Tag Archives: 2019

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I LOST MY BODY (2019)

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AKA J’ai perdu mon corps

DIRECTED BY: Jérémy Clapin

FEATURING: Voices of Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois

PLOT: A right hand, severed from its host body, goes on a harrowing journey in hopes of a reunion.

Still from I Lost My Body (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If the logline, “It’s like The Incredible Journey, but it’s a hand” doesn’t immediately raise an eyebrow, then you are impervious to surprise. But while an adventure tale of a persistent hand would be intriguing enough, the determination to tell the tale with such bittersweet affection and lyricism is a bold and ultimately rewarding choice.

COMMENTS: The five-fingered human hand is probably among the most difficult things to draw. There are many reasons that most cartoon movies opt for a four-fingered variety, including time, expense, and appearance. So an animated feature in which the leading character is a disembodied, fully humanoid five-fingered hand would seem to reach peak hubris. Yet here we are with the earnestly told, irony-free tale of a hand that is violently amputated, and struggles mightily to be reunited with its body. It’s an idea so crazy, and an undertaking so destined to end disastrously, that it just has to work.

Director Clapin does himself no favors by balancing multiple narratives in time. We have to keep up with the present-day Naoufel, an orphaned immigrant who happens to be missing a hand; his backstory as a boy aspiring to be both a concert pianist and an astronaut (complete with lingering closeups of an extremity that is destined to go AWOL); the story our protagonist as an aimless young man hoping to win the affection of a pretty young woman through techniques straight out of a wacky Hollywood rom-com; and, of course, the adventures of a hand loose in the city.

The hand is a riveting character: navigating the Parisian streets like a wily insect, triumphing in battles with the city’s wildlife, and generally overcoming very long odds. It’s worth noting that the title clearly identifies the hand as the star of the show, so when we see flashbacks to Naoufel’s youth, it’s tempting to see the loving closeups as ironic, dryly foreshadowing, manufacturing suspense for the violent event that is sure to come. And it does work that way, sure. But the real point is that this is the hand’s story. Of course, we’re constantly focused on the hand; it’s the hero of its own tale.

It is sometimes said that it is harder for animated movies to seem weird because they are already a step removed from reality. But Clapin utilizes a surprising array of techniques to keep us off balance, and only some of them have anything to do with animation. Some of them are actually anti-animation, like the long, static, dialogue-focused meet-cute that takes place in an apartment building lobby as Naoufel chats with the future object of his affection entirely over an intercom. This is animated! And yet, the details are so lovingly captured—the boy’s hangdog embarrassment, his resigned eating of a piece of mushed-up pizza—that the format becomes completely irrelevant.

I Lost My Body challenges our willingness to take it seriously, as more than some cartoon Thing loose on the streets of Paris. Perhaps that’s what makes a fairly straightforward quest feel so odd. Indeed, sometimes weird is spectacular, with viewers wondering in awe about the kind of mind that could have dreamed up something so fantastical/disturbing. But sometimes weird is a subtle turn of the prism that casts a familiar tale in an entirely new light. I Lost My Body is just such a movie. Instead of asking “What happened to that boy who lost his hand?’ it has the courage to ask, “What happened to that hand?” The answer turns out to be even more affecting.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In its finished form, director Jérémy Clapin’s peculiar undertaking (adapted from the novel “Happy Hand,” by Guillaume Laurant) is even stranger than it sounded to me half a decade earlier, and yet, there’s no question he’s pulled it off. In fact, I’d hazard to say it’s one of the most original and creative animated features I’ve ever seen: macabre, of course — how could it be otherwise, given the premise? — but remarkably captivating and unexpectedly poetic in the process.” – Peter DeBruge, Variety

(Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE SHASTA TRIANGLE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Barry W. Levy

FEATURING: Dani Lennon, Ayanna Berkshire, Helenna Santos, Deborah Lee Smith, Madeline Merritt

PLOT: Paula returns to her hometown of Shasta, CA where unexplained phenomena regularly occur, to look further into one such instance—the disappearance of her father. With the help of four childhood friends, they go into the surrounding woods looking for answers—which they do find, and quite a bit more.

