Tag Archives: Independent film

CAPSULE: LADYWORLD (2018)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Amanda Kramer

FEATURING: Ariela Barer, Annalise Barro, Ryan Simpkins

PLOT: Seven young women, unable to leave a house after an earthquake, descend into paranoia.

Still from Ladyworld (2018)

COMMENTS: A low rumble; growing chaos; a cacophony of destruction: all taking place during a black screen. A destructive earthquake traps eight young women in a house. Rubble gathers up to the window tops, blocking all known exits. We see none of this, but the impression is clear, the sensation of imprisonment rendered wholly through sound design. This background—creaks, crashes, and whirring blades of helicopter—traps us with these confined, forgotten women; a human-sound film score of yelps and bursts augments the dread. Ladyworld is an uncomfortable place, and misery for its inhabitants.

This riff on Lord of the Flies flips the script, gender-wise, exploring the trope from a wholly feminine perspective. Much is the same: feral tribalism bursts through a civil veneer, even in such a small group; spatial confinement melds with a growing hopelessness to trigger listlessness and psychosis, depending on the moment and victim; and sightings of a man lurking in the dark basement add an edge of terror to the ambient menace. By the film’s end, nearly everyone has lost it.

Amanda Kramer plays a risky game with her story. Its strengths and weaknesses are the same cards. There is much repetition—dialogue, montage, and shots—which at times grows tedious; but, that’s the point. Kramer emphasizes the differences between feuding factions—Olivia’s civil-minded, and smaller, cadre on the one side, and Piper’s gangster-clique on the other—more and more over time. Every corner of living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, closet, and, of course, the forbidden basement, becomes trashed, nicely reflecting the state of the party. We see these rooms and developments again and again. And again. You may want to scream, “Enough, already!” But just think of how the characters feel.

Ladyworld is up front in putting its characters and setting right in the title, and it delivers a discomfited vision. It is a film to be endured alongside the story’s victims. While it would have done well—maybe—to be trimmer by a quarter of an hour, it might had less impact. After the opening black screen shot and its destructive sound establishes the ambient tension, it only ratchets up. The audience bears witness to the strain until the unlikely, but apt, finale, when the ladies’ world bursts asunder.

Yellow Veil re-released Ladyworld on DVD and Blu-ray in January 2024, with alternate and deleted scenes, a director’s commentary, two Kramer short films, her otherwise unreleased debut feature Paris Window, and even more extras.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“...it proves its own surreal, savage and superbly performed creation… painfully real in its emotions yet dreamily unreal in its atmosphere, an effective and haunting combination which is heightened by image and soundtrack choices.”–Sarah Ward, Screen Daily (festival screening)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEEP ASTRONOMY AND THE ROMANTIC SCIENCES (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

RecommendedWeirdest!

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences can be watched for free courtesy of the Red Planet Planning Commission.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rudy DeJesus, Michi Muzyka, the voice of Meredith Adelaide, Cory McAbee

PLOT: Rudy sits down with a quiet woman drinking, who shares with him the history of the bar they’re in, and its relation to the “romantic sciences.”

COMMENTS: “Techno-Mysticism”. No, it’s not a musical genre where Industrial meets New Age; nor is it a term used at any time during the Deep Astronomy experience. This is a designation of my own making, which I put forward because it is accurate, succinct, and there’s no one to stop me. In this film, Cory McAbee has assembled some few dozen snippets of his live performances of… well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Boy, Rudy, meets girl, Grace, at a trendy bar, flawlessly executing that immortal opening line, “Hey, my buddies and I have a bet. Are you a robot?” Turns out she is, and she claims to know everything about him. Rudy and Grace proceed to have a conversation about reality, particularly the intersection of physical reality and artificial reality. This primarily takes the form of her discussing Cory McAbee: his origins, his professional trajectory, and his Techno-Mystical viewpoints.

