Tag Archives: Expeirmental


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DIRECTED BY: Ben Rivers, Ben Russell

FEATURING: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Nicholas McMaster, Weasel Walter

PLOT: A commune member goes off on his own for a more solitarty existence but eventually heads to the city, where he plays in a black metal rock band.

Still from A Spell to Ward off the Darkness (2013)

COMMENTS: Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 romantic drama 9 Songs is ostensibly about the life of a relationship, in which we see the central couple enjoy each other’s company, argue, and have sex; in between, they go to concerts and see bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Von Bondies, and the Dandy Warhols. The back-and-forth nature of the production begs the question of whether the songs are there to justify the explicit sex scenes, or if the sex is an excuse to showcase all these up-and-coming bands. 

I thought of this as I followed the tripartite journey of the central figure in A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness. This man who goes from a commune to a lone encampment in the woods to a concert in a small nightclub never speaks, never offers any insight into his heart or mind. Even in performance, he and his fellow bandmates sing exclusively in wordless intonations. So what are we seeing? Is this concert the culmination of a journey? The logical endpoint for his travels from nature to urbanity? Or did the band come first, and the movie was reverse-engineered to get us here?

As winner of the award for Best Documentary Feature at the Torino Film Festival—aside from reminding us just how many film festivals there are out there—Spell brings up the question of just what a documentary is. Nothing in A Spell to Ward off the Darkness is fictional, strictly speaking, because nothing in it is functionally narrative. Arguably the most vérité section of the film is in the first third, when we hang out with a bunch of hippies at their wooded retreat as they build a small dome, frolic about in the sauna, laze by a river, and engage in idle chit-chat. It seems pleasantly rustic (they still have wi-fi and sound systems), and the residents are a little crunchy-granola, but not annoyingly so. Still, there’s a distinct lack of specifics. We don’t even know anyone’s name, let alone what led them to walk away from society or permitted them to find each other. It documents by capturing on film, but completely elides the facts or context that would give the images meaning.

But the remainder of the film doesn’t even possess the veneer of the found moment. When one of the campers (Lowe, whom we’ve only seen occasionally up to this point) decides to go off and live on his own, it feels enormously calculated, as we jump directly to the middle of his escape in a canoe. Nothing has precipitated the move, and not much will come of it as he hikes his way to a remote cabin where he can read, fish, and get dressed for the last portion of the film. Having put on makeup and set fire to the cabin, Lowe heads into town to join a concert in a tavern. Surely this was no surprise to the filmmakers. Certainly these are known events, staged and shot with forethought and intention. So the questions arise again: What are we seeing? Does the dog wag the tail, or vice-versa?

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is a beautifully shot motion picture, and the slow and contemplative pacing is enticing, encouraging you to watch to see where it’s going to go. But it isn’t going anywhere, because it isn’t really storytelling. It feels more like a collection of the most professionally shot home movies ever assembled. Having seen the pretty pictures, the viewer leaves with no more than when they began, without even hot sex or a cool song to take as a souvenir. So I guess it’s weird. I’m not sure if it’s a movie.


“This muddled curio doesn’t coalesce into anything, even by its own dreamy, associational terms.”–Tara Brady, The Irish Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Blizard. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


Asatte no Mori

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“…an ‘idiot’ or a ‘comedy’ The Thing….”–director  describing his stylistic aspirations for The Warped Forest

DIRECTED BY: Shunichiro Miki

FEATURING: , , Yoji Tanaka,

PLOT: Nine people are vacationing at a Japanese hot springs resort; some of them have disappeared for three days and reappeared without explanation. In an alternate universe, these nine pursue an existence in a village inside magical forest of sexualized fruit, miniature people, and brothels stocked with nipple-sucking creatures. The alter-egos supplicate before a monolith in the forest, seeking for a way to warp their dreams and find a happier existence.

Still from The Warped Forest (2011)


  •  Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) was a surreal anthology film from three directors ( , Aniki, and ) with no real plot, although it was themed around the idea of alien contact. This spiritual sequel was made by , whose monstrous, -on-laughing-gas creature designs were arguably the most memorable part of the original.
  • Although Miki has a segment in another anthology film and some TV episodes to his credit, this is his sole solo feature. He mostly directs commercials; he saved the money he made over the years and spent his entire life savings to fund this film himself.
  • The Warped Forest only had a short festival run and was never released to cinemas in Japan or elsewhere. In 2022 it was released as the co-feature in the Funky Forest Blu-ray set.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Cute-as-a-button Fumi Nikaidô holding an ornately carved rifle, which charges up with an advancing series of lights and a crescendo of whirs when she grasps it and, when fully operational, flips the compartment in the barrel to reveal… a tiny wiener, which emits a thin stream of white fluid.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Hypertech jizz gun; genital fruit

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Shunichiro Miki melds the weirdly organic and the comically absurd into a singular pocket of dreamspace, presenting a completely personal and unduplicatable vision that is simultaneously shocking, angularly erotic, and heartwarming.

Original trailer for The Warped Forest (2011)

COMMENTS: In 2011, Shunichiro Miki released a short trailer for Continue reading 26*. THE WARPED FOREST (2011)