Tag Archives: Mental illness

GUEST REVIEW: MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (1986)

Guest review by Amy Vaughn

Hombre mirando al sudeste

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

DIRECTED BY: Eliseo Subiela

FEATURING: Lorenzo Quinteros, Hugo Soto, Inés Vernengo

PLOT: A man appears in a mental hospital claiming to be an alien.

Still from Man Facing Southeast (1986)

COMMENTS: Man Facing Southeast is a meditation on the human condition. Like Mindwalk or  Waking Life, it’s best to know what you’re getting into, and that there will be monologuing and pithy one-liners like, “I am your hallucination.”

It is plenty deep, and it was appreciated when it came out in 1986, garnering much praise and many awards in its home country of Argentina. For good reason: it’s well made on a slim budget ($600,000 USD), the acting is tight, the script leaves you with take-home ideas, and at the time the story hadn’t been done to death.

But now, everything seems predictable, from the worn facades of the sanitarium, to the jaded psychiatrist, to the mysterious (possibly alien) patient who may or may not save the doctor from himself. Even the patient/alien becoming ever more Christlike, gaining an entourage of sedated mental patients, and using psychokinesis to help a hungry mother feed her children—it’s all kind of ho-hum.

Rantés, the mental patient/alien played expertly by Hugo Soto, tells the psychiatrist that, because he is an alien hologram, he is unable to feel human emotions. He says he was sent/projected to Earth to determine what is wrong with humans, why we are so awful to one another.

Throughout the film, the psychiatrist vacillates about believing Rantés. He labels him delusional but does not put him on anti-psychotics. He broods about him and goes home to play the saxophone. A lot. There is a lot of saxophone in this movie.

An hour in, another possible alien enters the story. Her name is Beatriz Dick (apparently named in honor to Philip K.). She is meekly mannered and conservatively dressed. Rantés tells the psychiatrist she is a rogue alien, seduced by “sunsets and certain odors” to want to stay on Earth. The psychiatrist, predictably, falls in love with her. There are two odd things about Beatriz: she often exchanges her shoes for shoes that are exactly the same, which she carries with her in a shopping bag; and her saliva is blue, which we see once.

That’s it. That’s all the movie gives us to determine whether or not they are aliens: Rantés has psychokinetic powers and Beatriz has blue saliva.

The weirdest thing about this movie is that Rantés cannot feel, yet helps people anyway. As things progress—mostly as he is exposed to music—Rantés begins to smile and dance and experience joy, which becomes his undoing.

As much as Man Facing Southeast downplays its science fiction aspects, it spoon-feeds us its philosophy. But that’s what these movies do. Meant to be a timeless study of humankind’s inhumanity to itself and what it means to be human, decades of intervening movies on similar themes (both sci-fi and phi) have overshadowed it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…it shows huge promise — its mystery, its patient pace and its eerie resonance sometimes transcend its didactics.”–Rita Kempley, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

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

CAPSULE: A WOUNDED FAWN (2022)

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

DIRECTED BY: Travis Stevens

FEATURING: Josh Ruben, Sarah Lind, Malin Barr

PLOT: A schizophrenic serial killer takes a date to his remote cabin, but things don’t quite go as he plans.

Still from A Wounded Fawn (2022)

COMMENTS: Despite some classical allusions (to the Erinyes, who are described in the opening in as much detail as is necessary), A Wounded Fawn begins its life looking like it will be a relatively straightforward thriller. In the prologue we see killer Bruce dispatch a victim and meet the Red Owl, the hallucinatory entity who prompts him to murder against his will. We then fast forward to meet protagonist Meredith, who has unwisely swiped right on Bruce, and after a dinner of tacos has even more unwisely agreed to an overnight date at his remote cabin. When she gets there, she seems to be hallucinating, too, as we encounter mysterious bumps and shadowy figures (disruptions which only intensify after she plays a vinyl single impishly titled “LSD.”) But at almost exactly the halfway point, a movie that looks like it’s about to become a cat-and-mouse game between predator and prey undergoes an unexpected detour into the utterly surreal.

