CAPSULE: SYNCHRONIC (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides

PLOT: New Orleans paramedics discover that a series of bizarre deaths are linked to a new designer drug called “synchronic.”

Still from Synchronic (2019)

COMMENTS: The designer drug “Synchronic” is not “red marijuana,” as some (including us) had speculated, but comes in pill form and is passingly described as “bath salts.” The “chronic” in the drug’s name doesn’t reference weed at all, but has a different derivation, and the movie doesn’t have any relation to the story shared in Moorhead and Benson’s Resolution and The Endless. Synchronic is, instead, a slightly bigger-budgeted turn towards the mainstream for the pair, with two moderate movie star leads in Anthony Mackie (Marvel universe’s “Falcon”) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray).

Unusually, I found Synchronic‘s dramatic setup more entertaining than its sci-fi twist. Steve (Mackie) drinks a lot and pops codeine pills. Is he turning into a “junkie paramedic cliche,” as his partner fears, or is there a deeper reason? While Steve is an aging bachelor still playing the field, Dennis (Dornan) long ago settled down with a wife and kid. Each partner envies the other’s lifestyle just a little.  Dennis’ daughter, Tara, is a good kid but, like a lot of 18-year-olds, unsure what she wants to do with her life; right now, her passion is for staying out all night partying. Meanwhile, the two paramedics are called into scenes where they find zonked-out druggies with strange, sometimes inexplicable injuries—like the skull-faced voodoo practitioner who won’t stop laughing despite his compound fracture—all linked to a new designer drug that’s plaguing the city.

So the characters are likable, their situations dramatic and relatable, and they’re all set up for a speculative blast that will blow the hinges off. The problem is that when the sci-fi twist arrives, it’s basic and contrived, and not weird enough to compensate for its unbelievability. The drug’s mechanism is revealed in explicit detail less than halfway through the movie, taking away a potential source of mystery. If you accept the silly premise, what follows is logical—too logical. Even the characters’ emotional arcs are predictable. The trippy promise of the opener, with reality dissolving and reassembling as the synchronic kicks in on an elevator ride, never materializes. All in all, it’s like a run-of-the-mill episode of the “X-Files”; watchable, but nothing special. Synchronic would have been a promising debut film from a new director, but it’s a bit of a letdown from a duo who looked like they were pushing boundaries and getting weirder and weirder.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With believability being pushed too far, and the film’s direction needing a tighter pace, even the surreal visual effects and trippy weirdness aren’t quite enough to make it work.”–Zoe Margolis, CineVue (festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE ANTENNA (2019)

Bina

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DIRECTED BY: Orçun Behram

FEATURING: Ihsan Önal, Gul Arici, Levent Ünsal

PLOT: A building supervisor deals with strange occurrences after a satellite antenna is installed in his apartment building to broadcast new government-sponsored news bulletins.

Still from The Antenna [Bina} (2019)

COMMENTS: Set in a Kafkaesque cinder block, but clearly inspired by life in Erdoğan’s Turkey, The Antenna establishes its propaganda theme right away. Mehmet, an unassuming apartment building supervisor, listens to a government-sponsored radio broadcast as he dresses. Posters of a generic middle-aged strongman decorate the concrete pillars he passes as he walks to to work through gray, deserted streets. The morning report declares that the government will be rolling out an elaborate communications system intended to integrate all media, one which will require the installation of a satellite dish on the roof of Mehmet’s building. This achievement will be celebrated with a special midnight broadcast—one which all citizens are strongly encouraged to watch.

Although the contemporary relevance is obvious, The Antenna is set in an indeterminately authoritarian time and place. Along with the drab utilitarian architecture, the celebration of satellite antenna television as cutting-edge technology suggest a Communist country in the 1980s. The film’s aesthetic is grimly Stalinist: residents wardrobes are almost all shades of black, white or gray (Mehmet is praised for the “seriousness” of his utilitarian, monochromatic suit). Only the younger characters, not yet fully integrated into this society, wear the occasional splash of brown, or even dull yellow or red. The cinematography favors shallow-focus shots, with background characters blurred, emphasizing each character’s isolation. Strong sound design contrasts with the grim visuals. Horror movie music plays from the pipes in the walls, and the noise of the outside world subjectively mutes when characters are in moments of crisis. At one point Mehmet’s ears are overwhelmed by a welter of staticky, overlapping propaganda broadcasts.

