Androgynym (2015)

I would not be lying if I said that I have been less-than impressed with this year’s low/no-budget releases.  For every one review that I put up, there is a slew of boring, uninspired releases that I glaze over and (usually) forget rather quickly.  I am very excited to report that Androgynym is not one of these disappointing films.  In fact, this movie could be one of the best low budget films of 2016.  Writer/Director/Star, Nick Iway, delivers a powerful labor of love that explores some heavy themes that most films would never touch.  Every scene is deliberate and builds to its highly cinematic conclusion that does something movies never do; make me care about these fictional characters and what happens to them.  Most movies would spend more time highlighting the gore and nudity, but Androgynym knows when to pump the breaks and let the story develop.  When the horror and shock occurs, you feel every bit of its drama, elevating what could have just been another exploitation rewind.  Instead we get a thoughtful drama that is both exciting and relatable.

 

The film begins by introducing us to our protagonist’s life as a thug for a gangster named Carlos.  Things go bad quickly and has to flee town and lay low for a while.  When he cannot adjust to his new lifestyle, he looses control and lobs off his penis (in an impressive fit of rage).  After his self-mutilation, our lead develops a fast friendship with an employee at a local pizza shop.   I will stop at this point, because I would hate to spoil what comes next.  I watched this film cold and feel that is the best way to approach Androgynym.  What I can tell you is that this is the point where Nick Iway really finds his feet as a filmmaker and you will not be disappointed.

While there is a lot that I love about this movie, there are a few small gripes that I did have.  The first act can be a little wonky and hard to follow.  As the film progresses, it quickly corrects these issues (especially in the camera work).  This is Mr Iway’s first feature film and I am very confident that we will see more quality work from him.  What makes this film so powerful is not the technical aspects, but the raw emotion behind the film.  This is a brave movie that does not gloss over things like addiction, loss and self identity.  In fact, it barrells itself directly at it.  There are scenes of extreme and shocking violence, but I hope they do not overshadow the beautiful experience that is Androgynym.  This film is currently working on a wide DVD release and you can keep up with its progrss at http://androgynym.com/

4/5 STARS

THE INTERIOR (2015 BURIED ALIVE FILM FEST)

There is a moment at film festivals that really differ from any other movie watching experience.  This moment is directly after the credits, your short time to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and check your phone messages.  What happens during this time is the best, you talk with other festival goers and see what the “other guy” thought.  The festival that I saw The Interior was a horror festival and found that I may have been one of the only viewers who really loved this flick.

Most people said that it was too slow or that was not enough true “horror” in this film.  My unpopular opinion was hard to defend.  Yes, it was slow.  Yes, it wasn’t a conventional horror story…but dammit!  It was beautiful, introspective and created a meandering experience that hit that sweet spot between the experimental docudrama of Herzog and the eeriness of a tent horror film like The Blair Witch Project.  I tell this long story to prepare you, THIS IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL HORROR FLICK.  This is something contemplative and experimental.  It sticks with you for days and takes time to simmer and really be appreciated.

 

The story is about James who is an office worker in his mid-twenties.  He lives a meandering and miserable life, without any real passion or direction.  He eventually goes to a doctor about some minor symptoms and gets some troubling news (which the details are never explained).  From there he eventually cuts all ties and moves to the woods because he “wants the opposite of this”.  He then wanders the woods and starts to experience terrifying nightmares and run-ins with strangers, deep within the dense woods of Canada.

 

There is very little when it comes to plot or story and instead focuses on the existential horror of being a young man who may not live long enough to figure out what he wants in life.  That is much scarier to me than monsters or masked killers and there is no place better to experience this than deep inside of nature.  The sound design heightens both the serenity and tension, using either natural soundscapes or intense classical pieces.  I could go on and on about how much I love this movie, but don’t want to venture into spoiler territory.  What I can say is that this is a movie worth your time and attention, especially if you are sick of half-assed paranormal flicks.  This is a beautiful film that will eventually find its audience and I will not be surprised to find it on a lot of top ten lists for 2015.  The Interior is currently on its festival rounds and I will update when release  dates are available.

4/5 STARS

Curtain (2015 BURIED ALIVE FILM FEST)

The world of indie horror is a place that is never short on interesting ideas.  The fact that there is a compelling film about a transdimensional portal in a shower, should not come as a surprise.  Curtain is a great example of what you can accomplish when you have a great idea and a small budget.  Where it lacks in effects and expensive settings, it makes up in great acting and a stronger-than-expected script.  The stylistic choices are interesting and creates a surreal, beautiful experience that mashes numerous genres and styles.

Curtain is about a young woman named Danni who moves into her New York apartment and quickly finds that her bathroom is a shower curtain eating portal that activates every time she closes the door.  Things ramp up when Danni and her friend (Whale-saving activist, Tim) start to track down where these curtains are going.  What follows is an enjoyably creepy, headtrip of a film.

The meat of the story includes a populous of great characters including killer monsters, blind cult leaders and breast obsessed janitors.  Although the film has a very lean run time (74 minutes), the filmmaker still manages to flush out these roles and give each of their performances weight.  The overall feel of this film reminds me of earlier David Lynch, but with a air of whimsy and humor.  This influence is shown especially well in the dream sequences that are campy, but creepy in a way that echoes the offbeat tone of movies like Eraserhead and Wild At Heart. The few minor gripes that I had stemmed directly from the film’s budget and some awkward editing.  These complaints are very small and do not take away much from the final product. Overall, if you are looking for a fun, eccentric horror movie then Curtains is right up your alley.  It is currently on its festival run and I will update as information is made available.

3.5/5 STAR

Manson Family Vacation (2015)

When flipping through Netflix, rarely do I find something that jumps out at me like the title and poster art for Manson Family Vacation.  I am not sure how this film wasn’t on my radar, but I am glad that I watched it right away and didn’t leave it in my que for 2 years (like most netflix titles do, in my case).  Its very much a part of the new wave of american indies that relies on realism and acting to tell a story.  This will probably get written off as another “mumblecore” film project, but at its core it is a great example of how introspective and unpretentious american indies are becoming.

The story is about two brothers, Nick and Conrad (played by Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips, respectively), who are spending a weekend bonding.  Conrad is the free spirited (adopted) brother of the straight-arrow Nick and the two embark on an adventure through all of the famous murder sights of Charles Manson.

It plays out as an anti-roadtrip movie, where the brothers never truly understand each other or bond during a sing along.  Instead we see two young men coping with adulthood, fatherhood and death.  It sounds much heavier than it is.  For every heart warming scene, we get death and fart jokes to compliment its tone.  The only gripe that I have for this movie is its scope.  While dealing with a ton of themes, it can get a little muddled and unfocused, but this is the debut from director J. Davis.  If you enjoy small, quiet dramas about murder, midlife crisis and weed, then please give this movie a shot.  Manson Family Vacation is currently available on Netflix streaming and VOD platforms.

3.5/5 STARS