Wednesday, May 19, 2010
So my friend made a movie and it's gorgeous, or, You shouldn't have come here.
There are a handful of movies that authentically replicate the feel of a dream: "Evil Dead"; "Don't Look Now"; "Carnival of Souls"; "Picnic at Hanging Rock"; parts of "Edward Scissorhands" and the 1992 "Last of the Mohicans"; even fragments of the vigorously campy "Night of the Comet." And then there's Robert Beaucage's Spike, which is part nightmare and part love story and part fairy tale, and all dream. I just finished watching it for the third time and I'm anxious to just go to sleep, all swathed in the mood of it (I did that one night last week, and ladies, it was lovely), but tonight I just want to write about it. Around middle school I used to stay up past midnight writing in my diary (my version of rebellion) and this movie puts me back into that exact mood. It's deeply, deeply unsettling. I mean, how does this movie reach that place? How does it know? Even I had forgotten.
I have been dithering with how to write about this movie here, because I wouldn't have seen it if I didn't know the director -- it's not out on DVD yet and I missed its showing at Shriekfest earlier this year. This isn't a situation I've really come across in LA yet, and I've had the little Homer Simpson angel and devil on my shoulders saying "You just like it because it's your friend's movie" and "Shut up, you!" and "Yes sir *poof*" and frankly it's very tiring for a middle child like me. Dammit, I'm not a professional blogger, I'm just a person, and if I didn't like his movie I would just tell him "Well, that was very interesting" (that's what we say back home for "God almighty, get me out of here") and not worry about it here in Emma-land. But all I can speak for is myself, and this movie just gets to me. It's unsettling as hell.
The plot is pretty simple, really. Two couples are driving at night through the woods in a relentlessly quaint vehicle (what is that thing, a Suburban?) and crash, and they find themselves at the mercy of sinister and primal forces. Or you think that's the plot, until it becomes clear there's really only one sinister and primal force, and he's got a major, primal crush on one of the occupants of the Suburban. (If it is a Suburban. I don't know. I try not to get bogged down in this stuff.)
The dynamics change abruptly and decisively: The one guy in the car is severely injured by this hostile force in the forest. His girlfriend goes after him and promptly, in manner of helpless damsel, gets herself bitten by a rattlesnake; perhaps the hostile force in the forest can save her. The other two people in the car, a lesbian couple, get bogged down in a hopelessly fatalistic argument about what to do next. You could get snarky, and part of you kind of wants to -- but the movie is so sincere and so earnest, it defeats your attempts at snark. (Though the dialogue shows flashes of wry self-awareness: "That is the cheesiest line ever." "Marry me!" "Um, what's for dinner?")
What it turns into is a big meditation on relationships. This hostile spiky thing in the forest, it turns out, knows the straight girlfriend -- they grew up together. A bizarre past is hinted at involving her dad, his Harley, and his fear that his daughter might be harmed by her strange little friend. A lullaby is sung: "Your dad sang it, so I sang it to you." It's dark. The damsel's not as helpless as she seemed. Things get confusing.
I've always had a thing about movies shot in the woods, and this film was shot entirely in Angeles National Forest. (I drove up there winter before last, homesick for snow; I got to some snow and walked on it, blissfully, then turned around and went home. That spring the Station Fire happened. It burned up all the locations used in this film.) When the characters go stumbling into the thornbushes, cliffs, undergrowth -- you know where they are. No matter who you are, it's a place you have to recognize. You've been there. They're in the Forest of Arden, Prospero's island (Spike helps you by quoting "The Tempest"), the bramble forest of Sleeping Beauty. It's not just that there are monsters there: this is the primal setting where you find out what you're made of, whether you're Red Riding Hood or just a Star Trek red shirt. As Alan Moore put it in his "Swamp Thing" series: This is the place. This is the story. And you shouldn't have come here.
Yeah, it turns into being about relationships. But is there anything else more enduring or haunting? Before I had ever heard of this movie, I had nightmares about turning into a monster for someone I loved; you know someone's deepest, darkest secrets, and when you leave them it's as if suddenly you had become a daisy-cutter bomb for them, suddenly turning from their sweetest friend into a weapon that can level sharp weapons at their most vulnerable places. It's something only someone in a relationship can do.
And the cruel truth this movie has for you is the worst one imaginable: You can never, in a thousand years, run from it though you may, escape from hurting the person you love. Just by loving them you do them unimaginable harm. But you have as little choice in it as any creature of the forest. This is the story. And you shouldn't have come here. But you can never help it. You'll be back.
Top: Anna-Marie Wayne faces a nightmare; below, Edward Gusts adorns a poster.