DAVE MADE A MAZE; Or, the Artist Matures

Dave Made a Maze. 2017. Directed by Bill Watterson. Screenplay by Watterson & Steven Sears.
Starring Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Nick Thune, Adam Busch, James Urbaniak, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver, Stephanie Allynne, Kirsten Vangsness, Scott Krinsky, Timothy Nordwind, & John Hennigan.
Butter Stories/Dave Made an LLC/Foton Pictures
Rated 14A. 80 minutes.
Adventure/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
Dave Made a Maze 1The opening scenes during the first ten or fifteen minutes feel like a comedic version of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, where our main character’s not so much an explore who buys a home, he’s a young slacker artist bummed out with his life who creates a cardboard maze which proves much bigger, more dangerous on the inside than the outside.
Is that enough to hook you? Because though it sounds like an odd fantasy, and it is, there’s more than meets the eye. Just like Dave’s titular maze. Director Bill Watterson takes us into the maze just as much as he takes us inside the mind of the story’s protagonist.
In its best moments, Dave Made a Maze speaks to how an artist’s work loses its authorship becoming part of a larger community; this is where the inherent pressure for the artist to create at a regular pace comes from, at its core. The film also explores questions about the power of imagination, how the dedicated artist’s life takes on meaning only in their work, plus how dangerous their imagination can become when not correctly focused.
And in Dave is every young, struggling artist who feels lost, disenchanted with the realities of being an artist in the modern world. The maze, then, is life. Whether one survives it is entirely up to them, though we all get by with a little help from our friends.
Dave Made a Maze 2Dave (Nick Thune), like most artists, worries he’ll never make anything whole or complete in his life. Worse, he believes he’ll never effectively change anyone’s life through his art. He hates what he’s become, that he can’t support himself being an artist like he wants. He feels that he even bores his parents.
So, in his worry, Dave cobbles together this maze. An amalgamation of bits and pieces, an indecisive mix of styles, influences, all throw together. An unsure, immature artist creating something he doesn’t quite understand. Therefore, how is anyone else supposed to? This is where the power of imagination takes hold, and we get into the concept of authorship.
Once an artist authors a piece of work, it’s in the world, a part of it. In a sense, it belongs to everyone else then. No matter how an artist hopes their work will be interpreted, ultimately art is in the eye of the beholder. This brings other imaginations into the mix. Literally represented by a film crew in the maze with Dave and Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani). All these other people represent the reader, or the viewer, however the art is presented. But once others are involved, so are their imaginations.
Here, the maze begins changing, responding to them; or, the maze comes alive in how they respond to it. In a situation like this a work of art can become out of control. Added to that, a lack of one meaning becomes no meaning, nothing fixed, always changing. Part of what Dave must learn throughout their time stuck inside the maze is that he has to accept loss of control as a part of the artistic process. He fears it, but he has to accept it, or else he’ll never finish anything out of worry they’re losing authorship over their work. An artist simply has to complete their work, put it out there, and leave the rest to others.

Is this permanent?
Nothing in here is

Dave Made a Maze 3The film works as an overall metaphor for maturing, either as an artist or as a human. Dave has to find himself, he has to learn how to follow through in life instead of always searching for that one big thing that’ll break him into fame and money. In essence, it’s the concept of growing up, realising that things take work and time, life doesn’t come all at once. On the flip side, you also can’t wait around for life to happen; you’ve got to make it happen.
A well executed visual is how the cardboard of the maze comes alive, taking its power from the imagination of others. Even further, it absorbs or swallows the blood of those who succumb to its various booby traps and pitfalls. This is the perfect image of how figuratively art, even when successful in the end, can suck the life out of the artist.
In keeping with the mood of the subject, the dialogue and the interactions between the characters is hilarious. Beneath it all is a dark edge, but it keeps the audience chuckling nonetheless. Dave’s struggle at thirty, wanting to give the world his art but not able to finish anything properly, moving along from one thing to the next convinced he’ll change his life in a single work of art, all this combines a truly raw, real story – despite its fantastical elements – illuminating a real struggle many often face when they want to dedicate their life to artistry, of any type. Again, whether Dave, or anyone, makes it through the maze towards the understanding necessary to get past that space, is left to be seen.

Everyone are assholes
Is
Everyone is assholes. No, that doesnt sound right.”

Dave Made a Maze 4There’s a lot to love. Best are the stellar performances that help draw us into this strange little world, even as we’re dumped into it immediately the characters are believable, lovable, people with whom we can relate. Makes it much easier to tumble down the corridors of an endless cardboard maze in the living room of an apartment.
An unpredictable maze, deaths by cardboard, blood, drama, romance, friendship: this film has it all! In a sea of unimaginative films being pumped out for the sake of commerce, Dave Made a Maze is a shining ray of optimism, a beacon of hope crossing from an adventure flick with wry comedic chops to a semi-horror. This story has plenty to say outside of being a fun romp. But, boy, is it fun. When a story takes me effortlessly into its contained universe, making me feel like all else disappears for the time I’m sitting in front of the screen, it’s done its job. If it speaks to my soul, that’s a bonus.

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Tin Star – Season 1, Episode 2: “The Kid”

Sky Atlantic’s Tin Star
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Kid”
Directed by Marc Jobst
Written by Rowan Joffe

