APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: STRANGE CIRCUS (2005)

Kimyô na sâkasu

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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: , Issei Ishida, Rie Kuwana, Hiroshi Oguchi

Still from Strange Circus (2005)

PLOT: At a surreal cabaret show, 12-year-old Mitsuko tells her story of parental abuse culminating in the accidental killing of her mother and her own attempted suicide; suspecting her story is made up, publishers hire editor Yuji is enlisted to ferret out the truth.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Sion Sono has a lifetime pass to immediate consideration for our list, and this blend of truly disturbing scenarios, intriguing imagery, and repeated misdirection is exactly the kind of thing to catch our eye. He begins with subject matter so taboo and depraved that he seems unlikely to emerge with any kind of a reputation, but he then tucks it inside such a labyrinthine puzzle that qualms about the material are subsumed by wonder at how he’s going to pull it all off.

COMMENTS: The three-act structure of Strange Circus is almost too simple: Act I is the horrifying tale of an abused girl, Act II is the mystery over whether the girl’s story was made up by a popular novelist or recounts her own terrible upbringing, and Act III is the solution to that mystery. Couldn’t be more basic.

The movie as executed is anything but simple. Sion Sono knows the difference between shock and surprise, and he deploys both in their turn, choosing just the appropriate jaw-dropping image to fit the moment. It’s not merely that he can keep you off balance. It’s that he knows just the right way to do it.

Consider the first third of the film, which is a straight-out horror show. The scenario is utterly appalling: Mitsuko’s father forces her to watch his rough copulations with her mother and then eventually forces her into direct participation. In sync with this moment, Mitsuko’s world becomes visibly grotesque, with blood-red walls and a repeated transference with her mother. The girl’s suppressed turmoil is given form in the staging that makes her school look like an abattoir and her home resemble a crumbling mansion.

The middle section offers up something quite different. We meet Taeko, a mysterious novelist whose idiosyncrasies and domineering behavior are shocking in their own way, but no longer metaphorical. The strange carvings on her wall? The disguises that she uses to masquerade in public? Her habit of writing while wearing a negligee, sitting atop a cello case, and stuffing spaghetti in her mouth? There’s no filter for this strange behavior. What you see is what you get. In fact, only a couple stray trips into the fantasy world are found here, and pay attention to them when they come, because they’re a clue as to what awaits us…

…in the final act, when the true source of the awful tale of Mitsuko is revealed. This is pure Grand Guignol, and while the revelations are completely over-the-top and deliberately outrageous, a look back suggests that Sono has played fair with us all along. Alone, it might threaten to tip over into absurdity, echoing the wild finales of films like Performance or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But as crazy as it gets, it’s unquestionably earned.

Masumi Miyazaki is doing tour de force work here, essentially playing multiple roles and earning the audience’s affections even when her behavior borders on reprehensible. Strange Circus, it turns out, doesn’t just have an unreliable narrator, but is about the making of an unreliable narrator, and her performance taps into mystery, empathy, and beauty to sell you on characters you might have abandoned as irredeemable. A special mention also goes out to Rie Kuwana, who is heartbreaking as young Mitsuko, still radiating innocence even in the face of the indignities heaped upon her. (I made sure to watch the behind-the-scenes documentary for assurance that the actor wasn’t enduring the miseries of her character.)

Strange Circus is not easy to watch, especially in its opening scenes of household terror. But it is utterly audacious, and doesn’t waste its ambitions by coming up short with its revelations. Strange Circus is strange indeed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“No matter how weird things get it’s always coherent and we always know that we’re being shown something that is “really” happening, albeit shaded behind denial and mental illness and wishful thinking. Sono’s playing by his own rules perhaps, but he’s still playing fair. When the ending comes, it doesn’t elicit ‘WTF?’ but ‘Oh! I get it!’”–Jeremy Knox, Film Threat

(This movie was nominated for review by ginanoelma. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FUZZY HEAD (2023)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Wendy McColm

FEATURING: Wendy McColm, Alicia Witt, Jonathan Tolliver

PLOT: Pursued by the police, Marla is dogged by memories as she attempts to get a grip on what happened after a fateful evening at her mother’s home.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Presented as a thriller, McColm’s intensely personal film explores guilt and inter-generational trauma in a style reminiscent of Lynch, Tarantino, Fincher, and even . Thus equipped with its own storytelling tool-kit, Fuzzy Head shifts gears faster than you can say “unreliable narrator.”

