Thursday, August 10, 2017


Brothers Justin and Aaron escaped from a cult ten years ago but the younger, Aaron, who does not remember the oppression that Justin does, wants some closure and decides to return to the commune to seal his farewells. Justin reluctantly agrees to drive him there but only for a day. They drive through the dry western U.S. landscape past a number of strange mini volcanic plugs and arrive at the old site.

It's still going but there are none of the uniforms or void-eyed indoctrinees wandering about. If anything, everyone seems pretty normal. They self-finance through craft beer and artisanal goods like clothes and folky art. A little loopiness here and there but what else would you expect. There is a decidedly un-culty feel to it all. But everyone they remember doesn't seem to have aged in the intervening decade; people who should look forty look freshly twenty. And then there are the strange phenomena around the settlement like apparent force fields and some truly sanity-doubting atmospheric effects. Through this push and pull of alienness and seductive warmth the brothers give their characteristic responses, Justin's cynicism and Aaron's wonder. A lot of good deadpan joking later between them and the settlers later the mysteries only seem to deepen.

Big ideas don't need big budgets. Like anything they are subverted by low production confidence like insufficient attention to acting or missteps in attempted visual effects but most of all there must be the writing. On the higher level of the characterisation and dialogue we're in good hands as the very able cast render their extraordinary dialogue natural. On the lower level there is a middle-heavy drag as the development is hampered by too much labour on key issues and repetitiveness (I don't mean the obvious repetition here but the restatement of information we already have) where action should be taking the foreground. However, the wise decision to reveal the concepts through some astute dialogue that seldom falls into exposition (as it must at points) serve this film well. The effects are modest to the point of elegance and it is good to see this handled well instead of recent grating attempts to reintroduce in camera effects beyond production means (and then attempts to pass their failure off as campiness). Mostly, the central conflict between the brothers is allowed space to develop and take its rightful place.

I enjoyed the scene that harked back to the clever and rougher-shod Resolution and find on checking that not only did this team (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) make that one (and included cast members in reversed roles) but also the intriguing Spring from last year's MIFF. Now that that's established the pattern is emerging: these guys are creating their own fiction realm. It's derived heavily from the name-checked H.P. Lovecraft but where earlier Lovecraftians (e.g. Stuart Gordon or Brian Yuzna) concentrated on the Cthulhu mythos with tentacles and prehistoric birthrights, this team seem more interested in the weirder everyday strange of the Color Out of Space. As with the always watchable works of Britt Marling and crews we could be seeing a new approach to the fantastical on the rise. If I'm right it could be as genre-shaking as J-horror in the 1990s or found footage in the 2000s. Let's hope.

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