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Fun and (S)Laughter” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Comfort of Strangers” – click here
Pic 1With Angela (Genevieve O’Reilly) unconscious and in the hospital, Jim (Tim Roth) and his daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) are stuck waiting, wondering if she’ll make it through. The boy’s dead. His mother took a portion of the bullet, lodging in her brain.
At the same time, the men who tried setting up Chief Worth’s death are worried about the fallout, after “the kid” – Simon (Oliver Coopersmith) – has botched the job. These guys came from out of the past to take Jim out for good. One of whom is Frank Keane (Ian Puleston-Davies). They’re all relatively stressed, wondering how best to move on from here. Their answer may lie in going to work for North Stream Oil, to blend in, or else they’ll stick out like “cocks at a cuntfest.” Meanwhile, North Stream is burrowing its way into Little Big Bear, recruiting workers from all over to come and help them erect the refinery, get business pumping.
And in the wreckage are Jim and Anna, both rocked by their loss. That other side of him is threatening to come out, almost inescapable. Will he fall back to who he was before in order to find a way to revenge? Or will he stay strictly within the boundaries of the law?
Pic 1AMrs. Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks) is more sensitive to the death of a child than is the head of security, the forceful and slightly creepy Louis Gagnon (Christopher Heyerdahl). He is ALL business. He oversees the workers coming onto site, making sure things move along promptly. This whole time we’re also inundated with the bullshit commercials they use for recruitment, all that foolish rhetoric; I know it all too well, having worked on the oil sands for a couple years. Love the way this is setting up to be an excellent thriller with overtones of the socioeconomic troubles that often find their way into small towns after the oil industry seizes its grip on their natural resources.
What Bradshaw does, for her part, is to offer a reward for those who killed Jim’s son. His response? “Fuck off.” He doesn’t want any part of her pity, as it’s mostly predicated by worry for her business, getting the road clear. The Chief has bigger fish to fry.
He and Constable Denise Minahik (Sarah Podemski) begin digging into Dr. Bouchard’s death, partly for justice, partly to keep his mind occupied during this tumultuous period of time. Worse still, he’s asking for anxiety drugs. Not a good road to head down for an alcoholic.
And what’s up with the kid, Simon? He has serious issues, but there’s no telling yet exactly what they are, though I’m sure we’ll soon discover more. It’s obvious he has a connection to Jim, some sort of past, as he’s there with the men from the UK who’ve tracked the Chief to his new post. The lads nearly wind up in police custody after a bit of a scuff in the bar. This winds up putting Anna, accompanied by an officer, in the bar where Jim comes to find her, and she looks almost infatuated with Simon.
Pic 2That night, Simon sneaks into the Worth home. He sniffs the pillows on the bed. I’m already wondering, is there a possibility this young man is an illegitimate son? There’s this eerie quality to him, yet when he sees Jim at the bar, he turns away. Not wanting to be seen. Here, looking at the pictures of Peter, whom he killed, the family, there’s this sweetness inside him; a lonely sweetness. Just blocked by his creepiness.
Anna makes her father promise never to drink again, he’s also quick to remind her there were “lots of drugs” involved. Her mother talked about Jim becoming a whole other nasty person when he’s intoxicated. His daughter doesn’t want that to happen now, they need each other. Problem is, the memories. Memory is like an alcoholic’s ultimate kryptonite, apart from the actual booze itself.
While hiding in the house, barely escaping the notice of the Worths as they pack things to take for a while, Simon notices a cigarette butt. Left by Johnny (Stephen Walters), one of Frank’s lads. Shitty part for them is that Anna took the butt. Now, they’ve got to figure out how to get it back. But Simon insists: do not touch the girl. In addition, Anna’s already wondering about the cig, how it got there, and she’s suspicious after her father denies having started smoking again. Wonderfully labyrinthine.
Pic 3Right on the edge, Jim is almost back to alcoholism. Although a call from the hospital takes him away before he can dive in: Angela is awake. However, she’s unaware of what happened to their son. Thus he has to break the news to her, so devastating.
In the meantime, Anna’s experimenting with alcohol, a bag full of those mini hotel bottles she helped dad clear out. One after another she downs them until she’s got a handful gone. But after that she hears a whistle nearby. She follows it and the sound of a bell into the woods, until she reaches a vehicle she flags down; inside is Simon.
Oh, and dad’s back on the bottle. Yes, sir. He’s had enough. Because he needs that other side of himself, to do whatever comes next. Whatever that may be.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 7.13.40 PMGood follow-up to the premiere, adding bigger mystery, deeper issues to the story, the various plots, and the well-acted characters. Tim Roth continually fascinates. There’s so much more to uncover.
“Comfort of Strangers” is the next episode, sure to pack a mean punch.

Tin Star – Season 1, Episode 1: “Fun and (S)Laughter”

Sky Atlantic’s Tin Star
Season 1, Episode 1: “Fun and (S)Laughter”
Directed by Rowan Joffe
Written by Rowan Joffe

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Kid” – click here
Pic 1We open on Jim Worth (Tim Roth), wife Angela (Genevieve O’Reilly), their teenage daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) and young boy Peter (Rupert Turnbull) are floating down a wooded road. They pass a gas station. Heading for Calgary. Soon, Jim realises he needs gas. They turn back. Peter needs to wee, so Angela insists they take a second. But father insists, they have to go. He’s tense. We see his gun, his police badge. When he hops back in the car, a masked gunman points a pistol through the windshield and blasts a hole in him, splashing the daughter with blood.
Flashback. This is Chief Jim Worth, former Metro Police in the UK, now the head of the Little Big Bear Police Service up in the Canadian Rockies. Their family’s come to Canada, though not all of them are thrilled. The Chief has a regular sort of life, it seems. Nothing too far out of the ordinary. He’s a nice English family man. Loves his kids and his Irish wife. Takes his duty to the law and the citizens in that small town seriously. Angela tries ingratiating herself to the community, meeting another newcomer, Elizabeth Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks).
We do discover he’s “two years sober.” He still keeps going to the AA meetings at the church. He’s very honest, speaking of how he “grew up frightened.” Drinking helped him cope, obviously leading into a spiral of alcoholism. There’s also a sense that he’s almost an entirely different person, wholly other to himself when he was drinking.
Pic 1AOther things are happening around Little Big Bear. North Stream Oil are looking to use the small town to push tar sands oil into America. However, townsfolk worry about “migrant oil workers” and crime coming with all that money. Bradshaw is there to ease the transition. Trying to sucker the people in, to make big dollars off the back of their land, their community. She’s ushered around by a sort of uneasy fella, Louis Gagnon (Christopher Heyerdahl), a head of security for the company, looking after their interests.
Already we can see the conflict, as is the case nowadays in many small places that don’t necessarily want the outside world corrupting their quaint lives. Understandable, to a degree. Modernity is inevitable. Far as Chief Worth’s concerned, he’s merely there to protect, to serve, concerned only with whether the crime rate will go up.
On the street, Jim finds an eighteen-wheeler blocking traffic. He heads into the diner to find Mrs. Bradshaw meeting with a guy named Daniel Lyle (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), who’s clearly got addiction issues, hoping he’ll sign papers. Of course when the Chief injects himself into the situation, the other Lyle, Wallace (Nicholas Campbell), shows up. This cowboy hat wearing jerk already doesn’t like the British cop. Doesn’t help things when Danny gets wild, punching Jim in the nose. Instead of using guns, the cop takes him down quick with a kick in the balls.
Later, Chief Worth gets a visit from Gagnon, who seems to plant a device under the desk. All the while warning: cooperate fully with North Stream, or else. Likewise we see Jim is close with Dr. Susan Bouchard (Rachael Crawford), perhaps a bit too close seeing as how he’s married. She has her own troubles, discredited by fellow colleagues for complaining about environmental concerns with the oil companies. She tells him she’s being followed.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.34.31 PMThings are already rough. The Lyles have filed an “undue force” complaint against the Chief, so he’s a local celebrity. The tribal elders of the local Native community don’t like him, either. They need the refinery to help fund their casino. Shit. Not to mention, Worth is called out to a crime scene just off a dirt road. A car, inside is Dr. Bouchard with blood everywhere, a hole in her head. Supposedly suicide. He doubts that, as should we. Too many suspicious circumstances. All of this prompts the Chief to start digging into North Stream. But it’s not helpful having Gagnon listening in behind the scenes.
Already there are people lurking near the Worth house. Anna sees a man across the lake staring. That night, a briefcase shows up on their doorstep. Young Peter goes down to see what’s inside, where he finds a snake coiled. He tells his dad about the “monster.” And there are noises outside, as well. Jim prepares his family, calls Constable Denise Minahik (Sarah Podemski), right before a shot flies through the window, a molotov cocktail comes in the bathroom window lighting a fire.
The family get away, out onto the road.
This is exactly where the episode begins. Jim gets a call from Denise, as officers clear the scene. But then the gas light comes calling, they turn back. We relive those moments leading up to Jim being shot brutally in the front seat of his car, Anna covered in blood.
Only it isn’t him who’s shot. It’s his wife, Angela, and his son, Peter. The bullet caught them both as she was taking out of the car. Leaving father and daughter alive, and likely broken.
Expect that other side of Jim to emerge. He’ll most certainly fall back in the bottle. As evidenced by him seeing that other Jim in the mirror, bloody face, juxtaposed with a snake tattoo from his past still taking up the whole of his back.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.41.07 PMScreen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.53.15 PMWhat an amazing opener to this series. I didn’t even realise this was coming out, heard nothing of it. All of a sudden, BAM! What a wild beginning, love how they tricked us from the opener to the finale.
I’m Canadian, so it’s also fun to see a series set in Canada that involves the oil industry, hopefully some First Nations issues (with actual Indigenous people in roles), plus more. Dark, exciting, wild. Give me more.
“The Kid” is next.

