APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KOKO-DI, KOKO-DA (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Johannes Nyholm

FEATURING: Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Peter Belli, Brandy Litmanen, Morad Khatchadorian

PLOT: Three years after the death of their daughter, Tobias and Elin go on a joyless camping holiday; a trio of otherworldly psychopaths interrupts their first night—again and again.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Heart-rending shadow-style animation coexists with some of the cruelest nightmare denizens to be found in a cryptic forest milieu. There’s also the lurking white cat guiding the way toward salvation.

COMMENTS: Last night I did something I had never done before: I attended the second screening of Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da. Frankly, I had to. After the first screening, during which at least four people walked out, there was a deafening silence as the credits began rolling. A few rows ahead of me, I spied a young woman raising her hands to applaud, only then noticing that everyone else—at least everyone who had remained—was seated in a rapt silence. Upon exiting the theater, the discussions between me and my reviewer friends immediately began. Two didn’t care for it, two had fallen under its spell, and a fifth could not yet express her opinion. It was, for sure, the most divisive film I’ve encountered this festival.

We meet an unsettling trio of travelers in the woods. A sinister dandy of a man (Peter Belli) sings softly while leading a strange young woman with a leashed dog and a giant of a fellow carrying a dead white dog. Then, the one happy part of the film: Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elyn (Ylva Gallon) are out celebrating their daughter’s birthday—done up in bunny makeup for dinner.  But Elyn gets food poisoning from some mussels. They camp out at the hospital, and when the parents arise the next morning to sing birthday greetings to their daughter, they find that she died in the night. “Three Years Later” we find the couple again, sniping at each other on their way to a camping holiday. They spend a restless night, and the next morning are set upon by the strange gang from the opening sequence. Again, and again.

I have seen time loops a-plenty, but the cruel, repeated turns of events make Koko-di Koko-da stand out from among its Groundhogian peers. The subtle shifts in climax from doomed encounter to doomed encounter exhibit a psychological nastiness that suggests the director aims to be as unkind to his audience as he is to his characters. But there is a beauty in his movie that rests surprisingly well alongside the surrounding trauma. The two animated shadow-sequences involving two bunnies losing their child, then destroying a (pointedly symbolic) rooster, have an aura of magic tinged with sadness. These accentuate the barbarity found in the encounters with the trio of eerie horrors.

Put simply, I loved this movie, and I knew this immediately upon finishing it for the first time. Generally I can talk about the intellectual reasons I really like something, but here I found myself affected more on a visceral level. I spoke with two of the fellows who walked out, and I couldn’t blame them; the wringer this movie puts the audience through is very trying. But, for those of you who click with this bad dream, there is the reward of intoxicating relief and exhilaration. And like Koko-di Koko-da‘s mystical story, its haunting tune will cling to your memory.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…von Trier’s Antichrist meeting Groundhog Day in laconic and absurdist Scandi poetics.”–Martin Kudlak, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

CAPSULE: 1BR (2019)

DIRECTED BY: David Marmor

FEATURING: Nicole Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Giles Matthey, Celeste Sully, Clayton Hoff

PLOT: Sarah’s a newcomer to LA with shaky job prospects and no friends; after being accepted into an apartment complex, she finds out too late just how close-knit the community there actually is.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a psychological thriller/horror movie about the dangers of community, which is a unique angle. However, the creepy unease that ensues isn’t anything we haven’t seen before (though typically in less-worthy examples).

COMMENTS: There is a lot to be said for making a good “genre” picture: a familiar story told well with a novel twist is hard to find. I am not insulting David Marmor and his crew when I say that 1BR is a story I’ve seen before—I’ve made it my business and pleasure to watch countless movies—because Marmor’s take on this particular story was ceaselessly well presented and kept me hooked from start to finish as I wondered how Sarah (Nicole Bloom), an imperiled newcomer to LA, would play her hand. In fact, of the five movies I watched the day I sat at 1BR‘s press screening, it’s the only title that I can presently recall.

