Tag Archives: Mental illness

CAPSULE: SPOONFUL OF SUGAR (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Mercedes Bryce Morgan

FEATURING: Morgan Saylor, Danilo Crovetti, Kat Foster, Myko Olivier, Keith Powell

PLOT: Millicent applies for a nanny job caring for a special needs kid with crippling allergies; unbeknownst to the parents (who are pretty screwed up themselves), Millicent is under psychiatric care, undergoing an experimental therapy where she microdoses LSD daily.

COMMENTS: Millicent, the lead character of Spoonful of Sugar, has been prescribed LSD by her psychiatrist, to be taken in microdoses. Microdosing psychedelics is an online fad taking its cue from homeopathy. It involves taking amounts of the drug too small too produce psychedelic effects on a regular schedule. When this practice is followed, the user does not hallucinate. Also, short-term tolerance to LSD builds very quickly, requiring larger doses to achieve any effects, so regular dosing should provide diminishing returns. The practice’s proponents claim that it improves their well-being and quality of life without producing a disabling intoxication, but the supposed benefits have never been studied on a meaningful scale; the evidence is overwhelmingly anecdotal. It is currently not legal to prescribe LSD.

In other words, real-life microdosing is nothing at all like the picture painted in Spoonful of Sugar: hallucinations would be virtually impossible, and no reputable psychiatrist would (or could) ever prescribe the substance. In one sense, this is a minor issue. We could suspend disbelief and head-canon Millicent’s treatment into some kind of experimental pilot program set sometime in the near future. We can posit that she hallucinates because of an underlying mental illness, possibly exacerbated by the LSD regimen (a reasonable supposition). But I think that the sloppy handling of the microdosing concept underlies the problems with the promising but ultimately unfulfilling Spoonful of Sugar. The premise sounds cool, but it just doesn’t work, at least not as executed here. But the filmmakers decide to go ahead with it anyway, trusting that the viewer will skim over the obvious flaws and focus on the vibrant hallucinations (a demonic sex scene, a crawling severed finger) and dark psychology.

If you can get involved enough in the story to make it to the end, Spoonful of Sugar concludes on a strong note, with an exciting and unexpected violent finale ending in a dark twist. Hopes of running into another psychedelic nightmare prods you to stick with it. But unfortunately, the bad mostly outweighs the good here. Morgan Saylor is asked to strike a difficult tone as the “weird girl,” required to be quietly sinister, wounded, naive, and delusional, all at the same time. It’s a tough assignment, and she has difficulty creating a believable character: her expressions and readings are awkward and forced, forcing her wardrobe and hairstyle (Red Riding Hood coat, Pippi Longstocking braids) to do the heavy lifting in constructing her childlike persona. The script, which includes creaky, clumsily ironic lines like “people aren’t always as they seem” and “women aren’t violent,” doesn’t provide a lot of support. The other main performances are fine, especially Kat Foster as the mother with issues relating to her sick child and a secret taste for masochism; Danilo Crovetti also makes a convincing kid, helped by the fact that he’s embedded in an astronaut costume for most of the picture and has very few lines. But a credible performance from Millicent is central to making this logically-challenged scenario successfully pull off the trick it wants to—and on this score, the experiment falls short.

A Spoonful of Sugar is now on DVD and available on VOD; it also streams on Shudder.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a strange and uncanny psychedelic thriller with excellent performances at its core.”–Jon Mendelson, CBR.com (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: STATIC (1985)

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DIRECTED BY: Mark Romanek

FEATURING: Keith Gordon, Amanda Plummer, Bob Gunton, Lily Knight

PLOT: A quiet young man in a small Western town believes he has invented a machine with life-changing potential, if only he could find someone else who could see it operate successfully.

