By: Paul Farrell
Friday, September 20th, 2019 was an important day. I’ve hit many milestones in my time on this Earth, but until this particular day I had never experienced a full day…of Fantastic Fest. It brought with it a sinister Turkish government satellite dish; the mysterious death of a man due to “getting weird;” an epic cosmic threat from the deepest reaches of outer space (complete with a bourbon-loving, alpaca-milking Nicolas Cage); and a hard-R, Lifetime-esque midnight movie that features the heavy use of a sledgehammer that was formerly wall art. Allow me to explain.
Monotony is not the enemy of creativity; rather, hopelessness is. Such is the plight of Mehmet (Ishan Önal), the lifeless superintendent of a dilapidated apartment complex in a dystopian Turkey. His uninspired day-to-day routine is upended when the man who has come to install the government-mandated antenna on the roof of the building plummets to his death. The event seems accidental on the surface, but it’s representative of the perceived meaninglessness of Mehmet’s existence and the cost of living a life resigned to submission.
The film is careful, quiet, and burns incredibly slow. It’s a movie which revels in the tedium that its characters have been subjugated to — the life-sucking blandness that the totalitarian government dictates — that is, until its time for the broadcast.
Writer and director Orcun Behram sews in a creeping dread which comes to life through a chilling, unearthly soundscape and the appearance of a thick, black ooze which leaks from walls, pours from faucets, and seeps into the people that live there. Where it comes from is unclear and its effect seems to vary from person to person. Still, the horrific results border on the sort of body horror that directors like David Cronenberg and John Carpenter have played with in the past.
Ultimately, the film serves as an outcry from a social class long unheard, uninterested in the logic of typical narrative structure, and instead relying on symbolism to accomplish its ends. It oozes along at a pace which mirrors the creeping, black sludge and offers little in the way of a conclusive narrative, but the film holds an undeniable emotional resonance that speaks to the real world social issues that the filmmaker is attempting to tackle.
The Death Of Dick Long
Zeke, Earl, and Dick have a band. Well, really, they have band practice. The purpose of what it is they meet up for may seem innocuous on the surface, but I can assure you that the truth of what they do there reaches far beyond playing second-rate music. In the paraphrased words of the not-long-for-this-Earth Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert, who also directs the movie), what the men do together is best summed up as “getting weird.”
The film is part pressure-cooker thriller, part emotional drama, and part oddball comedy, all wrapped up in the mystery which Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) spend the whole of the film’s runtime trying to cover up: what happened to Dick Long? As the men work feverishly to hide the evidence left in the wake of the night prior, which seems to be increasingly more gruesome as the narrative progresses, their lack of intelligence and foresight creates tension and hilarity alike.
Still, this is only half of the film. For, when the truth is revealed, it becomes a much different story. And whether or not the tonal tight-rope the movie attempts to walk is successful or something that resonates will be entirely up to the viewer.
It’s well-made, populated by a wonderful supporting cast of character actors, and surprising, to say the least. Still, be aware, if you really want to know what happens when people “get weird,” you may not always like what you find.
Color Out Of Space
The universe is an endless mystery far too vast for the human mind to ever hope to understand. While humans tend to think of life as something physical, tangible, and following a linear chronology, when brushing up against the cosmic, mankind must be prepared to see something else: a specter, a light, or even a color.
Richard Stanley’s triumphant return to the big screen is as big, bombastic, and brilliantly massive in scope as I’d hoped. He approaches the work of H.P. Lovecraft with fervor and intensity, unafraid to allow the occasional bonkers performance from Nicolas Cage to play out. While not all of the actor’s choices work, and do occasionally draw unintentional laughs, the zaniness of Stanley’s approach serves to heighten the insanity its characters are experiencing.
The movie is infused with gorgeous visuals, the titular “color” manifesting itself in beautiful yet horrifying ways. The effect of its presence and influence on the family is felt with weight and consequence, leaning into some impressive practical effects and shocking visual set pieces. Ultimately, the effort captures Lovecraft’s grandiose brand of horror in a manner few other films have — evoking wonder, fear, humor, and awe.
It doesn’t answer any deep cosmic questions, but it also doesn’t try to. It simply brings you to the precipice of madness, that place where time has no meaning and anything is possible, where Nicholas Cage screaming about alpacas works alongside imagery of the most grotesque abominations and the only thing you can be certain about is that something is coming for you, something that will never stop, never sleep, never die.
A color. Where it came from…well, that’s for the universe to know, isn’t it?
Midnight movies require a certain sensibility. An over-the-top quality and a willingness to go farther than the movie probably should. More than that, a movie wishing to play as an uproarious, crowd-pleasing, borderline exploitation flick (billed as a movie “Lifetime wishes it had made”) requires a cast willing to bring the crazy full tilt.
The film concerns Linda (Precious Chong) and Michelle (Alex Essoe), two women who become unlikely acquaintances over a borrowed tampon and some coffee. It is quickly revealed, however, that the older, clearly unhinged Linda has been stalking Michelle. Soon after, Michelle finds herself trapped in a house with a madwoman jealous enough of her youth, happiness, and husband to want to tear it all down in spite.
Unfortunately, the film does not deliver on its promise, playing more like one of the Lifetime movies its log line claims superiority over. The budget is felt in its slapdash cinematography, poor composition, and the weak impact of its third act, which doesn’t venture anywhere near the exploitation heights its premise might suggest.
Still, Precious Chong delivers a world-class genre performance, leaning into the character’s lack of filter and utter insanity in a way that makes her a delight to watch. She is the closest the movie gets to its ultimate goal of being a classic midnight movie and it’s the talent on display that makes it worth watching.
Setting out to make something that should be serious silly is a difficult proposition and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The moments of impact should feel weighty, should hurt, and those of insanity and hilarity should feel inappropriate, big, and lofty. Walking the line between those sensibilities rarely works, and while I appreciate the filmmaker’s attempt, I don’t think I’ll be returning to this particular midnighter, no matter what Lifetime thinks.