Sarah is a young costume designer who is adrift in life, literally and metaphorically. Having recently left home and gone to LA, she has no real job prospects, no friends, and no home. She finds a job, of sorts: temping at a law firm. She gets a friend, of sorts: a vibrant co-worker named Lisa (a sassy Celeste Sully). She finds a home. Her initial joy at being accepted into an exclusive apartment complex, stuffed to the gills with apparent-neighborliness, turns into undefined ill-ease. What are those strange thumping noises at night? Who is writing threatening notes about her forbidden pet (her cat named “Giles”)? And what is it that’s so disconcerting about the two bulges on her flat-room wall? We know something is about to go wrong—and things go very wrong for young Sarah.

Plenty of psychological horror explores the fear of darkness and the dangers of isolation. 1BR swaps those for an unsettling hyper-illumination as it explores the even greater dangers of community. This group of smiling, happy people she’s ended up with are close-knit to the point of annihilating their individuality. Of the tenets practiced by the tenants, one struck me firmly. Though based on some West Coast cult figures, I was reminded of nothing so much as Maoist-era “struggle sessions.” This criticism of the group’s certainty of its correctness running against the individual’s shouldering of blame was pitch-perfect: there are prices for cohesion that are far too high.

I’ve had an interesting time discussing 1BR with other reviewers and I think I’ve done a fair job dissuading them of their initial dismissiveness. It would be overwhelming and ultimately unsatisfying, as well as impossible, if every movie we saw was Completely New. 1BR captures the suffocation of the coercive integration of a fully free individual into a monolithic social unit. Would-be social messiahs like Charles D. Ellerby (who devised the community’s creed) would do well to realize two things: you are never “always right,” and it takes all sorts to make a world. Ending on a note of very cautious optimism, Marmor’s debut gives us just enough hope that we can escape the doom of INGSOC-esque terror. We’d just better be prepared to run like hell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Marmor’s feature debut, which takes a new arrival to Hollywood and puts her in an apartment complex whose residents have scary plans for her, is a cousin of Rosemary’s Baby in which the occult is replaced by mere brainwashing and the eerie glamour of Central Park luxury decomposes into the generic architecture of a Los Angeles starter apartment.” -John DeFore, The Hollywood Report (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Agustín Mateo, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Guillermo Llansó

PLOT: Seriously? I’m going to pinch this straight from IMDb because, man, right now I’ve got nothing. “CIA Agents Palmer and Gagano are tasked with the mission of destroying a computer virus called ‘Soviet Union.’ They enter the system using VR but the mission turns into a trap.”

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: To cheat, once more: Merriam-Webster defines “gonzo” as, “outlandishly unconventional, outrageous, or extreme”; and so it is with JSYTWTTH. Stop-motion VR missions to thwart a computer virus called “Soviet Union,” a pizza restaurant of your dreams, a second (and third?) coming of the messiah, and a transvestite super agent are all here. What more could you want? (Don’t worry: there is much, much more.)

COMMENTS: Unfortunately I’ve been the “king of caveats” recently, but here it goes: you haven’t ever seen a movie like this one. Miguel Llansó, an affable Madrid-born professor, has assembled a casserole of ’80s-’90s nostalgia, ’80s-’90s satire, cyber-dystopia, messianic lampoons, kung-fu fighting, Stalin/Redford/Pryor avatars, giant death-ray bugs, and a “PsychoBook” program (not to be confused at all with a more famous “____Book” social media site), all under the banner of a title that is both long-winded and apt: by the end, Jesus shows you the way to the highway.

Ah, but what happens before that gratifying finale? Now that I’m over-caffeinated, I may have better luck with this “plot” section. Strapping on their VR visors and headphones, intrepid CIA agents D.T. Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Agustín Mateo) enter PsychoBook, an AI/VR intelligence network being held hostage by a computer virus that manifests as a Nike-shoe-clad avatar in a Stalin mask. It wants to make a deal with the agents to start dealing “the Substance,” a green-goo byproduct of the environment (don’t worry, Eldritch stands firm: “I don’t make deals with computer viruses!”) Meanwhile, Gegano wants to quit the CIA and help his BBW German sweetie Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas) start a kickboxing academy. Lurking in the background is the President of Ethiopa, dressed up as the the superhero-villain “Batfro” (Solomon Tashe). Something goes wrong, and Gegano gets trapped in PsychoBook. Will Jesus’ help be enough to allow his escape?