When this horror movie promotes itself as “surreal,” it doesn’t use the term in the usual “we’re going to show you some WTF stuff, man” sense. Travis Steven’s imagery was explicitly modeled on the work of two modern Surrealist painters: Dorothea Tanning and Leonara Carrington (who also supplies the film’s epigraph). The Red Owl is strange enough, but other entities soon appear: a nude woman attached to a moving stovepipe, a cartoonish blood-red cross between Cthulu and a beetle with google eyes, a woman in a red-lipped volto mask with long auburn ringlets with snakes crawling across her head. Rarely has the spectacle of a man battling his inner demons been depicted so literally.

Bruce is an unusual case: a character who is simultaneously a charming sociopath and a functional schizophrenic. It’s a difficult tightrope that Ruben walks admirably, eliciting about as much sympathy as we can expect to feel for such a monster. Although most have interpreted the film as a feminist allegory about abusive partners (which is almost certainly the intention), there remains an open question as to whether Bruce’s homicidal tendencies are a result of an irresistible compulsion, or whether that’s just a convenient excuse for him to give in to his depraved fantasies. Of course, from the perspective of his victims, the question of free will is moot. The entire final act of the film is an extensive psychoanalysis where Bruce’s brain is literally picked. Be sure to stay tuned for the end credits, which are as unforgettably odd and audacious as any I’ve ever seen. If you like your horror on the surreal side, A Wounded Fawn is sure to scratch your festering itch.

A Wounded Fawn debuts exclusively on Shudder starting today (Dec. 5). Normally, Shudder exclusives will show up at other outlets after a few months; we’ll be sure to update you when that happens.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This movie came to get weird, tell you men aren’t that great, and send you back into the world an even stranger person.”–Sharai Bohannon, Dread Central (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BUDDY BOY (1999)

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

DIRECTED BY: Mark Hanlon

FEATURING: Aiden Gillen, Emmanuelle Seigner, , Mark Boone Junior

PLOT: Francis, a lonely, emotionally stunted man living with his stepmother, begins spying on Gloria; after a chance encounter on the street, they strike up a romantic relationship, but Francis becomes increasingly violent and unstable.

Still from Buddy Boy (1999)

COMMENTS: Like the hybrid the world was waiting for, Buddy Boy arrives with a healthy blend of paranoia and violence, neatly planting the man-against-the-world narrative inside a milieu of seediness, squalor, and surrealism. It’s a heady brew, and the success of the whole thing rests on the shoulders of our central character, a simple man who may be deeply mentally disturbed.

Francis’ unreliability is clear from the outset. Coming home to his apartment, he finds his stepmother laid out on the floor dead, an empty bottle of cleaning fluid at her side. He lays the old woman in her bed as if unsure of what to do. But by the next morning, she is quite evidently back among the living with no explanation. Did she ever die? Did any of what we’ve seen actually happen?

This uncertainty is central to the dilemma of Francis. When he watches Gloria through his peephole, he sees her heartlessly chopping up bloody cuts of meat in direct defiance of her professed veganism. And yet, when he confronts her, only vegetables are to be found. He’s understandably confused, and his uncertainty transitions steadily into horror. He scrubs his bloody hands raw with Ajax. He wears gloves and a mask to keep out the germs he imagines are everywhere (more than two decades ahead of schedule). He sees his own head served up as the main course at a dinner party. And at no point does he ever seem to entertain the notion that there might be something wrong with him. He’s that most terrifying of victims, the one who is certain he’s the only one who is sane.

At every turn, it’s becomes increasingly clear that Francis has seen the lie he wants to see, proof the world’s mendacity and his own unworthiness. As a result, you start to doubt everything onscreen. Just how likely is his relationship with Gloria? What does she see in him, and why is it enough to overcome his own self-loathing? Is his hideous stepmother (Susan Tyrell, in a performance that starts in fourth gear and accelerates from there) anything like the monster we witness, or is this just his frustration running wild? Meanwhile, the visions compound: he’s positive he’s seen a missing girl in the photographs he develops at a grungy photo processing shop. Guests at a dinner party are openly hostile to his faith, while his own priest seems to be a charlatan. People on the bus seem to be getting sicker and sicker. And what is wrong with the bathtub, anyway?

