All posts by James Phillips


DIRECTED BY: Pablo D’Stair

FEATURING: Carlyle Edwards, Helen Bonaparte, Goodloe Byron

PLOT: Steven (Carlyle Edwards) is a self-serving, amoral author of very mediocre talent. When he stumbles across a crayon-scribbled “missing child” poster with a telephone number and the words “HLEPP ME?” scrawled on it, he figures it to be harmless. Deciding to base a story around it, he calls the number. This leads to an encounter with Bryant (Goodloe Byron) who claims to have actually kidnapped a girl, stating she will be released only if Steven pays a $2,000 ransom within two weeks. Steven initially dismisses Bryant as a morbid prankster—until Bryant begins a relationship with his only friend, Rene (Helen Bonaparte) and starts popping up in his life in apparently coincidental, yet increasingly invasive and unsettling ways.

Still from A Public Ransom (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: To give it its due, this isn’t a wholly terrible film, though it is lacking in certain important factors. That said, the compelling aspects do not come from anything markedly weird, and as such it has no place on the List of weird movies.

COMMENTS: The central premise of A Public Ransom is fascinating: the wrong person finds a cry for help, someone who doesn’t have an altruistic bone in his body. The events that follow can’t be faulted. Indeed, the writing overall is excellent, and it’s not D’Stair’s failing with a pen which make this difficult to view. He casts an impressive shadow with his scripting, and the small cast largely live up to the characters D’Stair has written and fleshed out so well. Lead actor Carlyle Edwards is teeth-grittingly unpleasant as the utter and complete prick Steven. His performance seems a little too mannered at first, but his overwrought, overbearing and obnoxious personality truly matches that of someone who has no awareness of their own obvious shortcomings. Awful people really are like this. Helen Bonaparte tries her best as Stevens’ foil, but her performance is stilted and flat by comparison. It’s difficult to believe in the friendship between them when it lacks such chemistry, especially in some of the more pivotal later scenes. Goodloe Byron’s turn as Bryant is purposefully bland, which really makes his character work for the better. He is very mild mannered and unobtrusive, which makes him all the more disturbing given the possible nature of his actions.

All this is well and good, but a smart script and a functional cast can’t save a film if the director and photographer’s auteur vision is so painfully marred by an inability to hold a camera. Paul VanBrocklin is director D’Stair’s head of photography, and between the two of them they seem barely able to frame a shot in any workable way. The film itself looks ugly, and is a major turn off. It’s true that an amateur film maker might not have access to a high quality camera or a steadicam or the like to make tracking shots work. But ugly, dull and unimaginatively presented still scenes permeate the film to such a point that, while you can see the intent behind the director’s approach (his desire to imitate his influences such as ), the whole thing ends up being a poorly shot and poorly lit mess that drags the viewer away from the strength of the writing. It’s a film with a lot of heart and D’stair should be proud of it for what it is, as it’s head and shoulders above a lot of amateur independent film, making but if he was to turn out another feature it would need to show marked technical improvement to earn a general recommendation.


“… D’Stair’s cinematic selection is artistically interpretive to say the least, and may not be for everyone.”–Amy Handler, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

More information on A Public Ransom, including a link and a password to view the movie for yourself (at the time of publication), can be found at the official A Public Ransom site.


Den Brysomme Mannen


FEATURING: Trond Fausa, Petronella Barker, Per Schaanning

PLOT: Andreas Ramsfjell awakens after a suicide attempt to find himself in a seemingly perfect city where he is equipped with the perfect life. Unfortunately for Andreas, it doesn’t take long to discover that something is very much amiss.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Bothersome Man is a masterpiece beyond its weirdness. It’s a film even the normal crew should watch and enjoy. It’s rich with astute and pointed social commentary on our materialistic society and the importance people place on conformity over freedom in life. Not to mention that it’s devilishly funny!

COMMENTS: Many regular readers of the site must have experienced at least once in their life the curious befuddlement of a friend or colleague asking them why they like something different from general tastes. But that’s so weird, they might say. Or, my personal favorite: but surely you prefer [insert the more popular choice here]? The Bothersome Man tackles this ideal as a political, social and religious allegory.

