Tag Archives: Twist ending

CAPSULE: LO (2009)

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DIRECTED BY: Travis Betz

FEATURING: Ward Roberts, Jeremiah Birkett, Sarah Lassez

PLOT: Justin uses a spell book to summon the infernal spirit Lo to help him see his dead girlfriend once again, but the demon uses every trick possible to avoid fulfilling the command.

Still from Lo (2009)

COMMENTS: There have been many movies about demonic possession, but few about demonic summoning… and no other, that I can think of, where almost the entire movie plays out from inside the safety of a pentagram. (Lo‘s closest competition for time spent inside a thaumaturgic circle might be Viy.) For the first five minutes we watch Justin, in a pitch black room lit solely by candles, painstakingly (if clumsily) construct this magical barrier, following the instructions etched on the yellowed parchment of an ancient grimoire, christening the ritual with his own blood. He then speaks the magic incantation and successfully summons the demon Lo, a pathetic yet powerful devil with a partly exposed brain and useless crushed legs which force him to painfully drag himself from out of the inky blackness towards his summoner, angry and defiant but unable to cross the enchanted barrier and devour Justin’s soul. The spell Justin cast compels a boon from this creature. You see, he saw a demon drag his girlfriend off to Hell, and now he wants her back—or at least to see her one last time. And Lo must meet Justin’s demand—although, in classic Mephistophelian fashion, the spirit isn’t above resorting to temptations, tricks, half-truths, and twisting Justin’s requests in any way he can.

The way Lo achieves its aesthetic aims on a minimal budget is nothing less than magical. Darkness is an ally; the set is a essentially black box, props are minimal, and only the demon costumes consume a significant amount of dollars. The flashbacks that supply the backstory are told through reenactments on a stage Lo conjures in Justin’s darkened apartment. There are red curtains, applause, visible stagehands, and comedy and tragedy masks that react to the proceedings. For additional color, Lo also summons a fuzzy green demon rat, a lizard-headed Nazi demon, a pair of damned silhouettes who press against a saran wrap wall as they describe the torments of Hell, and a couple of (mediocre, but welcome) musical numbers.

The story advances almost entirely through the antagonistic dialogues of the demon and his summoner. Chances are good that you will guess the twist ending early on; but it’s such a perfect construct that it doesn’t detract from the poignancy of the reveal. Who can’t relate to falling in love with the wrong person, a love that might be mutual and true, but which fate and circumstance dictates must be temporary? And who can’t relate to the compulsion to understand the true reasons behind a disappearance, however horrible the answer might be? As breakup movies go, Lo supplies a real, mythic catharsis.

With all that it has going for it, I would love to nominate Lo for our supplemental Apocryphally Weird list. Is it ingenious? Definitely. Engaging? Undoubtedly. Passionate? Sincerely. Recommended? You know it. Weird? Ah, here is where the favorable adjectives falter. Lo is well off the beaten path of the average filmgoer—the one who doesn’t frequent this site. What we see in Lo, though, isn’t so much weird as offbeat, rare, counter-Hollywood: unusual in its approach, by necessity, but not so far out-there that it makes us question our notions of reality, or if what a film can and should be. So, despite the fact that we give Lo a high rating, we won’t be adding it to our List. That doesn’t mean we’re giving you a pass to skip it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a peculiar and experimental horror film about love gained, love lost, and the demons that can stand in your way. ‘Lo’ is an odd twist on Faust, and an entertaining indie film that impresses with its bare essential filmmaking.”–Felix Vaquez, Cinema Crazed (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Kat, who argued “I’m a little surprised not to see Travis Betz’s Lo (2009) on the suggestion list. Like Ink, its imitations and inspirations are pretty obvious– but I personally think it outstrips Ink in a few key areas, never over-stepping its budget. I found it a little more bizarre, too, in the way it takes a simple trope of a premise and reels continually between drama and dark comedy.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

16*. BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gigi Darlene

PLOT: Meg awakens beside her young husband, who leaves her alone in their apartment to go to a business meeting. Stepping outside her door to empty the trash, she is assaulted by the building’s janitor, and kills him while he’s trying to rape her. Fearing that no one will believe her story of self-defense, Meg gets on a bus to New York City, where she shacks up with a series of roommates.

Still from Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

BACKGROUND:

  • Background information about Doris Wishman can be found in the Indecent Desires Canonical entry.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s either the snarling face of a rapist or a woman in her underwear. (Or, I suppose, I random shot of a shoe.) We selected the moment when Gigi Darlene demonstrates her junior-high tumbling skills for her drooling lesbian roommate by crab walking across the apartment floor (in her underwear, of course).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Drunken belt-whipping; random plants, ashtrays, and feet

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Bad Girls Go to Hell has the visual sensibilities of a drunk and apathetic , the narrative talents of an Ed Wood, and the moral sensibilities of a 42nd Street raincoater; yet, somehow it creates a sense of alienation and dislocation reminiscent of Carnival of Souls .


