Tag Archives: Virus

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: TEKNOLUST (2002)

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DIRECTED BY: Lynn Hershman Leeson

FEATURING: Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Davies, , Karen Black

PLOT: Dr. Rosetta Stone creates three “self-replicating automatons” in her image, who generally stay hidden away in her apartment except when one goes out to harvest the Y-chromosomes they require to survive; her creations’ growing dissatisfaction with their confinement threaten this arrangement.

Still from Teknolust (2002)

COMMENTS: Years before Zoom culture, Teknolust latched onto the power of screens to bring communication to those trapped in their rooms. Rosetta’s isolated, phosphor color-coded creations – unsurprisingly named Ruby, Marinne, and Olive – speak to her through large flatscreens mounted in each of their matching bedrooms, and she peers back down at them and their silly antics through her own screen. The catch is that, rather than a phone or a tablet, Rosetta’s viewscreen is the disguised window panel of a  microwave oven. It’s not exactly Star Trek, but then Teknolust is only interested in enough science fiction to get things going. After that, it’s devil-may-care.

Consider that title, for example, which suggests a neon-accented erotic thriller on early-90s Cinemax. Teknolust is a much lighter, frothier confection. Once we get past the opening minutes, in which one of the automatons uses her sexual wiles in a steamy modern-decor bathroom to extract valuable “nourishment” from an unsuspecting male, the movie settles down into something closer to a romantic comedy. In fact, it’s remarkably evocative of 1987’s Making Mr. Right, which also features an asocial scientist who constructs an empathic android in his own image.

Even if we focus on the “lust” part, the strongest emotions held by Rosetta’s three creations (it is never clear if they are actual robots, clones, or computer-generated beings) are not their sex drives, but their compulsion to see the world beyond their window. It’s surprising that femme fatale Ruby jettisons all of her powers of seduction (which she gleaned from watching three public domain films) for Davies’ hapless copyboy, but given her lack of a life otherwise, it’s only logical that she latches on to his dweeby innocence. (His mother’s surprise that this angular, statuesque vision would take up with her scruffy, underachieving son is worth a chuckle.)

The roles of Rosetta and her creations point to Teknolust‘s gravest sin: wasting the bottomless reservoir of weirdness that is Tilda Swinton. Casting her to play four separate roles – three of which are constantly interacting – seems like a masterstroke, but the four women are given precious little opportunity to assert themselves beyond surface-level characteristics. Rosetta is your classic flustered nerdgirl, right down to the terrible perm and oversized glasses. Marinne is a petulant schoolgirl, Olive is eager to please, and Ruby is mainly the one who gets to go outside. Swinton can’t figure out anything else to do with them, which suggests these underdeveloped parts might have worked better with someone a little closer to the comedy genre they seem to be stereotyping, like Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon.

A number of oddball characters populate Teknolust, who all turn out to be little more than their affectations. The script develops bit parts, like the doctor who speaks exclusively in an ASMR whisper, just as much as prominent figures like Karen Black’s cellar-voiced private detective Dirty Dick. There are interesting depths to be plumbed in such characters, but we never delve deeper than their surface oddness. They probably wouldn’t hold Leeson’s interest anyway, as she repeatedly demonstrates by crosscutting between storylines with almost no regard for timing or narrative flow. She’s always got a new thing she wants to show off – little hints in the story about an entire family being wiped out by a virus, or the implications of a disease that manifests a barcode on the victim’s forehead – and she’s in an awful hurry to get you there.

