366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
DIRECTED BY: Chad Payne
FEATURING: Voces of “Jazzyjoeyjr,” Chad Payne
PLOT: A soldier discovers a conspiracy involving respawning and a valium-esque drug that leads him to question the nature of his reality as he ventures through a series of violent encounters.
COMMENTS: Several months back, we featured a Saturday Short based on characters from the combat-oriented “Team Fortress 2” video game universe. In 2012, the Team Fortress released a program called Source Filmmaker (SFM) that allowed users to create animations using game assets (characters, objects, environments, animations, maps, sound clips, physics rules) from their library, with the ability to adjust angles and lighting or add their own soundtracks. The gaming community responded by creating scads of short videos, usually absurd, featuring game characters like Heavy (a type) or the masked Spy turning invisible, going on missions to retrieve baby toys, or partying with Thomas the Tank engine. It was only a matter of time until someone sat down with the now decades-old (and reportedly clunky-to-use) software to grind out a feature-length film. What no one expected was that this trailblazing work would be a deeply weird psychological thriller—and passable entertainment for people (like your present reviewer) with no firsthand knowledge of the game.
Non-TMF2 players can orient themselves with this first-person-shooter-as-horror-movie-film-noir world through knowledge of the basic motifs of video games. We deduce that “Team Fortress” is played in combat between two teams, and that characters respawn when they die. Respawning is, in fact, a major plot point. The movie’s gaming-derived premise—what if the real world military-industrial complex developed a technology that could literally “respawn” soldiers on the battlefield?—suggests a truly hellish dystopia. After some introductory investigatory plot suggesting a wide-ranging conspiracy, Emesis Blue throws its main characters—the constantly and incongruously helmeted “Soldier” and the dour Teutonic “Medic”—through a dungeon crawl where they enter one infernal room after another to fight one infernal enemy after another, spiked with revelations about an elaborate ongoing plot involving, among other things, the kidnapping of a politician who may be partially responsible for the flawed respawning technology. The numerous fight scenes play quite well; this is, after all, a combat game. The characters lack expressiveness, but context can do a surprising job of turning an essentially blank expression into a look of uncomprehending fear. The video’s look is unceasingly dark, almost all shadowy interiors, with most of the outdoor scenes taking place during nocturnal downpours. On top of the sequential antagonists and masked torturers (led, perhaps, by a mysterious boss in a plague mask), there are zombies and other monsters, a briefcase MacGuffin (that kind of goes nowhere), and references to The Shining, among other films. The unceasingly strange events all seem to result either from respawn errors, hallucinations caused by the title drug, or possibly a combination of the twain.‘s M and to
I understand that there are multiple Easter eggs to enjoy if your familiar with the Team Fortress and its characters. As for me, I was sometimes confused as to who was who, incorrectly assuming, for example, that “Spy” was a reskinned doppelganger of “Medic.” But Emesis Blue is by all accounts a non-canonical Team Fortress movie occurring in an independent alternate reality, and I am proof that it can be viewed and (reasonably) well understood by people with no background in the game (per Reddit, those thoroughly familiar with Fortress can be equally baffled by Emesis Blue‘s plot). The clues to unraveling Emesis‘ riddles, if they exist, are to be found within the story itself.
Obviously, this project was made with a particular audience in mind, and most of them eat it up. There are dozens of r/tf2 threads discussing the film (and fan theories as to what the hell the plot is all about), as well as an explanatory video on YouTube that’s longer than the feature itself. But to be honest, Emesis Blue is not that great as a movie. It’s dreary and repetitive, which can be blamed on the limited palette afforded by the SFM technology. Psychological thriller is perhaps too ambitious a genre to tackle in director Chad Payne’s first time out; the balance between ambiguity and explanation lists too far in the former hemisphere, and too many of the story’s rabbit holes end in cul-de-sacs. But what is unquestionably great about Emesis Blue is that it’s a movie at all: that’s right, it’s an honest-to-God, fully-plotted feature film made in video game editing software, and it’s more entertaining than a handful of movies released this year by major studios. Neither Red nor Blue may triumph in this phantasmagorical game of Capture the Flag, but Payne amasses a virtual shelf full of achievements.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“If you want a film that relishes in not just mystery but the macabre and horror of things you can’t or shouldn’t even begin to comprehend, there is one I can recommend… it gives off a ghastly mood, and you are drawn in by its clever use of cinematography and cryptic shots that can foreshadow or enhance the theme, and the weird, almost out-of-nowhere scenes that only raise more questions.”–Rasec Ventura, The Gothic Times (Newspaper of New Jersey City University) (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “anonymous,” who suggested it was a “Weird one to suggest…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)