PET SEMATARY’s Macabre Exploration of Grief in the Wake of Death

Pet Sematary. 1989. Directed by Mary Lambert. Screenplay by Stephen King; based on his novel of the same name.
Starring Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Susan Blommaert, Mara Clark, Kavi Raz, Mary Louise Wilson, & Andrew Hubatsek.
Paramount Pictures/Laurel Productions
Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2Pet Sematary 4Stephen King is master of the macabre, a true genius when it comes to sucking us into the lives of his characters, many of whom are real, genuine people. A theme often present in his work is that of grief, both it effects and how we deal with it in our lives. Pet Sematary, which he also adapted into a screenplay himself, is a tragic look at grief, how it warps a family. Particularly focusing on a father whose sadness over the loss of a child takes control of his life, that of his family, and becomes something altogether terrifying.
There are moments in this King adaptation, crafted by the talented Mary Lambert, that still stick in the collective mind of horror fans to this day. Many of us would be excited to see a new, fresh remake. Regardless, there’ll always remain an undeniable scariness about this 1989 classic, an effect that will not soon, if ever, wear away.
No doubt about it, Pet Sematary is a dark, depressing film that gets crueller with each passing scene. In a proper horror sense, though, not unnecessarily just for horror’s sake. We plunge the depths of brutal, raw emotion with the Creed family and their various, inescapable tragedies. All the while King turns the mirror on humanity, questioning our faith, our belief, our methods of expelling grief from our lives. Not always a pretty sight.
Pet Sematary 1Part of the profundity in this story comes out of the inability of the father Louis (Dale Midkiff), an adult, to explain death to his young daughter. In a sense, he doesn’t know what he himself believes, leading to his own bad decisions in turn resulting in plenty of horror. There’s an essence in King’s storytelling here, combined with the concept of the Pet Sematary in this little Maine town, which speaks to how adults explain the world in general to children. In that, often enough, the inability of adults to help kids comprehend big, scary concepts (i.e death, sex, et cetera) stems from their own fears, their insecurities. The horrific tragedy here being when Louis can’t deal with the death of his little boy, he chooses a fantastical belief in the supernatural to try changing the recent past. Only to create a hellish future for the Creeds.
Another excellent aspect is the use of the old Indian burial ground. Joining a few other films of its ilk, Pet Sematary doesn’t try appropriating any kind of cultural ghosts, anything similar. Instead, King makes it into a story where white people, not understanding the full implications of another culture’s beliefs and rituals, create chaos by stepping outside their own culture in ill-advised ways.
Pet Sematary 3Best of all: the imagery. From the straight up horror to a visual motif Lambert weaves into a couple of the central characters, this film is ripe with juicy terror. The entire atmosphere creeps up on us immediately, a dreamy, fog-like quality to the cinematography, coupled with the eerie sounds of the score, the angelic-sounding voices, all swelling in our ears over images of graves. The quaint Maine countryside is contrasted with images of ugly violence, including the early introduction of Louis to a man who’ll come to haunt him later, Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist), as he suffers in the emergency room after a bloody accident.
The most significant imagery involves the dead kid Gage (Miko Hughes) and his long dead aunt Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek). First, the story of Zelda, the way she looks as a character, is unsettling. Lambert chose Hubatsek to portray the ill woman, as she rightly felt this casting option would provide an extra unnerving quality for the sister, which is – for Father Gore – the film’s definitive, terrifying image. Even in the book Zelda is frightening, albeit tragically sad. Onscreen, she’s a horrorshow in and of herself.
But once you notice the clothes she’s wearing in those flashback moments, this directly parallels the look of little Gage after he’s brought back from the dead. A visual motif connects everything. Zelda’s illness, symbolised by Gage wearing a near identical outfit when he’s reanimated from the grave, is a parallel to the undead state of those buried in the Pet Sematary. Being that, it was more merciful for her to die than continue living in an already half-dead, torture state.
And why?

Sometimes dead is better.”

Pet Sematary 2Lambert and King never shy from pummelling the audience with sadness, sticking the blade in our hearts, over and over. Gage’s death is punctuated with edits of family photos underneath the screams of Louis, wailing for his son after the transport truck crushes him on the road; heavy, harsh. From there, the happiness dissipates, and the Creed family is plunged entirely into darkness.
This transformation is effectively symbolised in the hellish look of the house at the end, as it warps like the reanimated lifeform of Gage himself. Life becomes death, all that is alive then decays, rots. The whole thing culminates in a seriously disturbed ending, one that doesn’t offer any hope, not even a glimmer, really. Although it does pose further questions, about how we cope with death, and grief in its aftermath; ultimately questioning to what lengths people will go to circumvent death, the grieving process, its hideousness and wake of self-reflection.
Unforgettably grim, Pet Sematary isn’t only one of the best King adaptations because the master himself penned its script, Lambert directs this with near flawlessness. She turns the great story into a modern Gothic tale crossed with elements of a zombie movie, wrapped in a personal story of death, loss, and love. There’s also the downhome feeling of being in Maine, as the movie was shot only 20 minutes outside Bangor and Fred Gwynne offers up that small town charm so inextricably linked with King’s setting and mood. But the horror is what grabs us, never letting go. Not until the bitter end.