Still from Static (1985)

COMMENTS: Throughout the summer of 2001, buzz was building over a mysterious new invention codenamed “Ginger.” Mastermind Dean Kamen had impeccable credentials as an innovator, and his creation was being touted by some of the biggest names in business, but Kamen held details of the project in such secrecy that supposition and rumor ruled the day. A hoverboard, some speculated, or some other anti-gravity device. Or some suggested it was some new hydrogen-fueled form of transportation. The mystery and the hype fueled each other in an escalating cycle, so perhaps disappointment was inevitable when the true nature of Ginger was revealed: the Segway.

Ernie Blick (Gordon) is also an inventor with a secret, but despite lacking any of Kamen’s advantages, everyone feels his widely discussed invention is certainly real and likely to be a big success. In a way, he has none of the narcissistic personality issues we often associate with creators: he’s unassuming and unfailingly nice, good-natured despite the recent loss of both parents, deferential to others, outwardly humble, and unflappable even when being laid off from his job at the town crucifix factory. (It’s hard to imagine a more perfect locale for a film featured on this website than a crucifix assembly line.) He’d be just another one of those quiet guys in a loudly quirky town were it not for the amazing thing he claims to have invented.

Commencing spoilers: what Ernie has invented is a TV that relays images of heaven. Ernie knows this has the potential to change the world; he imagines Q&As with excited reporters that bandy about talk of Nobel Prizes. Ah, but here’s the rub: no one else can see the live reports from the great beyond. They get the same thing we do: the titular snow and hiss. Reaction is poor, Ernie is understandably crushed, and we’re left to wonder why anyone thought such an invention might be in his skillset.

Up to this point, Static has been a rather charming accumulation of surprises and quirks. Ernie’s possible girlfriend Julia (Plummer, in an uncharacteristically straightlaced role) is a disillusioned rock keyboardist—just because. Ernie’s cousin Frank (Gunton, charming in his gracelessness) is a doomsday prepper and a hostile street evangelist—just because. (He’s also terrible at small talk. Upon meeting Julia, he wishes her well by saying, “I hope your death is painless.”) Everyone’s a little offbeat like this, and it’s okay because that’s just the kind of town it is. But once the heavenly cable box is revealed and no one can see what Ernie sees, we’re confronted with the question of what it all means, and that’s when things go careening wildly off the rails.

Static is right on the edge of asking some interesting questions about the nature of faith versus proof, about the role of artists and creators in society, about tolerance for ideas outside the mainstream. But instead, the movie lurches into a scenario wherein Ernie takes a busload of senior citizens hostage in order to generate publicity for his invention. Admittedly, Ernie is just as affable a kidnapper as he is a diner customer, and the standoff has the humor and light satire we might expect from a British sitcom. But it ends just as terribly as you could expect, with bullets fired, everyone dead, and not a single lesson learned. It’s a bold choice, sure, but a cheap and cynical one.

Director Romanek has reportedly disowned the film as juvenalia, which seems unfair. The movie looks good and is well acted. It just has absolutely no idea what it wants to say, and therefore ends up saying nothing. Static serves as an interesting collection of “wouldn’t it be cool” notions, but ask yourself what happens during the time between when Plummer comes rolling into town and when she heads back out. It may look like there’s a lot going on, but cut through the snow and the noise and all you really get is a fancy scooter.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s always tempting to find a strange cult film all the more alluring if it’s hard to get to see it in the first place… Static serves up a near-surreal helping of small-town America just before Lynch himself had got to Blue Velvet, let alone Twin Peaks.” – Andy Murray, We Are Cult

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

366 UNDERGROUND: TRIPLE TROUBLE (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Homer Flynn, The Residents

FEATURING: Dustin York

PLOT: After a crisis of faith, a priest (and son of a deceased member of the Residents) becomes a plumber and goes insane as he is consumed by his theory about a fungus-led conspiracy.