Trapped as we are inside Francis’ head, it’s ultimately impossible to trust anything we see. That’s damaging to Hanlon’s story, because once we lose the find reality in the things Francis experiences, there’s no suspense or surprise. Aiden Gillen’s central performance goes a long way toward holding the whole thing together; he’s enormously sympathetic, even as he makes choices that are increasingly worrisome. As the stakes heighten, though, it starts to feel artificial. Sure, Francis’ world is driving him mad. But in a life this hollow, a world this grim, any other outcome seems impossible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fans of serious decadence (you know who you are) are vigorously advised to check out a curious, unsettling, darkly conceived and absolutely fascinating little film opening in a shroud of silence, called Buddy Boy. Not since Roman Polanski at the pinnacle of his European weirdness have I seen a film this strange and riveting leaves you shaken, with a penetrating vision as poisonous as gangrene.” – Rex Reed, New York Observer (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Brian, who called it “very weird, very compelling, very memorable.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MASKING THRESHOLD (2021)

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

Masking Threshold is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Johannes Grenzfurthner

FEATURING: Voice of Ethan Haslam

PLOT: A man performs experiments in an attempt to find the source of the tinnitus that is driving him mad.

Still from Masking Threshold (2021)

COMMENTS: It’s no surprise that Masking Threshold isn’t getting a big theatrical release; it’s more of a miracle that it was able to play in a few theaters at all. This has nothing to do with the film’s quality and everything to do with its style: this is a film that is (almost) entirely narrated by the protagonist, while the camera focuses (almost) exclusively on closeups of objects for the entire runtime. A movie that plays like a paranoid podcast illustrated with a succession of moving slides—sort of a contemporary feature-length version of La Jetée—is a hard sell in any climate, but particularly at a time when movie theaters are struggling to put butts in seats.

Fortunately, the scaled-back nature of the project means it will play well on small screens (although it would be nice to hear that crucial sound mix emanating from Dolby surround-sound speakers). Despite the fact that it may only be a MacGuffin for the protagonist’s deeper psychological issues, sound—the rustle of fabric, turning of pages, test tones the protagonist generates for his own reference—-provides the texture of the film. The movie quietly ushers us into the protagonist’s mind, as we hear none of his background tinnitus in the early going, but the hum slowly and subtly creeps into the soundtrack, scarcely noticed, until by the end we hear these subtones too. These minute variations in drones, unidentifiable rustlings and buzzings, and oscillations have tremendous significance to the protagonist, but to us they remain esoteric. The movie’s production values are low, so visuals cleverly rely on extreme closeups of carbon dioxide bubbles, slices of bread, algae, ants, and mouse corpses, supplemented by various charts, graphs, alchemical prints, blinking diodes, repurposed memes, and so on. The protagonist’s face is never clearly visible. The movie is presented as a YouTube diary by one of those “independent researchers” whose peculiar-to-insane preoccupations fail to strike a chord with a mass audience; his impassioned Reddit posts leave him the subject of trolling and lols.

This is a strange movie, in that the first-person monologue script would work just as well as a short story; in a way, Masking Threshold is nothing but multimedia-enhanced prose. But that makes it a triumph; a movie literally constructed from objects found around the house or bought at Home Depot, Best Buy, and Petco, is inspirational. The protagonist is erudite (the movie is full of fascinating trivia) and arrogant; his inner monologue is profound when discussing the philosophy of science, and myopic when interpreting the results of his own experience. His narrative voice put me in mind of the antihero of ‘s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” while the madness resulting from his investigation onto cosmic phenomena evokes any number of victims. (It’s noteworthy that both authors get a “thanks” in the credits). Not to say that Grenzfurthner’s script (co-written with Samantha Lienhard) lives up to those classic influences—but it does update that psychological horror template with timely references to Internet culture, Q-Anon, and “doing your own research.”  Masking Threshold is a successful, immersive, and credible experiment in diving into one man’s particular rabbit hole universe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…his paranoid, obsessive quest digs its own rabbit hole of increasingly unhinged weirdness, escalating from the unhygienic ick of growing algae and such to… well, if you suspect a narrative like this must inevitably lead to homicidal violence, you’d be right.”–Dennis Harvey, 48 Hills