Phil Stevens’ horror film “Flowers” turns several familiar phobias into a visual symphony of gripping unease. Closed spaces, touching rotting flesh, and implied sex with corpses are just some of the triggers that will disturb viewers.
An unnamed woman wakes up trapped in the crawlspace below a country house’s floorboards. The sight of the violent behavior of the house’s owner spurs her escape attempt through the house’s innards. Yet it slowly becomes clear that she’s not the only person who’s made such an attempt.
The grotesque gauntlet that the film follows will quickly unsettle the more squeamish viewer. Seeing a woman crawl unprotected through piles of rotting flesh will set off ick feelings. Stevens wisely keeps the film silent. Dialogue, even clichéd statements, would subtract from the visceral emotions sparked by seeing a well-stocked dinner table turn into something far less appetizing.
The film’s enigmatic title is not directly explained. Only after seeing all of the film will a viewer understand that the country house is more than just a prison. It’s also a hothouse of sorts. But what can survive only in this particular hothouse, viewers need to discover for themselves.
In the course of Paolo Gaudio’s Italian live-action/animation film “Reveries Of A Solitary Walker,” viewers will be treated to stop-motion animation, literary mystery, and obsessive behavior having disastrous consequences. But the viewer won’t necessarily receive an enjoyable cinematic experience.
What connects a man self-imprisoned in a basement with a mysterious box, a boy following a hunchbacked man in a mysterious forest, and a university graduate student obsessed with the secrets of an unfinished book? “Reveries of a Solitary Walker” provides that common connection. The book serves as a cookbook, a collection of stories, and even a guide directing the curious to a land where one’s past mistakes can be erased. But could this collection of reveries also bring misfortune to those who come into contact with it?
The narrative glue designed to get viewers to stick with the film’s story fragments is the promise of seeing how these different pieces fit together. Gaudio directs as though such tricks as using a fisheye lens or seeing a man literally crawl into a desk drawer suffices to maintain viewer interest.
It doesn’t. “Jan Svankmajer did it better” will be frequently muttered under the discerning viewer’s breath. Theo the university graduate student fails to display the believable degree of obsession that leads to his plight in the film’s early moments.
A couple of supporting characters do push Gaudio’s film a few steps out of the visual slog bog. Infernal Boutique proprietor Edgar Bacci displays enough eccentric showmanship to make the needed infodump sequence watchable. The demon that’s eventually seen onscreen does display a dominating malevolence.
But these minor joys fail to overcome feelings that this film solely exists to demonstrate Gaudio’s limited proficiency in several different film genres.
Plot messiness and flat acting are charges that can be justifiably leveled at writers/directors Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein’s lo-fi psychological New Age-y fantasy film with touches of sci-fi “Magnetic.” Solar flares share living space with an all-female Egyptian god cult and a weird psychological experiment. Toss in a possible time loop and some viewers’ heads will understandably explode in confusion.
What can definitely be stated about “Magnetic?” Analog technology in the form of rotary dial phones, audio cassette tapes and video cassette tapes provide the dominant technical infrastructure. The film also begins at Christmas Eve at the start of Cycle 4242. A solar flare is definitely expected to hit the Earth in a week’s time, and will probably fry a lot of electromagnetic technology when it hits. Oh yes, the lead character is a young blonde named Alice. The temptation to find Lewis Carroll allusions is tempered by seeing that “Magnetic”’s Alice wears black leather and she takes some drugs to temper some unstated psychological problem.
Allix Mortis’ Alice is also not the innocent thrust into a confusingly mad world. Her flat and affectless voice sounds like either the performance of a bad actor or the voice of someone utterly disconnected from the world. A plausible case can be made that the latter suspicion is true. Having a bedroll and a box of audio cassette tapes as her sole possessions makes it seem as if Alice is squatting in her apartment instead of living a lower-class renter’s existence. More importantly, if Alice is undergoing a déjà vu/jamais vu experience on steroids, her lack of emotional affect could be an intuitive reaction to a repetitive experience. Whatever the interpretation, there’s no denying Alice’s flat toneless voice is perfect for calling parents to tell them their child is dead.
The awfulness of Alice’s job is balanced by the weird circumstances of her employment. The employee entrance is through an elevator hidden in a barn. A tape provided to Alice puts her in what seems like an hours-long hypnotic trance until she needs to make a call at 12:17 PM on the dot.
Cacciola and Epstein let the viewer decide whether Alice is active agent or pawn of the universe. Her ability to dream argues for her agency. Yet as Alice is buffeted by literal mad tea parties and weird mind transference experiments, it’s hard to say whether she (or the viewer) can definitely comprehend all that’s going on.
“Magnetic” can certainly boast as strength its sometimes bouncingly immersive electropop soundtrack. Performances from such groups as Night Kisses capture and even comment on Alice’s state of mind. Extended music video feels like an inadequate description for “Magnetic” if one’s yardstick for such things is overblown visuals.
(“Flowers” screens at 11:00 PM on November 7, 2015. “Reveries Of A Solitary Walker” screens at 9:00 PM on November 9, 2015. “Magnetic” screens at 7:00 PM on November 10, 2015. All screenings take place at New People Cinema (1746 Post Street, SF). For further information about these films and to order advance tickets, go to www.sfindie.com .)Filed under: Arts & Entertainment