Original trailer for Bad Girls Go to Hell (mildly NSWF)

COMMENTS: It’s amazing how barren a movie that clocks in at just Continue reading 16*. BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)

CAPSULE: SUPER ME (2019)

Qi Huan Zhi Lv

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DIRECTED BY: Zhang Chong

FEATURING: Talu Wang, Bingkun Cao, Jia Song, Shih-Chieh King

PLOT: Sang Yu, a screenwriter at the end of his tether, finds he can swipe high-value artifacts from his nightmares to sell in the real world.

COMMENTS: Oh, unreliable narrator, how you revel in tales of dreams and dreams within them. Oh, Chinese cinema, how quickly you catch up to the West. Oh, Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” And, oh, there are yet more questions to pose concerning Super Me, but for the time being, I will table the niggling unanswerables. The most surprising thing about Zhang Chong’s dream-thriller (rated TV-14 for, among other reasons, “fear”) is that its double twist undercut my predictions. The least surprising thing about it was that once our hero shaved his dorky facial hair, he became rather handsome and self-assured.

Sang hasn’t slept in half a year, or so he tells us. This obviously cannot be true. But as we suspended our disbelief for Fight Club, so let us extend that courtesy to Super Me. Sang is harried by San, to whom he owes a screenplay. This movie is about a screenwriter, one who pines for humble café owner (and possibly ex-nightclub singer; the flashback is thorough but not entirely clear), Hua’er. Sang runs out of cash, has his laptop stolen, is kicked out of his apartment, and is about to jump from a roof when he’s talked down by the kindly pancake vendor on the sidewalk below. This mystical philosopher advises the worn-out young man that in life, people always talk about death—to remind themselves they are still alive. During his nightly nightmares (in which he’s being murdered by some otherworldly blue goon), Sang should just declare, “I’m dreaming” to break the spell. Taking this sage advice, the next thing we know, he awakes with the goon’s impossibly valuable sword in hand. Pawn shop, money bags, big living, and lucid dreaming ensue.

Chong’s film is peopled with run-of-the-mill characters and the third act’s tone shift doesn’t quite gel—its sudden menace kneecaps the arc of wish fulfillment/cutesy romance an hour into the proceedings. I liked the menace; it was well executed, with unlikely but believable gangsters. Having derailed the fun and breezy tone that had dominated (post-suicide attempt, of course), Chong undercut what could have made his story even rarer: the feel-good thriller. But the lead is so goofily charismatic that I couldn’t help but root for him as he traveled along his path to wisdom at a pleasant clip.

I approach modern Chinese cinema with something of a jaundiced eye, always wondering where the propaganda will seep into the picture. But Super Me was no more laden with moralizing than standard Hollywood fare. This was aided by its narrative structure. While not on the same satirical-poetical level as Buñuel, Chong nicely bleeds reality and dream together. (His hand is heavier than the late Spanish master, but so is everyone else’s.) And moreso than Chris “I’mma Dreamer” Nolan, Chong has a playfulness and lack of pretention that makes Super Me a pleasant diversion from waking life.

Super Me is streaming exclusively on Netflix for the time being.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…startling visuals, an immersive video game atmosphere, and a steady wash-rinse-repeat plot that’s equal parts simplicity and obscurity make this a potential cult film…  Just when you think you understand the rules of this bizarre world, a plot twist contradicts the conclusion.”–Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: COME TRUE (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Anthony Scott Burns

FEATURING: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron

PLOT: A teenage girl enters an experimental sleep study, then finds her life turned into a waking nightmare.

Come True (2020)

COMMENTS: 18-year old Sarah is sleeping around. No, she’s not promiscuous, although she will have a sex scene—a problematic one—later in the film. She’s sleeping around rather more literally: crashing on her friend Zoe’s bed when she can, pitching her sleeping bag on the playground slide when she can’t. In the mornings, she waits for her mother to leave for work and sneaks into the house for a shower, fresh clothes, and a cup of coffee. With this arrangement, it’s no wonder she eagerly volunteers for a sleep study at the local college: it means eight hours per night in a bed, even if she has to be strapped into a bodysuit left over from Tron and wear a goofy foam-rubber helmet with wires leading from it. And she gets paid! If she’s going to leave a deal this sweet behind, you know the nightmares will have to get bad. It’s no spoiler to say that they do, or that getting away from them will require more than just walking out on the study.