Now you probably can see what I’m working with here. And that’s just one layer of what’s going on. Stylistically, it’s about as madcap as you can get. The stop-motion forays into PsychoBook, when the agents hunt Stalin, are the stuff of comic nightmares (and apparently took up most of the shooting days).

One of the many questions raised about Jesus Shows You…‘s goings-on is, “Why Robert Redford and Richard Pryor masks?” The director revealed in the Q & A after the premiere that it was a poke in the eye to the stuffy producers who demanded he have some big stars lined up before they’d give him any funding. As for the other aesthetic choices, suffice to say it’s clear that Llansó grew up in the ’80s, as beautiful old computers appear left, right, and center, and heavily influenced the mind-blowing/seizure-inducing credit sequences.

I have almost two weeks still to go here, but I sincerely doubt that Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway will be topped, weird-wise. Any fan of the clunky sci/fi joking of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” will want to catch this. Anyone wanting to see the Matrix done with no money and maximum humor will want to catch this. Anyone who wants to check out a contender for 2019’s weirdest release will want to catch this. Turn on, tune in, and just say, “F*¢k you, Stalin!”

You can also listen to our audio interview with director Miguel Llansó.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s weird y’all… I am already putting in on my list of top movies of the year, because it’s so damn inventive.”–Lorry Kikta, Film Threat (festival screening)

Q&A AUDIO:

RAW AUDIO: DIRECTOR MIGUEL LLANSO SHOWS YOU THE WAY

Director discusses his film Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, a Spanish/Ethiopian/Estonian co-production about—among other things—a computer virus named “Stalin” and a kung-fu-fighting president of Ethiopia who dresses like a certain trademarked superhero, with 366 Weird Movies.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ALIEN CRYSTAL PALACE (2018)

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Arielle Dombasle

FEATURING: Arielle Dombasle, Nicolas Ker, Michel Fau, , Theo Hakola

PLOT: Hambourg is a demigod who has spent the past millennia attempting to combine a man and a woman to reforge the “Androgyne”; his latest experiment involving an elegant directress 1)I don’t generally use the term “directress”, but I feel it important to emphasize the character’s heightened (and chic) femininity. and an unstable musician begins unraveling as his project comes under the investigation of “the inspector.”

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTAlien Crystal Palace is the Godard-ian science fiction sex film we’ve all been waiting for. Enough said.

COMMENTS: When Asia Argento plays the blandest character in a movie, you know you’ve found something special. I did not know this, nor much else for that matter, when I talked myself into staying up for the midnight screening of Alien Crystal Palace. Sitting in the crowd (and it was indeed a crowd), it occurred to me that I was almost certainly one of the only people not chemically altered for that screening. I needed no such aids, though, as Alien Crystal Palace took me by the hand into its world of drunken artists, coked-up conspirators, and stylistic anarchy.

I’ll dive straight into the heart of the matter: this is, by any technical standard, a truly terrible movie. The editing is choppy and seemingly arbitrary, with scenes clattering forward as eccentrically as the characters. The acting, almost across the board, feels like everyone downed a bottle of meth-infused Château Lafite before going on camera. Arielle Dombasle, starring as the urbane directress Dolorès Rivers, even tilts toward the wacky, despite her 130+ role pedigree dating back the to 1970s. Dombasle also wrote and directed this madness, and has set herself up as unflappably femme-française. Her counterpart—the yang to Dolorès’ yin—manages to be the most bizarre and frantic character in this already off-the-walls sci-fi thriller.

This is a paragraph exclusively concerning Nicolas Ker. As the actor who plays the movie-within-movie score composer, Nicolas Atlante, he out-Wiseaus Wiseau. He out-Belmondo’s Belmondo. When he’s not suffering brief moments of recuperation every morning (hearty swigs of Johnny Walker Red Label wake him up after another sleepless night), he’s always shouting at someone, something, nobody, or nothing. He rocks his dead-man heroin-chic look with a cranky aplomb, cigarette always in hand, two cravates always secured tightly around his bare neck. Ker is one of the co-writers of the screenplay, which I did not find surprising; I was surprised, however, when I learned that the heartfelt, wrenching soundtrack—which reminded me very much of the (British) New Wave band New Order—was done by this same Frenchman.