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 11: “La Serpiente”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 11: “La Serpiente”
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by Lauren Signorino & Mark Richard

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Diviner” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Brother’s Keeper” – click here
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.33.53 AMMadison (Kim Dickens), Qaletqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes), and Strand (Colman Domingo) are now on the road together, heading for the dam. Before that Over the highway, they come across a group of walkers and overturned cars in the way, a jam nearly the whole way up, far as the eye can see.
So, what’s Strand’s plan? “Jesus saves.” He tosses an electronic device out the window, letting it beep and draw the zombies out. This gives Walker room to use the eighteen-wheeler to push some of the wreckage out of the way. Then they’re through, they pass a large gate into a junkyard. Safe, if only for a while.
Strand is searching for a car, which he’s found. A beat up old Bug. Madison and Walker aren’t sure why he’s concerned with a shitty little vehicle. It’s because it hides a tunnel underground. When the Native leader worries for the truck, Victor reminds him: “The dead dont drive.” And so it’s down into the shitty sewers of America’s southern reaches for the trio, the best way forward.
Hold you breath.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.44.25 AMThe further they go, the less Qaletqa trusts this man Madison used all his gold to free. He believes Strand is lost. Certainly, it isn’t altogether out of the realm of possibility. The dark stretches of tunnel go on for what feels like forever; walkers overhead occasionally, some in the tunnels themselves. Danger at every blind turn.
Soon, Strand admits to Madison he’s lost. He was searching for a symbol, the Proctor’s Eye(s). But he can’t find it. He also tells her about Daniel (Rubén Blades), his lie concerning Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). Although he’s pleasantly surprised when Madison tells him she’s at the ranch. They’ve got bigger worries, though. Walkers are coming.
Victor: “Ah, hope springs from darkness.”
This claustrophobic scene puts the trio in a tight pipe where they run into a stuck, bloated, rotting zombie. Madison puts a hatchet in its brain, then they’ve got to take the thing apart in pieces, passing it back, getting rid of the limbs, so on. A truly yuck task they share in all its gut sick glory.
Meanwhile, Daniel deals with fallout after firing on people when they riot over the water. Afterwards he finds Madison, Strand, and Walker coming out of a drainpipe. He finally discovers his daughter’s alive. Madison tells him about their water troubles at the ranch. However, this man is dangerous, this post-apocalypse zombie landscape has done nothing for mental state. No telling what he’ll do, what he’s thinking. He speaks with Lola (Lisandra Tena), just as Madison and Walker clash over how to handle the negotiations. Then they all meet, chat. Yet the answer is, no water for the ranch. No trading. Lola don’t play that shit.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.53.18 AMWill the former relationship Daniel and Madison had, before the split of the group help? Will Daniel’s desire to see his daughter again aid the ranch in getting what they need? Lola clearly knows he’s a dangerous man, but he’s helped her a great deal, she has a sort of respect or care for him. Simultaneously, Walker isn’t happy with Strand, telling him that if Madison can’t make this deal for the water, the ranchers will suffer. Because the tribe comes first, and there ain’t enough water for everybody!
There are those who want chaos, but violence begets violence.”
Strand starts uncovering the fact people don’t trust Daniel, that the man is also paranoid. There’s a scratch in the armour, and Efrain (Jesse Borrego) wishes that Lola would simply be done with the dam, “open the flood gates, let the river flow to the people.” He sees the power corrupting everybody in its own way.
Together, Walker and Daniel speak of Ofelia, the former telling of her bravery. The father hears about what she did at the ranch, poisoning people to supposedly save lives. This does nothing for the old man, knowing that his own violent genes have infected his daughter. Suddenly, he isn’t as happy to know where she is, knowing that when they come back together neither of them will be the same person they were before.
Now, Lola and Daniel are at odds, too. She isn’t sure about him anymore, knowing he’s a killer. She doesn’t like ruling through fear, she isn’t prepared to give up that “part of herself,” as Madison said. Then, she gives Daniel an ultimatum: do what she wants, or leave. He’s prepared to stay, right now.
And why? He also has an ultimatum, of sorts, for Victor – whatever the guy’s planning, it’s got to help them both, or else things are gonna get real fucking bad.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 3.16.15 AMWalker’s already done. He’s kicking himself for listening to Madison, he’s leaving. Also says the ranchers must leave. Not enough water, no deal on the horizon. It’s over. This is putting Madison in a hard corner. She pushes Daniel, telling him Ofelia needs him. But that doesn’t work, not on a guy with a blackened, bitter soul.
Only the two of them left, Victor and Madison are going to head out. Well, after they watch a bomb blow up the water truck, busting the gates wide. After that the two of them, as well as Daniel, put down the walkers trying to enter the dam. “Down with the Water Queen” chants come from outside, people are also coming to make their way inside. Perhaps Daniel wasn’t so paranoid after all. Or, y’know, Strand made it happen.
Lola’s prepared to deal for guns, ammo, even with Efrain cautioning against violence. She wants to make the deal. Madison and Walker are headed to set things in motion, hopefully heading off any further nastiness. In five days, the pair must be back with the goods, plus Ofelia. They find Walker on the way, to his happy surprise. A rare happy end to an episode. Calm before the storm.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 3.24.44 AMAnother solid chapter in Season 3, pushing forward several plots, giving us more character development, and much more. Just great writing. Truly love some of these characters, especially Strand, Madison, and Walker, all of whom are getting lots of time. Daniel is interesting, too. In a dark way.
“Brother’s Keeper” comes next. Wonder if we’ll see more of Troy. Hmm.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Season 1, Episode 1: “The Hood Maker”

Channel 4’s Electric Dreams
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Hood Maker”
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Written by Matthew Graham