Like a sugar cube, Teknolust is pleasantly sweet in the moment and gone in a flash. There are some intriguing ideas at work here, but don’t get too attached to them. It’s got just enough in it to hold the attention of someone staring at the video screen on their microwave, waiting for the tea to steep.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This sweetly surreal futuristic comedy definitely marches to the beat of its own bizarre rhythm!” – Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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

39*. UZUMAKI [SPIRAL] (2000)

AKAWhirlpool

“Nature does not proceed in a straight line, it is rather a sprawling development.” – Robert Smithson, creator of Spiral Jetty

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Eriko Hatsune, Fhi Fan, Hinako Saeki, Eun-Kyung Shin, Keiko Takahashi,

PLOT: High schooler Kirie notices a growing and dangerous fascination with spirals throughout her small town, beginning with her friend Shuichi’s father, who develops a compulsive need to own and consume objects with the pattern. The affliction spreads to her classmates, who take on whorled physical characteristics and even transform into snails. With increasing numbers of cases and deaths, Kirie and Shuichi decide if they should–or even can–escape. 

Still from Uzumaki (2000)

BACKGROUND

  • Uzumaki was adapted from a manga by , who makes a cameo of sorts on a “Wanted” poster in the sandal-wearing policeman’s office.
  • Production on Uzumaki began before Ito had finished writing the series (possibly at the studio’s insistence, so that it could coincide with the release of another Ito adaptation, Tomie: Rebirth). As a result, the manga and film have significantly different resolutions.
  • A four-episode animated TV adaptation was announced in 2020; it is still in production after many delays.
  • Director Higuchinsky took his name in tribute to his birthplace of Ukraine. This was his first feature, up to this point having worked primarily in music video.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s not the most shocking sight, nor does it draw upon the many examples of body horror that define the spiral epidemic. But the appearance of an enormous spiral-shaped storm in the sky, which begins to coil downward and reach out to the town like the accusatory finger of God, is when Uzumaki lays all its cards on the table. The spiral is everything, can reach everywhere, and will affect everyone.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Mr. Saito’s eyes; Kyoko’s crazy curls

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Uzumaki lacks a proper monster, any kind of terrifying villain. The bad guy here is a curling pattern. It’s to the film’s credit that it not only pulls off this unlikely trick but adorns it with truly unsettling examples of its malign influence. The fact that there are no sorcerers or alien invaders to blame only makes the events of Uzumaki more unnerving. This outwardly harmless force has no clear point of origin, no cause to be addressed, which only makes its effect on the populace more disturbing.

Original trailer for Uzumaki

COMMENTS: In order to appreciate the strangeness of Uzumaki, it’s Continue reading 39*. UZUMAKI [SPIRAL] (2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Higuchinsky

FEATURING: Eriko Hatsume, Fhi Fan

PLOT:  One by one the residents of a small Japanese village become “infected” with an obsession for spirals, leading them to neglect their normal day to day lives and eventually to their odd spiral-related deaths.  Yes, you read right…spiral deaths!

Still from Spiral [Uzumaki] (2000)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Movies that achieve a coveted final place on the List need to be really very good or really very weird.  Some will be great enough to score on both counts.  Much as I love Uzumaki, I have to say it should earn a place based on the sheer quality and quantity of the weirdness on display.  Viewers who like a neatly wrapped plot will be annoyed and frustrated that the nature of what’s going wrong in the village is never really explained.  There’s a breadcrumb sprinkling of just enough hints to allow you to ponder the cause yourself: is it an ancient curse, casually malevolent demons or something worse, rooted in the double helix of the villagers’ very DNA?

COMMENTS: This should be a pretty grim film.  An apparently innocent group of villagers are led to gruesome self mutilation and picturesque suicides by a strange infection, for which there is no cure, no explanation, and from which there is no escape.  It “should” be a grim film, and yet it’s charming, quirky and downright laugh out loud funny in parts.  Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, it was made and released before the conclusion of the print version was released, so viewers coming to it via the books will apparently find significant differences.  I have only read a couple of chapters of the manga and therefore cannot comment on how the two compare, but watching the film it’s tempting to think that some of the stylization of the cinematography and acting draws on the original artwork.  Burtonesque spirals are so ubiquitous throughout the film, appearing in clouds, bushes and ceiling panels that it would be a rash viewer who launched into an uzumaki drinking game.

The story centres on schoolgirl Kirie and her solemn, androgynous boyfriend Shuichi.  It’s Shuichi who first realizes that all is not well.  His father has become so obsessed with Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)