From all examples on display (and there are many, culled from various performances over the years), McAbee is an awkwardly charming fellow, with novel views on humanity and existence. Taking his talks at face value—the performances hover between symposia and stand-up—he believes, among other things, in trans-dimensional sliding, eternal existence, and that his observations on transformation are best conveyed through song.  Humans are composed of the light they absorb, and are doomed to pass through this existence to become light spreading eternally. We are, he opines, creatures living in an increasingly artificial social and mental construct—and the only way is forward. He is also the inventor of “the Norman”, a the-last-person-Polka-ing-wins kind of dance floor body fight. Techno-Mysticism is all these things: our machines and constructs, and our greater relationship with the cosmos. And a heapful of silliness making the whole exercise enjoyable.

Grounding the movie audience, and in delightful contrast to McAbee’s nerdful enthusiasm, is Rudy DeJesus’ performance as the man in the bar talking to the robot in the bar. Rudy’s charm is easy-going, and always feels genuine; Grace, the robot (?), has her own charm (“Thank you for sitting with me, I like you”), and provides a third, artificially artificial perspective on the proceedings (these proceedings being both her conversation with Rudy, but also, to the best of my understanding, the current social-technological proceedings of the species). Deep Astronomy is blunderbuss cinema, divotting the audience with many styles—mumblecore romantic comedy, T.E.D. talk, stand-up, and advertisements—but as if one had attached a laser sight to the projectilator in question. McAbee has themes he explores. Over and over. And Deep Astronomy and The Romantic Sciences is an entertaining and thought-provoking means for him to distill his manifold musings.

El Rob Hubbard and Gregory J. Smalley interview Cory McAbee about Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences (among other topics)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I have no idea what to make of this film… [MaAbee]’s been making weird and innovative films and music videos for years now, not to mention several albums of equally strange songs, and a busy schedule of live performances… But even those who’ve followed his sui generis career will not have expected anything this far removed from everything else he has ever done.” — Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE SUDBURY DEVIL (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

The Sudbury Devil can be rented or purchased on-demand.

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Rakich

FEATURING: Benton Guinness, , Josh Popa, Matthew Van Gessell, Kendra Unique

PLOT: In 1678, 2 years after King Philip’s War, two Puritan witch hunters from Boston, John Fletcher (Guinness) and Josiah Cutting (Popa), are sent to a town in the Massachusetts sticks to investigate allegations of witchcraft and deviltry in the nearby woods by Isaac Goodenow (Van Guessel), where they encounter Patience Gavett (Gregg) and her companion Flora (Unique).

Still from "The Sudbury Devil" (2023)

COMMENTS: American folk horror is an established genre in literature, but it hasn’t quite made the jump to movies or television to the extent that its British cousins have. Outside of adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works (“The House of the Seven Gables”, “Young Goodman Brown” to name a couple), ‘s Eyes of Fire is probably the film people would point to, along with Ravenous and The Witch.1

The Sudbury Devil is a good addition to that slim lineup, and even more impressive for accomplishing what it does on its budget; of the films mentioned, it’s certainly the one that qualifies as microbudgeted, and it makes the most of its available resources.

If you mashed up A Field in England with Ravenous and The Witch,  you’d get The Sudbury Devil. It’s more than apparent that director/writer Rakich is a hardcore fan of the aforementioned films, and it’s to his and his cast and crew’s credit to have produced a film which goes further than its predecessors, as proper Hellspawn should.

Director/writer/actor Andrew Rakich is known for his Atun-Shei YouTube page, where he utilizes his knowledge and interest in history—he was a ‘living historian’ at Gettysburg National Military Park and a New Orleans tour guide—to produce work that amuses and informs. Starting from highlighting sites and events in New Orleans, he progressed to a Civil War series, “Checkmate, Lincolnites!”, which takes on the mythology of the South’s “Lost Cause” propaganda in entertaining fashion. Entertaining here means comedic, which makes sense; hard and unflattering truths tend to be accepted easier if there’s a laugh or joke involved, and once hooked, thinking can begin (ask filmmaker .) The same effect can be obtained by replacing laughs and jokes with dread and horror in Sudbury (although there is a touch of black humor in what the filmmakers describe as a “mischievous indictment of America’s foundational rot”).