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Impossible Planet” – click here
Pic 1We open on a gorgeous river, people fishing in the distance. One woman stands basking in its natural beauty. Cut to the dreary streets of a city, people marching and protesting, signs make it clear the government has overstepped its scope. The woman from the river is Honor (Holliday Grainger), flanked by other law enforcement such as Agent Ross (Richard Madden). She’s telepathic, marked by a large red scar down her face. She’s there to read people, to see who’s a committed activist, who’s merely there for one foolish reason or another. Someone she lingers on too long can tell she’s reading him, then a crowd bears down on them. Suddenly, a man in a hooded mask appears, tossing a molotov cocktail.
Ross chases the man through the streets until he gets the guy. But the hood spells troubled times. I wonder if it prevents a person from being “read“?
At the office, Ross speaks with fellow copper Senior Agent Okhile (Noma Dumezweni). In the meantime we see how people like Honor, they’re treated differently. Outcasts, bearing a version of the Scarlet Letter right across their face.
These telepathic folk, “teeps” they’re called, get partnered with cops. Reluctantly, Ross works with Honor on a man in their interrogation room. She reads his life, his memories, taking on the personality of his mother and speaking in her voice. Getting to the dark secrets inside. Then the man repeats a mantra, she repeats one opposite of his own until he’s repeating what she says and he’s back to being under her spell. She begins to figure things out, about the hoods, about the secret operations of their misfit group.
I can see everything
They’re able to make a bust, but Honor’s clearly drawn to something further. She finds one of the masked men in the basement of where they make their arrests. A sharp noise pierces her brain, now she knows the hood prevents her from reading those who wear it.
Pic 1AWhat’s funny is, we’re essentially watching a world where police have foregone the traditional idea of law enforcement. They’re busting people based on this extra-sensory perception the telepaths have, like working on thought crimes, similar to an Orwellian concept or Dick’s precrime in Minority Report. So, there’s a kind of double-edged sword where you feel disgust for how telepathy is used by the state, and simultaneously you feel sympathetic to Honor and the plight her people face at the hands of both the state and other citizens. She even considers herself “software” at society’s disposal.
Ross and Honor continue searching for answers. Soon, she starts seeing another telepathic woman named Mary (Anneika Rose), trapped in the service of awful men, calling out for help. They track her down in a veritable den of iniquity. A man holding a gun to her. They manage to diffuse the situation, though the guy’s Franklyn (Paul Ritter), a Free Union man. Untouchable. He speaks of an “underground” saying they’re “ready to rise up.” But it’s clear he has, other nasty ideas for the use of telepaths.
At least they’ve got a bit more information, about the hoods, where they’re being made, as well as ultimately why. They discover a doctor, Thaddeus Cutter (Richard McCabe). Apparently, he had a break down. Surely he knows lots, if they can find him.
Already on the streets is a breakout of the underground. Mary and others rising, using their telepathic powers to try taking back social power, to take back their lives. Meanwhile, Ross and Honor are also stuck between the dynamic of the “normals” and the teeps. Although they do get closer, the cop isn’t exactly like all the others. It’s against the rules for the telepaths to read cops, but Ross asks her to read him. She refuses, not wanting to push him away, explaining things about her growing up. Moreover, we discover that opening scene was Honor looking into the past of Ross, he and his father fishing on the river. Beautiful moment. And she explains to him that when they’re together, her mind feels quiet just like the feeling he had on the river, unlike the noisy headspace of being on the streets.
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 1.18.27 AMLater, Ross finds Dr. Cutter stowed away in a dingy old basement. He believes that, eventually, people will “make [their] own hoods,” that perhaps humans will evolve to resist the telepaths.
And this is why Ross is a potential aid to those fighting the telepaths. He’s a “weapon” with the ability to block being read. A tragic moment, undoing all the trust between him and Honor.
So then she sings the song, to call the underground. She’s led them directly to the doctor. Now, she leaves Ross and Cutter to the others. They kill Cutter, then soak the masks, the material, and light the place on fire.
Will Ross allow himself to be read to prove himself to her? Or will he burn?
We go back to the literal beginning of the episode, on the river. Honor walks down through the waters where she finds him as a young man, his father fishing. And she also sees him talking with his fellow agent, hearing how he’ll do whatever possible to infiltrate her, the underground. The only question left is whether she’ll let him live, or if she’ll leave him behind.
Or does it matter, when the world outside is crumbling, burning to the ground? Does love still matter? Can it conquer all?
Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 1.39.33 AMScreen Shot 2017-09-18 at 1.45.23 AMWow, I truly loved this episode! There’s a lot to take out of this one. Saw a review that said there’s no ‘modern day message’ to the episode, which I find insane. Clearly shows a divide world, on the precipice of burning down entirely. At its heart, the episode speaks to whether love can heal the divide, if it’s worth pursuing the individual interest nowadays in a time where there’s so much hate that the social climate necessitates we keep strong in groups opposed to hatred, so on. So, really, I don’t know WHAT some reviewers are talking about, honestly. Give me more!
“Impossible Planet” is next week, a whole new world, a whole new story, new characters, new cast. Love anthologies.

THE TRANSFIGURATION’s Blood Sucking Construction of Masculinity & Mental Illness

The Transfiguration. 2016. Directed & Written by Michael O’Shea.
Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Phyillicia Bishop, Dangelo Bonneli, Andrea Cordaro, Larry Fessenden, Danny Flaherty, Anna Friedman, Jose Ignacio Gomez, Lloyd Kaufman, & JaQwan J. Kelly.
Transfiguration Productions
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2

Disclaimer: The following article contains several spoilers.
Go check this film out. Then come back, discuss.
Lest ye be spoiled, forever!

Transfiguration 1Vampire films are a dime a dozen. Much like the zombie, the concept of vampires has been overused. That being said, there are many incredible works within these sub-genres. Although seeing as how the horror industry’s inundated with their presence, you’ve got to dig to find the real gold. The Transfiguration is one of those exciting, sharp needles in the haystack.
As a white man, there are issues in this film I’m not qualified to speak on with any authority. One of which is black mental health. However, the broader concept of mental health still applies. This is the most effective part of Michael O’Shea’s film: it takes a cold, hard look at things not everybody wants to see. In a coming of age story constantly flirting with the idea of the supernatural lurking on the periphery of our normal lives, O’Shea has focused on issues important to all of society, ones we’ve largely ignored up until now.
In a way, O’Shea also challenges us to consider what it is that makes a vampire film, how we perceive the constructs of the sub-genre. We come to question whether or not the protagonist, Milo (Eric Ruffin), is actually a creature of the night, or if it’s all in his head. The line between reality and the darkest of fantasy blurred. A frothy cocktail of mental health issues, the possibility of the supernatural, alienation and isolation, as well as the coming of age of a damaged young man whose entire environment feels geared towards denying him any escape from the psychological violence with which he’s been afflicted.
Transfiguration 2There’s a stigma of mental health in society in general. Even in 2017, particularly in certain communities and circles there’s a lingering idea that mental illness = psychotic, crazy, untrustworthy, weak. I don’t want to dive in on black mental health, not qualified. What I can speak to re: Milo is the mental health of men, how mental illness is perceived in conjunction with the constructions of masculinity. The other kids, the drug dealer and his friends, they see Milo as weird. It’s maybe his older brother Lewis (Aaron Cliften Moten) whose refusal to discuss anything of emotion stunts the kid the worst.
Milo lives at home with his brother. Just the two of them. Gradually, we discover a loss by suicide in the family. Before we ever figure it out fully, this loss is symbolised by a closed door in their apartment. Milo stares at it, a feeling of morbid awe accompanies the image. We can see he doesn’t push his older brother to talk about his feelings, any of the things he does in his room, such as indulging in vampire lore and movies, homemade VHS tapes of Lost BoysFright Night, right up to Dracula Untold.
And here’s where the general metaphor of mental illness kicks in.
Like many who suffer with mental health issues, Milo is tucked away immersed in fantasy, the symbol of his separation is the literal doorway of his room. Where he’s cut off, where, generally, Lewis will not go. Within that disconnect, Milo becomes lost in his fantasy. Whether he’s a vampire is left until the end. Before that, the mental illness is merely a metaphor, an allegory in vampire form. By the end it’s more than obvious what’s happened, even if there’s no expository dialogue spelling it out. Our protagonist has suffered the pains of faux-masculinity, of being forced into a delusion that ultimately encompasses his entire life.
The most telling moment is a scene where Milo tries to move somewhat towards a genuine conversation with Lewis, who responds only with a form of denial, a blind acceptance without understanding the consequences and a parallel to the way violent male behaviour is often condoned, telling his kid brother:

You do what you have to do. No matter what. Whatever it is youre doin‘, theres someone doina whole lot worse.”

