Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain (2015)

My favorite thing about being a genre fan is that there is never a shortage of strange, interesting movies to check out.  Every few months I stumble on an oddity filled to the brim with bizarre, original material that reinvigorates my interest and sends me back to the web to find that next hidden gem.  This current gem that I am discussing is this year’s Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain.  It is a psychedelic freakout of faith, sex, torture and self-realization that is unlike anything that you have ever experienced.  The director (Jeremy Westrate) takes the “kitchen sink” approach to storytelling and packs more ideas into this film than a corporate think tank.  In case I am not being clear, this is an ambitious and absolutely batshit crazy flick that needs to be seen to be believed.

This won’t be easy, but I am going to attempt to explain the basic story.  The titular Franklin spends a day out in nature and is quickly abducted by masked occultists who torture and exploit our protagonists until he submits to his pain.  After waking in a new location, he is then assaulted by foul-mouthed 60’s “street toughs” who then beat the breaks off of him again.  These run-ins repeat to differing effect and are inter-cut with hellish vignettes and dialogue with a less than comforting priest.

Each scene reveals a little hint of the developing story and is accompanied by a maddening score of both classical and pop-inspired music.  Colors shift, as well as perspectives and the camera never sits in any kind of static state.  “Break neck” is how I would describe its pace.  With this kind of experimental filmmaking, not everything works.  There are some scenes that may feel a little indulgent, but with a film like this, it is expected.  Actors can be middling to cartoonish, but good writing and spot on camera work makes up for the performer’s shortcomings.  There is very little to compare this film to and that (in itself) is a great reason I recommend this movie.  If you like acid trip cinematography mixed with absurd levels of violence, then this is the flick for you.  Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain is currently available on DVD and Vimeo.

4/5 STARS

American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire (2015)

Being a Southerner, I am always excited to see a “killer hillbilly”/”psychos in the woods” film that does not take place in the American South.  Every region has its “rednecks” and I always enjoy seeing what other areas have to offer in this genre.  If this film is any indication, I would be weary to go into the woods of New Hampshire.  It appears to be full of murderers, monsters and rapists.  A terrifying combination that plays out pretty well in American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire.

Director, Flood Reed, has assembled a very sadistic and playful adventure that can be simultaneously exciting and frustrating.  The acting is incredible, the direction is imaginative, but there are a few things that really hold the American Backwoods from being one of the best low budget horror flicks of the year.  But, before going into the details lets talk about the story.

The movie takes place in 1994 New Hampshire and follows a group of close friends that are on a road trip to find a local rite of passage.  By “rite of passage”, I mean a legendary strip club.  The trip turns out to be an incredibly deadly one.  These guys are going to have to survive multiple groups of murderous humans, as well as something else that lurks in the woods

American Backwoods offers more than just blood and guts, Mr. Reed knows how to develop likeable/despicable characters that you cannot help rooting for.  The actors all nail their parts and feel like real people, rather than just filling an archetype that is ultimately just fodder for gore.  For as much praise that I have for this film, there are still a few things that did not work for me.  Most notably, the choice of a soundtrack over a score.  The music can be incredibly distracting at times and would yank me out of the movie, especially the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal.  Also, Flood Reed makes some creative flourishes that work well at times, but can also muddle the story and pace.  These moments of flashbacks and distortion sometime offer insight, but (more times than not) just distract you from what is happening in the scene.  Overall I really enjoyed this movie and will go out of my way to see more films from this director.  He is ambitious and I praise him for the chances that he is willing to take, even when they don’t work, I cannot help but admire him for trying.  American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire is currently available on DVD and VOD.

3.5/5 STARS

 

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