The film is anchored by a fine performance by waiflike Julia Sarah Stone, who perfectly embodies the resourceful girl struggling to make it in the big bad world. Though not a great film (see below), Come True is a great calling card for Stone. Direction is stylistically solid; the odd lighting schemes (why would scientists illuminate the room they use to monitor sleeping patients in purple neon?) can be forgiven as part of a scheme to create a dreamlike atmosphere. The clinical look and some of the odd faces and wardrobe choices (i.e. Dr. Meyer in his enormous glasses), slow pace, and synthy score all put me in mind of Beyond the Black Rainbow.  And, while the nightmare scenes themselves (which tend to be tracking shots down shadowy corridors, ending with visions of silhouetted figures) are a little low-key, Come True is legitimately visionary at times: Sarah wakes in an unfamiliar place with an eyepatch and a freakishly dilated pupil, finds another person hooked up to a dream monitor, and watches some low-res hypnagogic hallucinations (including a brief shot of herself with fangs) while a spookily comforting ian ballad plays in the background.

With all that going for it, it’s sad to say that Come True totally drops the ball with a truly disappointing, left-field twist ending. While, in retrospect, you can put two and two together, there aren’t any meaningful hints about this last-second revelation dropped throughout the body of the picture. The reveal turns 90% of the movie into a red herring—so that, to the extent that you get involved in the putative plot, your time has been wasted. It’s rare that a movie’s final shot can undo all the good it’s done up until that point, but Come True manages that trick, turning a film that was headed for a mild recommendation into a recommended pass.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Burns’ script is just as concerned with the weirdness of Sarah’s waking life as it is the literal monsters that populate her dreams, and the filmmaker’s ability to balance and juxtapose those two portions of the film only strengthen each section.”–Kate Erbland, Indiewire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE DEATH OF DICK LONG (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michael Abbott, Jr., Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Virginia Newcomb

PLOT: Two dimwitted band members try to cover up the suspicious death of the third member of their trio in a small town.

Still from The Death of Dick Long (2019)

COMMENTS: “Hey… ya’ll mfers wanna get weird?,” asks the eponymous (and still living) Dick Long in the opening scene. The Death of Dick Long does get—sort of—weird, though not in the way you might be expecting from half of the directing duo behind Swiss Army Man. Like the crude joke in the movie’s title, which makes you think you’re headed for a raunchy redneck comedy, the word “weird” is a little bit of misdirection. Though the movie is set in Alabama, the “weird” here is of the species you’d expect to see in a headline beginning with the words “Florida Man…”

Initially submitted as a regional black comedy with subtle situational humor, Death quickly moves to dealing with the consequences of the trio’s “weird” night, which we gather must have involved something more intense than the beer bongs, joints and fireworks we see in the opening montage. At first, Dick’s body (which his bandmates surreptitiously dump at the emergency room door in the wee hours) is unidentified, and the precise cause of death unknown. Zeke and Earl aren’t too good at coverups, but fortunately for them the hometown cops—led by a sheriff with a cane and her friendly lesbian deputy—aren’t too good at solving unexpected crimes, even when the suspects literally hand them clues. The first half settles into a Fargo-esque groove that we’ve seen before, as sleep-deprived Zeke forgets to cover up bloodstains and neither conspirator shows much skill at improvising cover stories under pressure. Then, around the midway point, Dick Long takes its outrageous premise and, unexpectedly, wrings serious drama out of it. This tonal shift was a huge gamble, but it pays off.

The acting, from a string of unfamiliar and semi-familiar faces, is universally strong—actually, close to great. Michael Abbott, Jr. handles the lead with tragicomic aplomb. He doesn’t want the secret to get out, sure, but he’s even more afraid of losing his wife and child, which makes it easy to root for him despite his duplicity. His buddy Earl (Andre Hyland) is a comic foil and kind of a dick, a vapin’ fool whose philosophy of life distills down to a beer and a shrug. Sarah Baker makes you think that someday soon she might grow up to be Alabama’s answer to Marge Gunderson. Virginia Newcomb has a supporting role as Zeke’s wife, but gets a major moment when hubby awkwardly and reluctantly confesses after inconsistencies in his story give him no other choice. The smaller roles are handled with equal ability. Scheinert deserves credit for assembling and guiding this fine ensemble.

The Death of Dick Long put in a token appearance in theaters before showing up on a extras-free DVD and Blu-ray in December. This solo outing for Scheinert does not mean that he’s broken up with directing partner . The Daniels are currently at work on a new project, Everything Everywhere All at Once, described as an “interdimensional action film.” 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Never remotely as goofy as [Swiss Army Man] but still bizarre in its own way, it’s sort of difficult to believe the film exists. But in a post-Mother and Sorry to Bother You world, perhaps anything can… takes a turn for the weird around the halfway point, and what happens shouldn’t be spoiled…”–Justin Jones, CBR