The Antenna builds a strong atmosphere of dehumanization and quiet despair, full of subtle threats, such as the way Mehmet’s boss playfully slaps his face to remind him of their respective ranks in the power structure. It springs some effective horror moments: black goo oozing from the wall and ceiling tiles, Mehemt seeing a column of anonymous identical silhouettes peering out of their compartmentalized windows. Angry synthesizers and VHS quality satellite broadcasts speak to the influence of Videodrome and other 1980s dystopias. For all of these virtues, however, the script lacks some urgency. It spends too long introducing us to the desperately bland lives of the tenement dwellers; even though the first kill comes 30 minutes in, it still feels slow. Nor does the two-hour journey build to a powerful climax. The ending is a series of weird visual and auditory metaphors, which happen to the characters rather than developing as a consequence of their actions. The grand finale is a confrontation with a lackey; we never burrow down to the source of the evil. Despite these reservations, debuting director Behram shows obvious skill in building fear. It’s a talent that might be better harnessed in service of a more propulsive script in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this atmospheric nerve-jangler tips its hat to David Lynch’s gothic surrealism and David Cronenberg’s squirmy body horror, with pleasing detours into Dario Argento-style lurid giallo mania, too… [a] hauntingly weird debut.”–Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter (festival review)

WEIRD AMAZON PRIME WATCH PARTY: HALLOWEEN EDITION, RSVPS & NOMINATIONS

Our next scheduled Weird Watch Party on Amazon Prime will go down this upcoming Halloween Night (Oct. 31) at 10:15 PM.

As always, we’ll be looking for five movie screening nominations from people who plan to attend (for both or either session). After we get the minimum five nominations and likely attendees, we’ll put up a poll. Management will break any ties.

Amazon Prime’s catalog of movies is larger (and less exclusive) than Netflix’s. Ed Dykhuizen’s availability spreadsheet is a good resource to check for Canonically Weird movies (look for ones marked “free w/ Prime” in the “Amazon” column). Or, do your own research and come up with a title from Amazon. Eligible movies will have a “watch party” button on their Amazon page. You must be a Prime subscriber; you don’t have to download an extension or additional software.

We will not provide tech support; you’re on your own. Help each other.

When the party is set to begin we’ll announce it in three places:

  • On this site (if you’ve signed up for regular email alerts via the sidebar you’ll also get a notice that way)
  • On our Facebook page
  • On Twitter

Now, RSVP and make your nominations in the comments below.

Netflix Watch Party #19—”WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE” (2018)—starts in fifteen minutes

As the title states, Netflix Watch Party #19—We Have Always Lived in the Castle—starts in fifteen minutes.

Please install the Netflix Party extension (now officially called “teleparty”) if you haven’t already. You must have a U.S. Nextflix account and a Chrome-based browser to participate.

There will be no pausing or rewinding except for technical reasons.

We are offering no technical support, so help each other out if needed.

Here is the link to join: https://www.tele.pe/netflix/f168ba45bc95b600?s=s134

Be sure to click on the red Netflix Party icon to sync up and join the chat room.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/16/2020

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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN DEVELOPMENT (announced):

The Memory Game (2020?): will adapt Yōko Ogawa’s 1994 dystopian/surreal science fiction novel “The Memory Police,” about a secret force that ensures what has been erased from the world remains forgotten. Amazon Studios will produce and Reed Morano (TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) will direct. Deadline broke the news.

IN DEVELOPMENT (completed):

Jiu Jitsu (Nov. 2020): Since there aren’t a lot of weird new releases to report on this week, we’re sharing this trailer of the latest bit of nonsense from 366-icon . This one casts him in what appears to be the role of a mystical jiu jitsu teacher lecturing a group of five jiu jitsu chosen ones about how to defeat an alien jiu jitsu master (who’s apparently also “a poet warrior in the sci-fi sense”). No official site found, but The Hollywood Reporter analyzed the trailer.

DVR ALERT (Turner Classic Movies, 10/16):

TCM’s October horror  features two Canonically Weird films today: the spooky Carnival of Souls at 12:15 PM ET (that’s just an hour away!) and the deranged Spider Baby at 4:45. We’ll keep you up to date on the weirdest of the weird on TCM this month, but you can also check out Watching Forever’s handy October TCM schedule.

ONLINE DEBUTS:

“The World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime”: springs the third installment of his melancholy, comic philosophical stick-figure sci-fi cartoon on the world. It’s a hearty 30 minutes long and only available on Vimeo at the moment. Fans of the series will want to check it out, but a minor caution: precocious moppet Winona Mae appears to have outgrown the series, and it’s heading in different directions. Hertzfeld has neither confirmed nor ruled out plans for an Episode 4. Rent “The World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime.”