And now I must fall into a mad ramble. Nouvelle vague poster boy Jean-Pierre Léaud (Of Les quatres cent coups fame) plays the god Horus, father of Hambourg. There are a troupe of goth-gay “policemen” under the command of the snippiest / facsimile of a detective on this side of the galaxy. Lovers run towards, or sometimes from, each other in live-action slow motion to telegraph… something. When not enjoying his lush Egypto-pleasure hall in the heavens, Hambourg travels around exotic points  via CGI submarine. We learn from one of the three producer characters, “I’m not a killer, I’m an intellectual.” ‘Struth, never have I seen so much Frenchiness Frenching forth from a French movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This is a mess. An ambitious mess…but mess nonetheless… As raunchy rock video, Alien Crystal Palace works well. Too bad they decided to make a 90 minute film out of it!”–Jane Fae, Eye for Film (festival screening)

References   [ + ]

1. I don’t generally use the term “directress”, but I feel it important to emphasize the character’s heightened (and chic) femininity.

CAPSULE: DANIEL ISN’T REAL (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Chukwudi Iwuji, Mary Stuart Masterson

PLOT: Escaping an unpleasant encounter between his parents, young Luke instead witnesses the aftermath of a mass murder; immediately following, his friend Daniel manifests.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTDaniel Isn’t Real‘s beautiful visual style, that at times evokes techno-metal Suspiria, is put to the service of an engaging story about the connection between demonic possession and mental illness. Despite the advent of hundreds of Apocrypha slots, however, Daniel Isn’t Real hews much more closely to distorted horror than the insanity we’d prefer.

COMMENTS: As rip-offs go, Daniel Isn’t Real is a mighty fine one. I use that phrase without its negative connotations; as the director himself explained after the movie, it is important for filmmakers to be able to rip off what’s come before. They can grow when what starts as an explicit homage becomes something new. Adam Mortimer is growing as a director, and there ‘s no shame in him acknowledging his influences. He began as a music video director, a background that served him well for the dreamlike nature of this movie.

At its core, Daniel Isn’t Real is the story of a troubled young artist on the cusp of schizophrenia. Luke (Miles Robbins) acquired the mysterious friend named Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) during his childhood. Now Daniel, once locked in an otherworldly, fortress-like dollhouse for having pushed young Luke to try to kill his mother, appears again. He shows up at just the right time, it seems, helping Luke to navigate college life, giving him advice and support, and, in one amusing scene, even helping him to cheat on a math test. However, Daniel begins resenting Luke’s control and seeks to take control of Luke’s body. As for Luke, he experiences the cost of following the lead of a wholly uninhibited, and violent, part of of himself.

Mortimer described the visual aesthetic of the film—particularly Daniel’s world—as “ultraviolet.” It’s a handy term, despite the fact that that “color” is technically in the invisible part of the spectrum. Daniel’s unreal purple lighting cues reinforce the character’s underlying menace (which is established well by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s channeling ‘s American Psycho-yuppie). This contrast between the soft and gentle illumination of Luke’s world and Daniel’s underworld is the primary motif that helps the audience differentiate visually what they’re experiencing in the narrative. Luke’s real world goes drab and sickens into an amber palette as his grip on his own mind and body disintegrates.

The main joy I found in Daniel Isn’t Real comes from its early depiction of the relationship between the two sides of Luke. (Or, the movie suggests, the relationship between Luke and this mystical entity that has entered his psyche.) Their playful relationship as young boys is reminiscent of experiences of those who were outcasts growing up. Tying the dangers of mental trauma to the metaphor of demonic possession makes it clear that, as much as we may find comfort in the manifestation of our “stronger” side, our insecurities are the signposts of what keeps us anchored to those around us. By skating on the edge of psychological horror and supernatural horror, Adam Mortimer performs a neat hat trick that kept me gripped right through the final fantastical showdown.

You can also listen to our interview with director Aama Egypt Mortimer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a mind-bendingly freaky psychological horrorshow that crawls disconcertingly into your head and stays in there, gnawing away, long after the credits fade… Echoes of the creeping, dissociative paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant-era Polanski run throughout the film, but Daniel Isn’t Real is very much its own distinct fever dream of chimerical unease. Highly recommended.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (festival screening)

 

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