Still from The Shasta Triangle (2019)

COMMENTS: The Shasta Triangle is an above-average low-budget genre film of the type that you’d expect to see on the SyFy Channel on a Saturday night, and if you temper your expectations to that level, you’ll enjoy the film. There’s nothing that’s particularly new here in terms of playing with the tropes, but it is refreshing to have the “group going into the woods” be all-female in this variation. You might recognize some of the cast from other genre work, particularly Lennon, Berkshire and Santos (also a producer and the co-story writer). These three also give the film’s better performances.

The premise is solid for what’s essentially  a friends-go-into-the-scary-woods movie. It all plays out fairly well, although the ending is somewhat muffed and may leave some dissatisfied; there’s a resolution, but it also feels like the filmmakers left themselves room to continue the story. Some may not feel a compelling need for them to do so. Still from The Shasta Triangle (2019)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…plays out much like a Luc Besson film. That is, it’s filled with audacious, original ideas worth exploring and experiencing, even if they don’t always hit the mark like you’d hope…  Subtle camera movements and transition-heavy editing create a disorienting effect that underscores the dream-like elements of the film.”–Justin Andress, The Model American (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, , Joely Richardson,  Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliar

PLOT: A meteorite lands at a remote New England farm and spreads alien madness to a family.

Still from Color out of Space (2019)

COMMENTS:  The color out of space is actually lavender, or maybe it’s more of a fuchsia. At any rate, it’s in the pink/purple spectrum.  It’s possible that this choice is a nod to From Beyond, which is also inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and which I once wrote was “the pinkest horror movie ever made.” (Besides Beyond, Color reminded me of a number of 80s horrors, with shadings from The Shining, Poltergeist, and even Society.) Director Richard Stanley is committed to this color palette, which is prefigured in the streak of purple dye in Lavinia Gardner’s otherwise golden hair. In Lovecraft’s original story, a color never before seen by man was a metaphor for the ineffable quality of the alien visitor. In the movie, that color necessarily must be represented literally, and Stanley takes the literalism so excessively—slathering the film with liquid lilacs and violets—that the effect becomes almost as strange as an indescribable extraterrestrial hue. In fact, you only know when the alien presence has departed because the scene becomes drained of all color.

Bookended by quotations from Lovecraft‘s text, Color follows a standard horror movie arc: character setup, arrival of an evil presence, and steadily escalating eerie incidents that come to a climax. There are a lot of unusual sights along the way, however, starting with the purple mutant grasshopper/dragonfly hybrid with tie-dye spider-eye vision and progressing to general madness among the entire cast and a ian mother/child re-assimilation. The utter inscrutability of the aliens’ nature and purpose is true to Lovecraft, though it may not be to some modern horror fans’ taste. Questions of whether the color arrives on the pink glowing meteor by accident or purposefully, and why it seems to suddenly depart—or perhaps just to go dormant—are left unanswered. “What touched this place cannot be understood or quantified by human science,” is the best those hoping for an explanation will get.

Despite being featured in the film’s promotion, Cage, as the family patriarch, doesn’t dominate the story. He doesn’t even start Cage-ing until halfway through, going all Jack Torrance after his kids forget to feed the alpaca, gesticulating wildly and switching accents mid-monologue. It’s the young stars Madeleine Arthur (as Lavinia) and Elliot Knight (as the surveyor) who are the main protagonists. I came into the experience looking forward to Cage bringing the crazy, but ended up happy that his peculiar lunacy merely seasoned the film a bit, rather than dominating it.

Due to its provenance— a weird fiction classic that’s been adapted many times, but never properly; a cult director come out of retirement to helm the project; Nic Freaking Cage— Color Out of Space is the hot ticket among cult film fans in early 2020. The movie doesn’t actually do anything truly unexpected, but nor does it disappoint. With Cage, a retro-80s horror pace and feel, and plenty of pretty swirling colors, it’s going to hit the sweet spot for a lot of viewers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Oh, Richard Stanley, how we have missed your intoxicating weirdness… there is no preparing you for this space oddity.”–Preston Barta, Fresh Fiction (festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE WAVE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Gille Klabin

FEATURING: , , Donald Faison, Tommy Flanagan, Ronnie Gene Blevins

PLOT: A corporate lawyer decides to cut loose one night, but regrets it when a strange drug dealer convinces him to try an exotic hallucinogen whose effects last several days and make him randomly skip forward in time.