COMMENTS: From what Marla can piece together, her mother is dead. The fact that she has not slept in almost a week doesn’t help her understanding of the situation. It also doesn’t help that she’s faced years of emotional abuse from mom, interrupted by moments of emotional clarity and ineffable love. Marla’s own tragedy consists of her being forced to cope with oblique hints from her mother, “a woman who was never heard in her pain.” McColm translates the disorientation of “fuzzy head”—a semi-clinical condition whose symptoms include problems with focus, memory, and logic, often stemming from a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt—onto the screen with intensity at times, softness at others, absurdity, despair, sympathy, and humor. All the while, they thread a narrative whose focus is woven from muddled tatters into a crystalline whole.

Blank asks Marla, “What happened to your mother?” Marla is screaming, flailing; Blank is her best—and only—friend. Marla wants to kill her mother. Perhaps Marla did. Police have questions, but not as the string of faceless therapists Marla endures as she attempts to discover what happened that one night, and what has happened her entire life. Her brain snaps back to a memory of triumph: firing a six-shooter into the air when she successfully rides her bicycle without training wheels. Her mother stands by proudly. Her brain snaps back to a memory of debasement: being forced to walk across the shards of a kitchen glass she dropped. Her mother stands by in disgust. Marla’s memories crash upon her as she navigates her life, waking up in a cheap motel serviced by a strangely insistent housekeeper. Memories mingle with present-day experience, and she doesn’t always know what’s real, particularly when interacting with Blank.

For those out there baying for symbolism, Fuzzy Head comes up aces. On her journey toward redemption, Marla’s dreams give her access the worst parts of her self and her experience. A sign to hang on her door for the maid. A key dangling from Blank’s rear-view mirror. The six shooter she buys back from a sympathetic local (“I think I killed my mother with that gun”, she admits; “Yeah, we all feel that way sometimes,” the seller replies). Lynchian touches include a theremin solo in an empty nightclub. Tarantino time-loops and snap-cuts keep up the pace. Fincheristic perception-humor takes the edge off when events become too stinging. And the cast of recurring, unreal-maybe-real personae bring to mind the continuous efforts of the guardian angels secreted in Jacob’s Ladder.

Fuzzy Head is a stylish and stylized film. Pondering the influences, Wendy McColm might be accused by some as being derivative. Not by me. As with just about any and all filmmakers, the methods they use are lifted (and altered) from those who came before. Indeed, the last “new” movie I remember seeing came out in 1991. The directors I’ve mentioned have developed a language of cinema for those of us who are frightened, disoriented, confused, and amused, and Wendy McColm’s second feature film shows an already mature storyteller finessing to convey “fuzzy head”: desperate sadness, acute loneliness, and traces of confused amusement. In so doing, McColm tells a decidedly personal story in such a way that spectators like ourselves can look on with satisfaction.

No word on Fuzzy Head‘s post-festival distribution plans at the moment; we’ll let you know when we know more.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a hauntingly beautiful and surreal exploration of childhood trauma… a strangely affecting and expressive feature with a heavy emotional core.” -Brian Fanelli, Horror Buzz (contemporaneous)

THE SEVEN FACES OF JANE (2022)

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The Seven faces of Jane is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Julian Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Gia Coppola, Ryan Heffington, Boma Iluma, , Ken Jeong, Alex Takacs

FEATURING: Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, , Emanuela Postacchini, Chido Nwokocha

PLOT: Jane experiences love, loss, joy, and bewilderment on a road trip mapped by eight different directors.

Scene from The Seven Faces of Jane (2022)

COMMENTS: To stimulate creativity, the early Surrealists created a game where one artist would build on a previous artist’s work without seeing it. They called the game “exquisite corpse” after a sentence born of this process, a sentence which is also the first thing the viewer sees in The Seven Faces of Jane: “Le cadaver equis boira le vin nouveau.” “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”

Jane is an exquisite corpse, a surrealist experiment. There are overtly surreal moments, such as the garishly eccentric diner patrons laughing at Jane (Gillian Jacobs) fighting her doppelganger. But the very design—8 directors contributing to the same story blind to what the other directors are doing—leads to Jane being the same but different in each segment, highlighting the nature of character as the collaborative product of writer, director, actor, and so on. With eight different directors, there are actually eight different Janes. (Seven segments plus bookends = eight.)

Jane drops her daughter off at camp and finds herself on a bizarre and unplanned road trip. The southern California backdrop ties the film together visually. Each director showcases it differently, but from the beach to the desert to mountain trails, from Mexican street vendors to early 20th century bungalow neighborhoods, So Cal is the mainstay in this ever-fluctuating movie.

Each segment explores someone Jane could be, or could have been. Most tell stories of love and loss and identity in straightforward or dreamy ways. But the last one, “The Audition,” directed by Alex Takács (AKA “Young Replicant”), takes the story right off the rails in the best kind of way. Set in a mausoleum and a sedan on the back of a car hauler, “The Audition” uses the absurd and the surreal to prod its character’s consciousness.

