverse pacing and post-apocalyptic hallucination is likely to leave even weird movie buffs perplexed about what they’ve just seen; imagine how “normal” folks would feel if they rented this by accident looking for a straight sci-fi adventure?
Pat Tremblay‘s first film was the still-unreleased surrealist experiment Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition (2006). He was last seen at 366 trying to provide us with a top 10 weird movies list (he was unable to limit himself to just ten titles).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Hellacious Acres is bizarre… It really is one awkward flick that some folks may dig but others will blatantly hate.”–Ramius Scythe, Horror Chronicles (DVD)
DISCLAIMER: A copy of this movie was provided by the distributor for review.