Still from The Wave (2019)

COMMENTS: I was confused as to what genre to place The Wave. It’s not reality-based enough to be science fiction, and nor is it divorced enough from reality to be fantasy. It’s not magical realism, either. The issues it explores are more philosophical than dramatic.  Psychological thriller kind of works, but the film is not nearly as dark as that term usually implies. The pacing (and the occasional light mugging from the leads) suggests that the movie wants to be taken as a comedy. Indeed, the setup, with straight-laced corporate lawyer Frank sneaking out for a night on the town with his more adventurous (and nigh-irresponisible) buddy suggest suits-cut-loose shenanigans a la Something Wild are coming. But the movie also takes itself kind of seriously, and lacks moments that play for big laughs.

The mongrel term “dramedy” is a possibility, but in the end I think The Wave really belongs to that rare and disreputable subgenre, the “trip movie.” It’s not an exploitation piece—although there are drug porn moments, like when we see a heaping mound of hundreds of thousands of dollars of uppers, downers, pills and powders spread across a grinning dealer’s table. The Wave‘s money shots are its wavery lysergic visions—especially when one of the mystery drug’s waves kicks in at a corporate board meeting, turning the executives into a bunch of Mammon-channeling demons. (The visuals here are simple but effective—it looks like they digitally painted over every frame of film, an effect that looks like rotoscoping done in MS Paint). At its core, the script posits that psychedelic drugs have legitimate spiritual healing qualities—that all that most self-centered lawyer needs is a high enough dose to turn himself on, grok karma, and become a self-sacrificing hippie.

The script may be naive at heart, but it hides it well. After Frank takes the mystery drug, the plot barrels along, lurching forward in time. Frank might suddenly find himself in a deserted house, or in the middle of a car chase, without explanation. Blackouts may be a side effect of the drug, but there’s something mystical about the process, too. By the end, the plot points snap into place nicely. The leads are all pro. Donald Faison provides good buddy support, playing the bad angel or good angel as needed; Sheila Vand, the mystic pixie dream girl, is luminous in her dream sequences; and Ronnie Gene Blevins overacts quite appropriately as the hellbent drug dealer antagonist. Justin Long makes a great Frank. He has a pleasant John Krasinski-meets-Fred Armisen quality here; you can’t stay mad at him, even when blind ambition is leading him to screw the beneficiaries of a dead firefighter out of their rightful proceeds. The screenplay hates the game, not the player, and redemption is just a trip away. Everything doesn’t quite work as it should: some characters, like the shrewish wife and the ruthless CEO, are cardboard caricatures; the score adds little; and, since the mystery drug comes at you in waves, the movie probably should have been titled in the plural. But if a mysterious Scotsman in a fur coat offers you The Wave, consider taking it. Rough patches aside, the crisp acting, inventive visuals, and speedy pace make it a trip you probably won’t regret taking.

The Wave shows up in selected cinemas, and more widely on video-on-demand, this Friday, January 17.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a fairly clever, trippy saga with its heart in the right place.”–Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm (festival screening)

 

CAPSULE: VHYES (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Jack Henry Robbins

FEATURING: Mason McNulty, Christian Drerup, Jake Head, Rahm Braslaw

PLOT: We see the results when 12-year-old Ralph tapes late night 1987 cable television shows, and his own adolescent antics, over his parent’s old wedding tape.

Still from VHYes (2019)

COMMENTS: VHYes had me at the moment when, after brushing in some happy snowcaps for the mountains she’s been crafting, the somnolently friendly Bob Ross-style PBS painting instructor announces “now, let’s get back to the spaceship.” She’s just one of the demented characters you meet as young Ralph experiments in preserving his short-attention span channel surfing for posterity: a kindly cowboy full of inappropriate advice; a couple of shopping channel salesfolk who banter passive-aggressively; an “Antiques Roadshow”-inspired host who appraises some unusual artifacts; the shy hostess of a punk rock public access show (and her supportive parents); and a prescient cultural philosopher who describes the phenomenon of “tape narcissism” and warns that “one day the world will exist only to be filmed.” Naturally, there are also a slew of vintage commercial and infomercial parodies. This smorgasbord of ersatz crapola plays like a found footage 1980s version of The Groove Tube, except that it periodically returns to check in the adventures on Ralph, his best friend Josh, and his mom and dad. Some bits are silly and overdone (there’s a bit more splattered blood than you’d normally see in an alarm company commercial ); others are subtle and absurd. The big finale is reminiscent of the kind of short that might play on “” post-midnight: Ralph finds himself surreally transported into a jumbled reality where the layers of the tape all bleed together.