Transfiguration 4While Sophie (Chloe Levine) represents an equally damaged soul, she’s also one who hasn’t descended into madness like Milo. Hard as her life is, she manages to at least get away, or she faces the prospects of getting away from the abusive grandfather, the boys in the neighbourhood – essentially, away from the toxic men around her. Sophie also illustrates that women clearly are not exempt from the violence and sexual abuse of men, as if we didn’t know already. But this movie is specifically aimed at the unforgiving culture of masculinity that doesn’t allow young men, or any men for that matter, to discuss their issues openly, without fear of judgement, of ridicule. So whereas Sophie manages to find a way free in the end, Milo cannot escape the fragile constructions of masculinity, as his vampire delusion leads him towards tragedy.
O’Shea does well by blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, though. The edges disappear, leaving the viewer wondering at times if this is a choice, a delusion, or if Milo’s been infected by some undead creature wandering the city. Because in between his hunting for blood, there’s a whole world of urban decay, a modern Gothic landscape across the city surrounding him. He experiences all the socioeconomic pitfalls of living in a forgotten neighbourhood, where people buy drugs and get shot in the basement of apartment buildings, and likely much, much worse. At one point, a white guy’s racist assumption that any black kid in that neighbourhood out to know where the drugs are leads to this same guy becoming a victim of crime himself. A self-fulfilling prophesy which ultimately, and in such a dark way, comes back onto Milo, tragedy of Greek proportions. Although it’s not quite fate which brings it full circle, as we see in the finale.
Transfiguration 3Every so often, a horror movie like The Transfiguration comes along speaking so loud, so proud in a unique way that it helps the whole genre. In this case, also the vampire sub-genre. There are plenty of great horror movies out there, despite what people who don’t dig horror will try telling you. This film simply has the transcendental quality certain films in the genre have which cross a genre gap, speaking to universal ideas independent of any genre. This is something every horror needs to attempt. But when one does, succeeding, it’s special.
O’Shea does a fantastic job at playing with that blurred line from fantasy to reality, to the point the viewer will question if Milo is a serial killer or a genuine vampire. He doesn’t load us down with exposition. Rather, he chooses to give us gradual, short motions from scene to scene building a sense of who Milo is, how he got here, where he’s headed, until the various strands of his life come together in a blend of terror.
Stuck between a brutal reality surrounded by death and crime and violence, Milo is forced into a fantastical headspace. From the dealers on the street harassing him, to the wall of videotapes he studies religiously, his life is a constant battle between these elements. This is the story of many out there, young men trapped by the social constructs of their gender. Milo is a microcosm. The longer men ignore other men’s struggles with mental illness, the more people will die. And that’s not a figurative concept, that’s reality.

Mr. Mercedes – Season 1, Episode 6: “People in the Rain”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Season 1, Episode 6: “People in the Rain”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by Dennis Lehane

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Suicide Hour” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Willow Lake” – click here
Pic 1Again, the day starts the same for Bill (Brendan Gleeson). The same old mess, his tortoise his only real friend. More videos of Mr. Mercedes, as Brady (Harry Treadaway) still lurks in the neighbourhood driving the ice cream truck, manipulating the former detective from just outside.
At home the killer flicks through pictures of Bill, Jerome (Jharrel Jerome, the dog. Then he makes what looks like an explosive device and hides it in his car. One thing that’s always creeped me out is how he just mutters “darkness” to shut down the lights in his basement lair. An eerie little touch that Treadaway nails every single time.
We see that Ida (Holland Taylor) continues to have at least a modicum of sentiment for Bill, though the old lad is too concerned with other things to have ever noticed. It’s funny to that I’ve never noticed there’s also a parallel between Brady and Bill, in the sense that the latter’s a guy at the end of his career, effectively nearing the end of his life, as the former’s really beginning his adult life, job opportunities, as well as dealing with his childhood traumas, so on.
Pic 1AAND NO FUCKING WAY – Brady can’t find mom, then discovers his car gone. Oh yes, Deb (Kelly Lynch) is out cruising the streets, dropping her lit cigarette next to what she doesn’t realise is a bomb. The son has to take a bus to work, on his big day meeting the corporate bosses, while mommy drives around on the verge of exploding. Perfectly devilish.
Bill goes to see a man named Kenneth Brock (Tom Nowicki) who had his car moved several times, technically stolen but just parked in different places each time. He asks the guy a few questions, if there were any weirdos around his neighbourhood that may seem suspicious. Nothing stands out. At the same time, Janey (Mary-Louise Parker) calls: her mother’s had a stroke.
Corporate suck up Robi (Robert Stanton) is coaching Brady on how to deal with the bosses, how to act, all the good stuff. But the young man can’t stop worrying about his mother, out there with the bomb under the seat. And saddest of all, she’s trying desperately to clean her life up, too. Brutish irony. Deb winds up running into a guy she used to know, Chaz Chapman (Terry Serpico); he now owns a bar they all used to frequent, right next to the old salon where she worked, where she’s hoping to get a job again. He invites her out to lunch, and at least she’s away from that bomb. For now.
At the hospital, Janey’s aunt Charlotte (Laila Robins) is convinced the stroke is due to Bill’s questioning. So he’s not entirely welcome there. Janey is pissed, as well, but is glad to have his company. What’s curious is watching Charlotte’s daughter Holly (Justine Lupe) with Bill, who goes to check on her while the rest of the family is bickering. We know he’s estranged from his daughter, so it’s really a beautiful bit of character development to watch them together. She is a unique, if not strange girl. Then again, Bill’s a weirdo. One subtle gesture that speaks volumes shows us that he’s one of the few adults willing to indulge her.
Briefly we flashback to 2005, as he sees a man carrying his small daughter. In the interrogation room, Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence) and Bill have a girl behind the glass. She was picked up on a DUI. This seems to be a problem for Dt. Hodges. Why? Because that’s his daughter, Allie (Maddie Hasson).
Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 1.27.44 PMAt a restaurant, Robi and Brady meet with corporate dudes Josh (David Furr) and Jacob (Drew Matthews). They’re the typical types we’d expect. They want Brady to “open the kimono” and tell them about himself, his management philosophy. As he tells them, he also daydreams of murdering the three douche bags at the table with him. Likewise, he dreams of killing the kitchen staff; including line cook Stephen King. He sees his mother, whom he guts, pulling a bloody firetruck from her stomach.
Most of all he’s worried about mom and the bomb, naturally. He sort of weirds the corporate guys out, throwing Robi into a rage. This prompts Brady to lay his life bare, somewhat, to his boss. Using that psychopath sympathy card, which makes Robi turn human for once and give the bullshit a rest.
Irony of Chaz meeting with Deb is that he’s now married to a woman whose sister died at the hands of Mr. Mercedes, her own son, unbeknownst to her. Scary and tragic. They talk over the case, the fact the killer was never caught. Although Deb says she sometimes gets premonitory feelings, believing that soon the cops will catch him. Well, Chaz isn’t just there for a reunion. He has other, more sexual things on his mind. She refuses, making him angry, and this could push her back into the bottle.
In the meantime, Brady’s going all over town in the company vehicle looking for mom. He checks the liquor store, the cashier claims she was in and only bought a bottle of water. So Brady, he buys vodka. Hmm, curious. He then stops by the hospital, where he sees Bill with Janey outside. When Bill locks his car, he notices a second beep. Not realising the code has been copied.
At home Brady finds mom, drinking tea like nothing ever happened. He isn’t thrilled. He fakes concern, welling up the tears. Everything a normal boy would do. And I don’t doubt he does care for mom: “I dont love anyone else. No one else loves me.” But I’m pretty sure his chief worry was getting caught due to his alcoholic mother in the car with a homemade explosive device.
Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 1.33.13 PMScreen Shot 2017-09-17 at 1.34.00 PMFlashback to 2005 again, Bill and his wife Donna (Nancy Travis) are at odds. Because their daughter’s now in custody, booked. Nothing he can do from here to get his daughter out of trouble, or else be under another cop’s thumb forever. He won’t do it anymore, while his wife wants to just excuse it all over again. So we see that dad is being vilified for trying to help his daughter, the only way that’s left. Sure, it’s shit. But Bill has used his privilege as far as he’s willing to go. His daughter hates him, until she tries using emotion against him one last time.
He thinks of her so much because it’s her birthday today.
Brady bought the vodka to “wean” his mother off the booze, so she doesn’t have the DTs hard. He wants to help. Or, does he want to keep his mother drunk so he can, to an extent, control her? Seeing as how he has cameras to watch her, I’d bet on the latter. Then he watches as she has one drink, leading to another, and surely more…
Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 2.06.42 PMLoved this episode. Love the whole series! Lehane is a particularly excellent addition, having written the episode before last, as well. His writing is fantastic, coupled with King’s wonderfully disturbed story it’s just great to watch. Then there’s the King cameo, which was a whole lot of fun. “Willow Lake” is next week.