Still from Triple Trouble (2022)

COMMENTS: “Junior” is an ex-ponytailed skateboarding priest who’s lost his faith and become a plumber. His mom just died. His only friend is a malfunctioning A.I. drone. He finds semen-like fungus clogging up every drain he services. He sometimes sees the ghost of his dead father, a former lead singer of the Residents. From his cell phone, the news blares about a Night of the Living Dead style plague striking white people in prisons and meat-packing plants. So his life is pretty full. His main hobby is theorizing about the omnipresent fungus and its possible lunar origins, but Junior obsesses over many things: a kidnapping from his past, a local radio tower, the nice Wiccan girl he has a crush on, the unusual number of white vans in his neighborhood, and the Residents’ unfinished movie “Vileness Fats.” And every now and then he finds himself drawn into short dream sequences featuring dancing eyeball-headed men.

Yes, the Residents’ Triple Trouble lays a strong claim to weirdness, as one would expect from a movie proffered by a band fronted by giant eyeballs. A lot of the experimental video work, featuring spinning backdrops and the mini video-art dream sequences, is cool. Scraggly Dustin York does fine enough, acting most of the time alongside disembodied voices (partly a function of the pandemic-era shooting schedule). But, unfortunately, the project as a whole never comes together, or goes sideways in a truly interesting manner. It’s inspired by a combination of lockdown paranoia and Residents nostalgia, but nothing coheres thematically; its 90 minutes don’t seem to be about anything much in particular. The plot eventually unwinds as a portrait of a delusional schizophrenic, an approach which feels lazy and almost anti-cathartic. (In another disappointment, there’s little actual Residents music on the soundtrack; no full-fledged songs, just snippets of the kind of incidental accompaniment you’d find in any similar indie project.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, Triple Trouble is aimed at an audience who are already fans of the band—it’s obviously full of in-jokes and references your reviewer missed (along with a few he caught). Whether the resulting concoction intrigues the novice enough to hunt down more from the Residents in a vain quest to understand what it all means will vary from person to person.

To a large extent, the backstory behind the making of Triple Trouble is more interesting than the finished project (as well as helping to explain its air of, um, unevenness.) Director and Residents co-founder/current spokesman Homer Flynn embeds a lot of the band’s lore into this project, starting with both references to and actual footage from “Vileness Fats.” “Fats” was an elaborate unfinished avant-garde video project about one-armed dwarfs, conjoined twins, and dirty laundry, shot on sets aping The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which the band worked on for four years in the mid-1970s, shooting fourteen hours of footage before abandoning it to the dustbin. Triple Trouble also rests on the bones of Double Trouble, a planned Residents feature which began shooting in 2016, which shut down in 2019 after the death of Gerri Lawler (who plays Junior’s mother). The color flashback footage in Triple Trouble featuring Junior as a priest comes from that half-completed film. Perhaps sensing that working for years on unfinished projects was getting them nowhere, the Residents shot the remaining material that makes up Triple Trouble in ten days. So if Triple Trouble seems a little cobbled-together, Residents fans can at least rejoice that the stars finally aligned for long enough to bring a movie to completion.

The 2023 Blu-ray offers some interesting supplements. There are four deleted scenes (one of which should have been included in the film, as it outlines Junior’s conspiracy theory in relatively lucid detail) and a blooper. It also includes trailers for Triple Trouble, the original teaser for Double Trouble, and a promo for the Residents’ performance of “God in 3 Persons Live.” The disc sports a reel of unused stop-motion animated footage from “Vileness Fats” (I don’t know whether this has appeared elsewhere). The most significant extra is the 17-minute long “Vileness Fats Concentrate,” a short which gives you a good sense of the pretentious, unhinged wackiness that the unfinished project might have been. “Concentrate” had been released before, but presumably this 2022 “remaster” is higher quality. Residents completists will obviously be all over this like fungus on a drainpipe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If all this sounds profoundly weird – as well as weirdly profound – that’s because it is. The Residents wouldn’t have it any other way. Don’t miss it!”–Nicole V. Gagné, A Shaded View of Fashion

GUEST REVIEW: MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (1986)

Guest review by Amy Vaughn

Hombre mirando al sudeste

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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.)