Jacobs, who is a steady force throughout, continues to deliver as someone on the brink of coming undone. Seemingly no longer able to sustain all the different versions of herself, she fights, gives up, regresses, and disappears, only to become who she needs to be when it’s time to pick her daughter up from camp.

Jane has some shortcomings. The quality of the segments is uneven, and because of the brevity of each piece, there’s no time to build sympathy for any character besides Jane. It is also a disconcerting juxtaposition to have such an ordinary subject for such an experimental movie. The Seven Faces of Jane has been called a “failed experiment.” And by the standards of a mainstream movie, maybe it is. But as an experiment, at least for the Surrealists (and this is a surrealist experiment), if the exquisite corpse stimulates creativity in the artists, it’s a success.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The problem is that most of the segments are too tied to a bland realism and narrative cliche to create the collective sense of unease and/or delightful disorientation that the surrealists prize.”–Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

 

YOUR VOTE DETERMINES THE WINNER OF THE 13TH ANNUAL WEIRDCADEMY AWARDS

The big news in the (weird) movie world is that this year, there’s an actual overlap between the Weirdcademy Awards and the Most Conventional Movie Awards dog-and-pony show Hollywood throws together every awards season. Everything Everywhere all at Once (and its star, Michelle Yeoh) was nominated by both august bodies. Does this development speak well for the Academy’s taste? Probably not, if you look their omissions. ‘s Mad God got snubbed, despite him being an industry insider (the man worked on Star Wars, for heaven’s sake!) Hungary’s microbudgeted black and white existential quandry Cybersatan Apocalypse Nightmares doesn’t get a sniff for International Feature Film, just because it was never released and played exclusively on Vimeo for free—what snobbery! And Neptune Frost doesn’t even merit a “Best Original Song” nomination for its crowd-pleasing hit, “Fuck Mr. Google”?

Instead, we get to choose between Stephen Spielberg’s touching story about how he came to be Stephen Spielberg, more blue people from , an 80s money grab nostalgia piece where they try to switch the love interest on us and think we won’t notice, and movies about Women Talking—I mean, movies about women literally doing nothing but talking for the first 80 minutes! At least this year we can be happy if take everything.

The Oscars are a joke, and everyone knows it. But you, my friend, you aren’t content with the same-old same-old. You want weird in your movies. The Weirdcademy Awards are for you, the moviegoer whose friends roll their eyes and sigh loudly when you suggest movie night should feature a flick about a lesbian planet terrorized by a monster known only as “Kate Bush.”

Although the editors of 366 Weird Movies select the nominees from the pool of available movies, the Awards themselves are a naked popularity contest, and do not necessarily reflect either the artistic merit or intrinsic weirdness of the films involved. The Weirdcademy Awards are tongue-in-cheek and for fun only. Ballot-stuffing is a frequent occurrence. Please, no wagering.

The Weirdcademy Awards are given to the Weirdest Movie, Actor, Actress and Scene of the previous year, as voted by the members of the Weirdcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Weirdness.

Who makes up the Weirdcademy? Membership is open to all readers of 366 Weird Movies. If you can figure out how to vote in the poll, you are qualified to join. You can not be turned down because of your age, sex, religious affiliation, pronouns, vaccination status, or the fact that you once bought a Marilyn Manson album when you were 15. There is no requirement that you’ve have to actually see any of the movies listed before voting. You can vote for any or all categories.

Unlike previous years, this year, you can only vote once—so choose carefully. We’ll keep voting open until March 11  at 12:00 Noon EST, so we can announce our results before the Academy Awards and steal their thunder.

Be sure to also vote for Weirdest Short Film of the Year. To watch all five nominees and to cast your vote, please click here.

Without further delay, we unveil the nominees for the 2022 Weirdcademy Awards:





VOTE FOR THE WEIRDEST SHORT FILM OF 2022

It’s time for the 2022 edition of the Weirdcademy Awards, the premier (only) awards contest focused on weird films, chosen by weird film fans. That means shorts as well as features. We’ve collected all five nominees for 2022′s Weirdest Short of the Year together in one place, for ease of voting.  You can cast a vote for your favorite  until March 11 at 12:00 Noon EST. Choose carefully, because this year you can only vote once. Cameron Jorgensen, 366 Weird Movies under-appreciated, recently retired shorts Czar, discovered and selected these unusual films through his own research. This year’s slate includes 90s horror videogame parodies, Bangladeshi vampires, killer cassette tapes, creepy robots, and piping hot tea.

You can watch all the nominees in full below before voting (shorts may contain strong language, animated gore, and/or crude humor):

“The Backrooms (Found Footage)” by

“Chloe Cherry Likes Her Men Like Her Tea” by

“Earworm” by

“GHOSTBLEEED: The Bio Horror” by

“Moshari” by


Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!