Transgressive Family Love in RAW

Raw. 2017. Directed & Written by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, & Jean-Louis Sbille.
Petit Film/Rouge International/Frakas Productions
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★★

Disclaimer: The following article contains several important spoilers.
Check the film out, then come back, discuss.
Else ye be spoiled!

Raw 1After the hype, the anticipation, Raw had to deliver the goods. Reviews promised  gruesome horror with emotional weight. What we get is exactly that: a film exploring transgressive fiction and various themes surrounding the maturation of a young girl, Justine (Garance Marillier), whose experience at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends reshapes the very fabric of her existence.
Of course there’s the suggested, incessantly talked about horror imagery, which supposedly led to incidents at various theatres involving people feeling ill, passing out, all that jazz. It isn’t laden with blood, though there’s a fair share of nasty gore to impress even seasoned horror veterans.
What works most for Ducournau is her concentration on the family: Justine, her sister, her parents. The film begins and ends on shots of the family, albeit in vastly different circumstances. But the opening parallels its bookend, focusing our attention not merely on Justine, also the seed from which she and her sister grew. This is exactly why Raw does its job as a horror movie – shocking us, challenging us to straddle the line between societal norms and transgressive acts – and also as an allegory, about how sometimes, to help those we love, maybe even to continue loving them, we must accept the darkest parts of them. In turn, accepting the darkest parts of us; of humans.
Raw 2Major themes here: coming of age, the transition from young girl to adult woman, as we watch the transformation and metamorphosis of Justine, and Marillier’s physical performance is fascinating to observe, her posture and body seem to change from start to finish; cannibalism is linked viscerally to Justine’s sexual awakening, like an urge that can destroy oneself, a primitive part of humanity; finally, there’s also the idea that humans are intrinsically primal, that something such as cannibalism can come in the form of a hereditary gene.
Body horror takes us through the metamorphosis of Justine into womanhood. After first ingesting human meat, she’s insatiable in her hunger. This leads to the shakes, physical reactions to her hungry stomach crying out for more flesh. She becomes like a junkie, quivering under the sheets, sweating it out. What’s more is the dangerous, visceral link to her sexual maturation. Each act of cannibalism involves a form of physical intimacy or sexuality. For instance, when she first tries a taste, this is preceded by Alexia between her legs, waxing her pubic hair for the first time. Later, Justine bites out a piece of a guy’s bottom lip when they’re playing a 7th Heaven-type game at the dorm. When she has sex the first time with a close friend, she basically can’t climax without biting into her own arm until the blood seeps out from between her teeth.
Raw 3

It’s nothing. Everybody does it.”

This concept of primitivity in modern humans leads to the idea of humans as animals. Many animals roam in packs, of course; or better yet, families. This is where the relationship between Justine and Alexia comes into play. The older sister pushes Justine not out of sister love or a need to support, she’s determined her sister experience the same life as her. She’s the one who first forces her younger sister into eating raw rabbit kidney as part of the hazing rituals. Moreover, she’s also heavily linked to the scene in which Justine first eats human flesh. This is because she is determined that if she must bear the family shame, so must her sibling.
We see the primitive nature of both Justine and Alexia come out in full force when they fight one another amid high tensions: biting, clawing each other like two animals, savage and both seeking bloody dominance over each other yet refusing to be broken apart, leaving in each other’s arms when others step in.
Here’s where the element of allegory rears its head. You can see it as anything, whether it be mental illness or even something much darker. But at its core, Raw explores how people love one another, the way sometimes we must learn HOW to love someone because of an inescapable flaw in their DNA, whatever the case may be. In this story, we centre on Justine’s family, obviously intensifying the emotional strings when they’re pulled. Showing us a situation of ultimate love and sacrifice. The ending is a shocker, in the greatest sense, because it’s at once a hideous image to finish on, while also stating clearly: love can conquer all, even if it may not be healthy. Hope and a warning, all in one.
Raw 4What would you do, or what wouldn’t you do, for your family, the one you love most? This is the central question beating at the gorgeously ugly heart of Raw. You can pull all sorts of different things from out of Ducournau’s devastating, emotional, gruesome film. Above all is, through transgressive fiction, we discover that perhaps acceptance – no matter the cost – is better than rejection when it comes to our various natures as human beings. Despite the danger and darkness in this type of thought, Ducournau navigates us intelligently through the subject matter.
It isn’t the most gory film out there, neither is it tame. I can see how it would affect people with a higher sensitivity for blood, especially in combination with the sexual nature of the scenes involving cannibalism. However, horror excels best when it challenges us on some level. Raw, for its visceral and emotional qualities, is one of the more challenging horrors of the past few years.
Many films suffer from too much hype; this is not one. It’s not going to make many people pass out as the early screening stories reported. It will make many of you explore the darker side of the psyche, offering little actual catharsis, but providing an unsettling experience that is unforgettable.