As Sudbury lays it out, hypocrisy is at the heart of that rot. The justification of King Phillip’s War, which eradicated much of the indigenous population of New England, still weighs heavily on Fletcher in his nightmares. The “piety” of Cutting and Reverend Russell allows their disdain of women (specifically Patience). Russell supports  Mosley’s Company and the war, despite actively avoiding any involvement in it. Cutting dsiplays racism towards the original inhabitants of the land and towards Flora, despite his attraction.

While sex has always been a part of folk horror, it’s usually presented obliquely rather than directly. Sudbury puts it upfront: polyamory, homoeroticism, masturbation, gender-shifting, and even a climatic double penetration (although not in the way that you might expect.) Sex and sexual freedom is usually presented as aligned with devilry in folk horror, though Sudbury subverts that expectation.

In that sense, Sudbury is not only folk horror, but also a subset of what could be termed ‘Woke Horror’ (Get Out, Us, Harvest Lake, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster). This vein of film includes the works of , ‘s The People Under the Stairs (1991), and others; a long established tradition, so ‘Woke Horror’ isn’t such a new thing after all.

The Sudbury Devil will be available on VOD today, December 21—in time for Xmas!— on Rakich’s website, Atun-Shei Films. Other related work that may help in understanding the nuances of the film (King Phillip’ War, Sudbury area history, and specifics in the film) can be viewed there and on YouTube, as well as the webseries Checkmate, Lincolnites and The Witchfinder General, a lighter look at Puritanism. A physical media release may also happen sometime in 2024.

A note of interest for those literary horror aficionados who notice the name Tabitha King as an executive producer: yes, it is that Tabitha King (novelist and wife of an obscure writer named Stephen King). As Rakich explained in the Pod 366 interview, she is also a noted genealogist and had heard about the production and contributed to it.

Listen to our interview with Andrew Rakich and producer Veronika Payton about The Sudbury Devil.

  1. I’m certain there will be “That Guy” who pops in with some titles not named. That’s a protracted discussion for another time, after Vol. 2 of “All the Haunts Be Ours” is released… ↩︎

CAPSULE: OPEN (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Open can be rented or purchased on-demand.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Miles Doleac

FEATURING: Lindsay Anne Williams, Miles Doleac, Jeremy London, Elena Sanchez, Amber Reign Smith

PLOT: Kristina comes to regret pursuing her long-time fantasy of dating her teen idol when she and her husband explore sharing an open marriage.

Still from OPEN (2022)

COMMENTS: Be advised: if you have an aversion to New Wave music, you will want to avoid this movie. Over its run time, there are some dozen or so interludes featuring ’80s style studio music videos wherein Kristina Corbin’s subconscious processes her situational and emotional circumstances. Her youthful dream of fronting a glamorous synth-rock band is the pulsing heart of this quietly satisfying romantic comedy, and while the segues slip into the narrative like clockwork, they never feel unwelcome.

Ultimately unwelcome, however, is Erik LaRoux, an erstwhile teen idol whom Kristina adored growing up. When she and husband Robert’s marriage hits the rocks—triggered by a recent miscarriage—they are unsure how to proceed. They feel, they know—it must be!—that they’re good together, and that they shouldn’t split up the metaphorical band; but they’ll be damned if they can figure out what direction to go. And so, Kristina makes a suggestion: an open relationship. The first act of Play runs like a cute-‘n’-clever little relationship dramedy, with Kristina hooking up with a charismatic has-been, and Robert falling in bed with a long-time friend.

Open is very much an “all well and good” kind of experience. It shuffles along, capably attaining its realistic ambitions. The characters are all likable (even Erik, before his dark turn) and the songs hover around the better side of average. Sometimes the band is mediocre, other times they flirt with genius. (The tune “Aspic” merits bonus points for the choral couplet, “Damn it to Hell, get me out of this stinking putrid well/I need some elevation for my aspic to gel,” a line which prompts the husband-keyboardist character to exclaim, “‘Aspic’? Really?”) Even when it begins to flounder in the third act, Open is still charmingly executed.

