Tag Archives: Psychedelic

CAPSULE: REFLECT (2023)

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

DIRECTED BY: Dana Kippel

FEATURING: Dana Kippel, Ryan Jack Connell, Grace Patterson, Marissa Patterson, Ariana Williams, Jadelyn Breier

PLOT: Five women travel to Sedona, Arizona to win a cash prize for completing a “spiritual obstacle course” (which turns out to be a front for an alien reality show).

Still from Reflect (2023)COMMENTS: Reflect, a girls-trip comedy that morphs into a psychedelic journey of self-discovery, seems to be aware that some of its ideas may come across as ridiculous. That may be the reason for the playful subplot pretending that character’s spiritual pilgrimage to the energy-vortex-ridden metaphysical mecca of Sedona is also an interdimensional alien reality show. Their lisping spiritual guide, Hermes, is a holy fool, bleating like a lamb, laughing off his own spiritual declarations, and engaging in silly hijinks like playing maracas while walking backwards, then giving status updates for the alien TV audience. Before embarking on the journey, the bougiest participant howls, “Time to get our chakras aligned, bitches!” And the movie is peppered with a few trailer-ready quips like “I’m down for being abducted. I’m not down for being killed by shadow people.”

But while Reflect sometimes presents as a comedy, at other times, it’s harder to tell whether it’s joking or not: our protagonist, Summer, tells the carload of down-to-chakra-align babes “so, aliens are basically higher versions of ourselves, right? So maybe these vortexes are doorways to other dimensions, like a wormhole.” The other women scoff, but maybe Summer’s just read the script. The gentle jokes—which never get within spitting distance of satire—are a preemptive defensive reaction: writer/director/star Kippel showing that she’s not taking all this too seriously. This language may sound silly to you, but it’s all really just a metaphor to help you… reflect. But the humor slips away as the movie progresses, and the script grows more earnest. By the midpoint, another guide delivers the monologue “Pluto is in Capricorn until 2023. This means that Pluto is forcing an upsurge of awareness of the current patriarchal ruling that uses control, fear, and destructive practices of the industrial world. It is time for a triune society…” without an ounce of irony.

What we have here is a bunch of basic white girls (even the black girl) with the optional astrology upgrade, off on a drug-free vision quest. A helpful opening scorecard associates each participant with a Tarot card and describes, among other relevant facts, their “shadow.” (One of the girls’ shadows is listed as “depression,” which is not exactly in-depth analysis, but I guess it’s OK given the space allotted). The “spirituality” they seek is amorphous, but is really more about basic psychology, overcoming generic neuroses about sexual orientation, suburban trauma (nothing too dark), and resentment towards their mothers. The ladies achieve insights into the source of their psychological quirks—I mean, “shadows”—and then, for unexplained reasons, fail at whatever undefined test the obstacle course/alien reality show is proposing. Summer goes through exactly the same process as the others, and passes the test (although the movie cuts off before she receives her cash prize). Enlightenment is a mysterious thing.

Fortunately, we do get some trippy surface weirdness in the second half to complement the subtextual weirdness of the movie’s vaguely ridiculous belief system. A series of eccentric guides, nightmare flashbacks, glowing spheres, blurry double-image lenses, and encounters with a trio of sarcastic goth vampires highlight the film’s hallucinogenic character (which, again, is explicitly not tied to drugs). But for many, Reflect‘s true surrealism will come from gawking at a the relics of the New Age subculture. This film is aimed at a specific demographic, and they have eaten it up. But it’s easier to believe that aliens are using the Sedona vortexes as sets for their interdimensional reality shows than that a low-budget indie sorta-comedy full of unknown generic blondes deserves the same 8.1 IMDb rating as Jaws or The Seventh Seal. The good news is that there is a market for tiny subcultural niche films like Reflect. The bad news is that, when those of us not in that subculture see it, we must resist the ungallant urge to mock that which we don’t believe. It’s an internal struggle not every viewer will be able to overcome.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director-star Dana Kippel might be exploring the psychic scars of the mother-daughter bond (she herself is adopted) via the characters and their trippy encounters and hallucinations on this vision quest… [but t]he ‘insights’ are trite, the characters thinly-sketched irritants and the indulgent, self-absorbed ‘journey’ story makes too little sense to be easy to “trip” through.”–Roger Moore, Movie Nation (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DO NOT DISTURB (2022)

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

DIRECTED BY: John Ainslie

FEATURING: Kimberly LaFerrière, Rogan Christopher

PLOT: Their relationship on the verge of collapse, Chloë and Jack honeymoon in Miami—and ingest a lot of peyote in their hotel room.

COMMENTS: John Ainslie’s evidences certainty as a director in how he orchestrates his main characters’ indecision so convincingly. At one moment—well, at plenty of moments—the audience really, really dislikes Jack, the childish fiancé-no-wait-husband of Chloë, an aspiring nurse; at the next moment, Ainslie forces you to consider that his fuck-all attitude is maybe the way to go. The distressing codependency between this pair saturates their scenes as gloppily as pools of blood will eventually saturate their hotel room carpeting. This film is about the ugly collapse of two people and their relationship.

Saving this relationship is the purpose of the spastic journey traveled by Chloë and Jack—a honeymoon of sorts at an “adults only” Miami hotel during the off-season. This is only one example of the many ways Chloë is disappointed in her now-husband—he was too cheap to book something during a more fashionable time of year. It’s a petty concern, certainly, but as is the case with many crumbling relationships, it’s the petty things that stack and stack, until something breaks. And in Do Not Disturb, break they do. Grandly.

While most of the film is believable (Ainslie made me hate Jack from at the start), the catalyst for the couple’s descent into mayhem is one of the most random and unbelievable bits of screen nonsense I’ve laid eyes on. While at the beach, the pair witness a fellow wake up from catatonia in a passionate haze. He’s high, he’s been duped somehow, and to emphasize how he won’t be duped again, he tosses down a bag of peyote and some red powder at their feet before walking into the ocean.

Ainslie’s story is dialogue-heavy, violence-heavy, and most emphatically drug-heavy. Breaking it down, it’s around one third chamber drama, one third gorefest, and one third feminist hurrah. The feminism and gore were nicely done; I loved witnessing this intelligent, if somewhat confused, woman break free from her shackles—doing so, primarily, through drugs and the aforementioned gore. But golly if the bad relationship dramatics didn’t tire me. That’s probably the point, though, as the bickering and flip-flopping are an icky and tedious phenomenon. Kimberly LaFerrière shines as the mousey-then-new woman, and I hope that Rogan Christopher finds the time for physical comedy; a sequence wherein Jack’s trying to brain a chatty visitor with a lamp whose cord seems it must be glued into the socket is a delight. All-in-all, this movie is like a peyote-fueled cannibal buffet: not to everyone’s liking, but a refreshing change from the ordinary.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In John Ainslie’s trippy hotel psychothriller, a drug-taking couple checks in, drops out, eats in and works through what they really want.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (festival screening)