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Motel Hell (1980): “It takes all kind of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!” This cult cannibal comedy has been released on Blu-ray before; this is a collectible steelbook with new cover artwork featuring the chainsaw-wielding pig-man. Buy Motel Hell.

CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

Theaters are cautiously starting to reopen across North America at diminished capacity, and we’re seeing a trickle of new screenings. You’ll have to use your own judgment as to whether it’s safe to go to movie theaters at this time (if in doubt, try a drive-in!)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Reminder: tomorrow we’ll be meeting up virtually on Netflix to watch in the 2018 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As usual, we’ll post the link to join around 10 PM here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Please join us! If you can’t make it tomorrow, our next weird watch party will be held on Amazon Prime and will occur on Halloween night.

As for next week’s reviews, will cover a couple of new releases in the Turkish dystopian horror The Antenna and and ‘s latest, the sci-fi oriented Synchronic. Giles Edwards, meanwhile, digs into the long-neglected reader-suggested review queue fora look at (and listen to) ‘s 2012 breakthrough horror film, Berberian Sound Studio. Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: POSSESSOR (2020)

AKA Possessor Uncut

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , ,

PLOT: In the near future, secret elite assassins carry out their work by possessing the bodies of innocent parties through a neural implant; Taysa, a top Possessor, has trouble on her latest assignment when the subject proves capable of sporadically suppressing her control.

Still from Possessor (2020)

COMMENTS: “This film has not been modified from its original version” is an odd notice to see on a movie in its first run. Releasing Possessor as Possessor Uncut is meant to play on the fact that Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature was refused an “R” rating, and the director declined to make the cuts (involving both sex and violence) required for the “restricted” rating. Thirty years ago that would have been a big deal, meaning no advertising in newspapers and boycotts by mainstream theaters (and Blockbuster Video). Nowadays, unrated movies—especially provocative art-house pictures and sordid genre films (Possessor fits both categories)—get theatrical releases all the time with little hoo-ha. Still, after watching a possessed hostess plunge and twist a knife repeatedly into her privileged white male target in Possessor‘s opening sequence, you will understand why they are making a big deal out of the “uncut” nature of this project. Possessor‘s violence is graphic, well-done, and fits the film’s disturbingly sociopathic tone.

Specifics of the technology that allows Possessor‘s assassins to ply their gruesome trade are left largely to our imagination. Some details are plot-important, however: possessors are psychologically tested to make sure their individual memories remain intact after a job, and technicians warn that it’s safe to inhabit the host bodies for only about 72 hours. Storywise, there is actually not a lot to follow: top hitwoman Taysa Vos (Risenborough, looking like she’s inhabiting the body of a young ) is feeling the stress of her lifestyle, spontaneously recalling scenes from her work life as she’s trying to re-establish her bond with her estranged husband and son. Her chillingly businesslike boss (Jason Leigh) calls her in for a lucrative job that involves possessing a man to murder his CEO father-in-law-to be as part of an extremely hostile takeover scheme. Things go badly, naturally, as Taysa finds that her neural connection with target Colin (Abbot) isn’t as steadfast as usual. The subject regains some measure of free will, complicating the job.

Like his father, Cronenberg fils knows when to ratchet up the unease with subtle touches (an establishing shot of skyscraper slowly spinning along the frame’s axis) and when to unleash the hounds. One of the odd features of this film is that our putative protagonist is, by necessity, off screen for most of the action. Her psychological motivations are equally absent; we don’t get any overt explanation as to why she does what she does, what makes her good at it, and why she’s willing to risk her family—and her sanity—for her distasteful job. This blankness makes her seem all the more of a monster, a perfect psychological parasite. The trippy sequences where she and her target battle for control of the body’s will feature images of molded mannequin heads melting and reassembling, and of Risenborough trapped in an ill-fitting mask. The imagery suggests not so much a Persona-styled existential crisis as it does a metaphor for a character battling for her own humanity. While not as aggressively weird as his unsettling debut film Antiviral (no celebrity steaks on offer here), Possessor is dark in the best/worst way, and will satisfy your desire for soul-freezing chills.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This Cronenberg’s work is just as odd, bloody and twisted as that of his old man, but he’s not imitating the twistedness… whatever else it is, ‘Possessor’ feels authentically weird.”–Mick La Salle, San Francisco Chronicle (contemporaneous)

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