In the end, I was kind of surprised—in a good way. When the closing number queued up, I was hit with the sentiment, “It’s over already?” So, be advised: anyone looking for a fun, mature, and tuneful romantic comedy would do well to take a look at and listen to Open. It’s got heart, brio, and plenty of good advice: “Grab love by the balls, but don’t twist ’em too hard when you feel small.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Doleac, whose previous features have been horrors of deliciously demented delicacies, tries his hand at a quirky musical thriller – and the result is completely darling and truly absorbing.”–Bill Arceneaux, Moviegoing with Bill (festival screening)

CAPSULE: WAIKIKI (2020)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Kahunahana

FEATURING: Danielle Zalopany, Peter Shinkoda, Jason Quinn

PLOT: A Hawaiian native who works three jobs to make ends meet undergoes a breakdown when her van hits a homeless man.

Still from waikiki (2020)

COMMENTS: Kea starts Waikiki with three jobs: a hula dancer at a tourist show, a part-time instructor of native Hawaiian language at an elementary school, and, most lucratively, a gig at a hostess bar where she sings karaoke duets with lonely old men (a vocation that is slighter sadder than outright prostitution). Still, she can’t quite make ends meet—thanks in part to her estrangement from an abusive boyfriend—and is living out of her van. She also has a history of unspecified mental illness: when she tells her ex that she’s hit a homeless man, he wonders if she’s imagined it. That hit-and-not-run is the impetus for her sudden descent into homelessness. Guilty Kea gathers the bum into her van, carting him around for the rest of the movie as her already bleak fortunes sink lower.

Shots of dingy, dark concrete streets alternate with visions of tranquil blue seas and cool streams cutting their way through verdant forests. Honolulu (outside of Waikiki’s beaches) is an ugly city, plopped smack into the middle of a tropical paradise. He aili’i ka aina, he kanau ke kanaka, Kea scrawls on a whiteboard for the edification of her young students. “The land is the chief, the people are the servants.” Cut to a shot of a crane hoisting metal girders into the sky (construction projects are omnipresent in Waikiki‘s Honolulu). Kea looks grim and anxious filling out an application for housing; then, dolled up and adorned with a stage smile, she sways and mouths Connie Francis’ cheesy lyrics: “There’s a feeling deep in my heart/Stabbing at me just like a dart/It’s a feeling so heavenly…” The contrasts are obvious, but meaningful. We don’t mind when Kahunahana hammers them, because he’s getting at something uncomfortably true: the precariousness of the daily lives of millions of workers, as glamorous-on-the-surface bottle girl Kea sinks into dereliction in the space of a couple of days.

As the bum, Peter Shinkoda’s function within the story is ambiguous. He isn’t exactly mute, but he almost never speaks, and when he does it’s only on fragments. He becomes Kea’s voluntary responsibility, but in a sense, he drags her down to his level rather than redeeming her. He also serves as a conduit for her flashbacks. She berates him, calls him “pilau,” and the camera focuses on his face as it segues into a brief montage of her childhood memories before cutting back to a shot of her gazing into a mirror. Coupled with shots later in the film, the editing suggests an identification between Kea and Shinkoda that runs deeper than the surface plot might suggest.

Waikiki is being pitched by some as “the first narrative feature written and directed by a Native Hawaiian filmmaker.” A quick IMDb search reveals the existence of Keo Woolford‘s The Haumana (2013), which itself doesn’t seem like it could possibly be the first narrative feature written and directed by a native Hawaiian. That said, it’s still an extremely rare occurrence, and the novel native Hawaiian perspective here is one of Waikiki‘s pleasures, along with breezy island cinematography and a magnetically dark and ironic performance from Zalopany.

In limited theatrical release at the moment after an unusually long festival run, Waikiki should find a bigger audience on VOD starting December 5.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ventures into the surreal… while it creates some confusion as far as the narrative is concerned – or what there is of it — the writer/director shows a strong handle over sequences that stir the subconscious.”–Stephen Saito, The Moveable Feast (contemporaneous)