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW Deconstructs Disney & the Happiest Place on Earth

Escape from Tomorrow. 2013. Directed & Written by Randy Moore.
Starring Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Lee Armstrong, Kimberly Ables Jindra, Trey Loney, & Amy Lucas.
Mankurt Media
Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror

★★★★
Escape from Tomorrow 1Just the fact that Randy Moore’s film Escape from Tomorrow exists is a gift. Even if you don’t enjoy it there’s a guerrilla quality of filmmaking which grips tight, and the imagery, if anything, is impressive. Without permission from Disney, Moore and his crew infiltrated Disneyland and Walt Disney World with their minimal equipment, iPhones holding the scripts, and more. Afterwards, Moore absconded to South Korea (special effects provided by the same company who worked on The Host) where he edited the film, for fear Disney might do anything in their power to stop him from making it, let alone releasing it.
Sure enough, we’ve been graced with a daring, surreal piece of cinema due to his efforts, as well as the efforts of a dedicated crew and some talented actors. This vision of the happiest place on Earth grew out of Moore having visited the park as a kid, mixed up with memories and feelings from his life at the time. Like a cocktail of childhood dreams, as fantastical as they are terrifying.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Particularly if you’re American and you hold Disney sacred. But it isn’t only surrealism, there’s a genuine plot. Still, this is a divisive film. It attacks and deconstructs the American Dream, in no better place than Disneyland. So while it’s not as if Moore engages in blasphemy, to some it may feel that way. The famed park goes from the happiest place on Earth to a place filled with nightmares, a much different vision than what children experience, as we’re taken through in the perspective of an adult who’s not a carefree kid anymore.
Escape from Tomorrow 3But you cant be happy all the time.”
Essentially, we begin right as the weight of adulthood and responsibility is bearingcrushing down onto Jim (Roy Abramsohn). In his hotel room, on the last day of a family vacation, he finds out he’s fired from his job. His wife Emily (Elena Schuber) doesn’t know, he hides it from her. Thus begins the American Nightmare at Disneyland. Instead of that carefree enjoyment his children experience, Jim experiences a surreal, horrific park that seems directed at the deepest, darkest parts of his mind.
At its core, Escape from Tomorrow is about the existential trap of Disney’s attractions. In that the regular, everyday person like Jim is forking out big dollars to take his family on vacation. Simultaneously he loses his job, yet he can’t be happy: he’s at the happiest place on Earth, right? So, in a sense, this existential, twofold struggle between the part of him that’s desperately stressed and the other side which feels he has to keep up the illusion, to make sure his children, the other people in the park aren’t disturbed by his unhappiness in the very place that dictates you cannot be sad while you’re there.
If a dreamy place like Disneyland can actually be a physical space, then if the dream turns to nightmare this nightmarish headspace then is as real as the rides themselves. The deterioration of Jim’s life and marriage while in such a forcibly happy environment is like amplified tragedy at work and his surreal experience confronts us with a visual metaphor of this breakdown. Starting with ride disappointments, brief visions Jim has, seeing two recurring French girls and confronting Jim’s ugly, forbidden temptation; this last bit especially hits hard, because Disney is supposed to be so kid and youth friendly that a married family man like him lusting after these girls is even creepier than it would be in the outside, normal world. Moreover, kids, as in any bad marriage, take the brunt of what’s happening far too often, represented by Jim’s son vomiting, tarnishing the clean and pretty image of the park, plus his daughter tripping, skinning her knee in a nasty fall.
Escape from Tomorrow 5 (1)The surrealism makes the film what it is, a combination of absurdism and outright wild, hallucinatory imagery that somehow feels – for Jim and the viewer alike – of vivid consciousness. Right off the bat, the black-and-white cinematography does wonders by giving this very American movie that sense of a Hollywood classic, playing into the theme of Disneyland as an American dreamspace in a physical location before becoming horrifically surreal.
Added to that is the endless imagery. Often, Moore juxtaposes that happy ideal of Disney with an outright vulgarity, ugliness, or horror that resonates: Jim’s bloody toe + sock that gets progressively worse, symbolic of his mental state; Emily sees the French girls and their faces become ghoulish; even the princesses working at the park become call girls for Asian businessmen, deconstructing that almost holy image of the Disney princess as the iconography of innocence. This also leads to the wonderful comparison of Disney at day v. Disney at night, strikingly transitioned when Emily boils over and slaps her daughter across the face. The biggest, most striking piece is a brief hallucination of the EPCOT Center coming free from the foundation, rolling with an explosion over crowds of fleeing families, their perfect little vacation flattened on the concrete.
Bad things happen everywhere. Especially here.”
Moore deconstructs the American ideal of Disney through Jim and his family’s nightmare vacation, but the other characters add to the surrealism of Escape from Tomorrow. For instance, the weepy nurse, whom Jim and his daughter visit after she scrapes her knee. The nurse breaks down, crying, almost a warning that things are not what they seem. More than that she’s a marker of the bits of absurdist humour weaved into the story. Nearly a Lynchian moment. Also, the creeper in the motorised chair who shows up before the nurse, again running into Jim when he’s cleaning his bloody sock in the washroom, and again after that, too. Just his smile, his voice, it’s all eerie and rife with absurdity. Again there’s a warning in the absurdism, telling Jim: this place ain’t right. If only he listened.
Escape from Tomorrow 5Escape from Tomorrow 6With a perfectly morbid end, suggesting the lengths to which Disney might go to protect their happiest place on Earth status so as not to disturb any guests, Escape from Tomorrow concludes a feverish vision of the American Dream subverted into the polar opposite, a quintessentially American Hell. Final moment is a cynical, chilling view of the sanitised, Disneyfied, picture perfect commercial that the company wants you to believe is the ONLY experience available at their perfect parks.
People are programmed to see Disney in a certain way, which is why this film will bother some people. They’ll say it’s dumb, or it makes no sense. Really, they’re afraid to admit that places made of dreams can easily be places made of nightmares. Disney’s postured as a park where they provide everyday people respite from life’ problems.
Therefore, the title: Escape from Tomorrow. It isn’t so much a play on the Tomorrowland attraction, first opened in 1955. Rather it’s a play on escaping one’s future, delaying tomorrow by going to Walt Disney World. But as the film wears on it’s an omen, ironically one from which there’s no escape for Jim. The film presents the park as a paradox: a place where you can go with your family to escape the responsibilities and concerns of the real world, but one where those same concerns are amplified in juxtaposition with such dream-like perfection, a place from which, ultimately, nobody might escape if the paradox takes its toll on their mind.