Everything initially seems perfect in the city where Andreas wakes after his suicide. He is given a great job with plenty of start-up capital. He meets a beautiful woman with whom he quickly forms a relationship. Everything is wonderful. And then, the cracks start to show, in a Kafkaesque fashion. His increasing unease leads him to seek out others who might rebel, who wish to get away by any means necessary, be it suicide or more surreptitious means. It’s hard to escape the machine, though; without giving too much away, the pie eating scene, in this sense, is one of the best moments of the film.

The Bothersome Man‘s strong, tight script is well-paced over its 95 minutes. Muted color is used well, presented in such a way as the viewer doesn’t realize it as such until it’s important enough to do so. Jens Lien’s film is an accomplished piece of cinema which, particularly given its haunting and ominous conclusion, is a strong contender for inclusion on the List.


“A surreal nightmare of gleaming surfaces and razor-sharp edges…”-Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tristano, who said it can be “compared to works like Brave New World or Roy Anderssons two last movies.”  Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


Reader recommendation by James Harben

Gusha no bindume; AKA Hellevator: The Bottled Fools

DIRECTED BY: Hiroki Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Luchino Fujisaki, Yoshiichi Kawada, Ryôsuke Koshiba

PLOT: A dystopian future civilization lives in a vast underground complex where each floor represents a different part of society, from housing and schooling up to more sinister departments, culminating in the mysterious and never visited “top floor” that is implied to be both above-ground and possibly mythical. A schoolgirl (it’s Japanese after all) with psychic powers (it’s Japanese after all) tries to flee aboard an elevator, but in a world that seems to consist entirely of either up or down, where can she escape to?

Still from Hellevator (2004)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Hellevator is a quite effective ‘trapped-in-a-room’ style movie, one that plays with the conventions of the genre. Working on the theory that what you are shown has far greater effect than what you are told, Hiroki Yamaguchi provides the viewer little direct knowledge or understanding of what this world might be. Clearly subterranean, it’s grimy and oppressively lit. The camera rarely leaves the elevator. The movie is populated by a cast of relatable stereotypes from current and past cultures: the police look like the SS, the attendant is a dedicated servant in a fetishized uniform, not to mention the standard quota of moody and sullen antiheroes wearing sunglasses indoors and the heroic schoolgirl protagonist. Imagine a Japanese  working on a budget.

COMMENTS: Hellevator never gives you the full details of what’s going on in the story, but there is enough suitably engaging exposition that the viewer is never left so confused that they become disconnected from the narrative. What is essentially a straight journey, up, is complicated by the arrival of prisoners from the penal colony floor, who have plans of their own re: their continued incarceration. Each of the characters have their own unfolding back story and a part to play in the greater continuity. A little online research finds comparisons to Cube and Brazil, and whereas the latter certainly applies—‘s dystopia is clearly an influence in both Hellevator‘s visuals and in its depiction of a society collapsing into the last stages of decline—the Cube comparison is misleading. This film doesn’t focus on the fact that people are trapped in an elevator, but instead uses it for a framing device: in flashback, we do see other parts of the complex.

Characterization is the key here, and against the main backdrop of the elevator and its confines we see a wide range of people and observe how they try to make their lives work in such an oppressive environment. The near silent elevator steward delivers an amazing performance as someone totally dedicated to his job, and to his place within the societal order. The convicts are both spectacular despite being quite different personas with differing motivations.

Ultimately, Hellevator leaves the viewer with as many questions as it does answers, but with no lack of satisfaction regarding the narrative. The performances are largely excellent; though quite over the top, they fit well with the dense, claustrophobic aesthetic of the film. There is enough linearity to the events that, as much as the viewer might want to know more about what they have seen, the time spent viewing is a satisfying ride that captures the imagination and attention without ever feeling staid or predictable.


“…a stylish and inventive mix of delirium that surpasses most multi-million dollar efforts.. Picture Hitchcock’s Lifeboat through the eyes of Terry Gilliam with the visceral mean streak of Takashi Miike.”–Dread Central (DVD)