VHYes is a breezy compendium of skewed nostalgia, sometimes hilarious, sometimes weird, and, unexpectedly, sometimes touching. The most substantial complaint to raise against it, in fact, is that it’s too short. There must have been plenty of unused tape, and I would have loved to see even more backstory on young Ralph. His scenes are more than just the gimmick that explains the existence of the artifact we’re watching; his story of coping with childhood fears and disappointments offer a meaningful counterbalance to the goofy comedy sketches, like the commercial for an ointment that grants cubicle workers “freakish flexibility.” On the other hand, maybe it’s best to consider VHYes‘ zippy 70-minute runtime an asset rather than a liability. It’s a “little” film, but in the best sense: short, punchy, homemade, thoughtful in its unassuming way, and—like the ongoing saga of Hot Winter, an ecologically-aware 80s porno with the lesbian orgies edited out—innocent at its heart.

VHYes was shot entirely on vintage VHS and Betacam cameras. The bits with the spooky painter (starring Kerry Kenney, of “Reno 911” fame) are spliced in from Robbins’ 2017 Sundance short “Painting with Joan”; the edited porno scenes from “Hot Winter” were also a standalone short. Director Jack Henry Robbins is the son of and , who executive produced and have eye-blink cameos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange yet sweet film that is one-part coming-of-age dramedy, one-part found-footage comedy, and one part channel surfing.”–Kristy Puchko, Pajiba (festival screening)

TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2019

In just a few more hours, 2019 will be in the books. Actually, for the purposes of weird movie monitoring, we put 2019 to bed last month; from now on we’ll be ending our personal movie calendar on the last day of November, to allow our future 366 Weird Movies Yearbooks to go out in December. We’re not missing out on much; usually, December releases are limited to Star Wars sequels and Oscar bait dramas. (Although we do regret not being able to fit the animated severed hand romance I Lost My Body into 2019, a review will keep until early 2020. And, of course, we regret not considering December’s Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation that divided the furry community).

Under the Silver Lake key artAs always, there were hard cuts at the bottom of the top 10 list. After all, 2019 saw (as a mortician) and (as the homeless guy Wiseau bef(r)iends) renew their onscreen chemistry in the sprawling two-part epic Best F(r)iends. gave us another gonzo performance as a truck driver whose dead wife’s spirit possesses the body of his new girlfriend’s hot jailbait daughter in Between Worlds. And speaking of speaking with the dead, who can forget Holy Trinity, about a dominatrix who  develops necromantic abilities after huffing cans of new age air freshener? Well, you can’t forget what you never saw, and that one, along with Alien Crystal Palace, the French sex film that casts the Egyptian god Horus as a mad scientist, and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, wherein the messiah and an Ethiopian President/superhero figure into a social media virus plot, have so far proven too weird to be picked up by distributors. Maybe 2020 will bring these gems to wider audiences.

As for the choice of movies: I personally pick them using a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the degree of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I rank them in whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that. (This year, I actually solicited second opinions for each of the nominees, but I’ll still take all the blame if you want to complain that The Forest of Love should have been the fifth weirdest film of the year, not the sixth).  As always, films are listed in random order—the weirdest of orders.

So, on to the official Weirdest Movies of 2019 List! May each successive year grow stranger and more challenging than the next…

7. Diamantino: A right-wing political party tricks a simpleminded, empathetic Portuguese soccer star into becoming its spokesman. With visions of puppies, an adopted refugee who’s actually a government spy, and hermaphroditic side effects of a cloning project, this political satire gets pretty wild by the final act. As explains, “[t]he film’s delightfully crazy sense of humor and surreally satirized reality, contrasted with the sincerity with which it treats its main character, makes for a definite achievement.”

1. Under the Silver Lake: A Los Angeles slacker becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his hot blonde neighbor; his investigations Continue reading TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2019