Concessions Confession: Donnie Darko and Under the Silver Lake are reasonable comparisons to this shoestring budget indie that has so much “indie quirk” it almost becomes satirical. Some how creates the ultimate paradox of being filled to the brim with Indie filmmaking techniques and enthusiasm, but an experience that ends up coming across as hallow and bare bones.
Logline: Theo meets his maniac pixie dream girl but when no one else can see her he must decide whether he wants to take his “normal pills” or if it’s better to live the lie.
Full disclosure, I find this film charming and as some one who’s been on low budget/no budget film shoots this seems like an interesting project to attempt. On the positive note, I respect what this film was going for, rarely do you see something this cheap try to implement these abstract concepts and have a strong philosophical aspect to the story. That said I respect Phillip Blue and crew for their effort and ability to come up with solid ideas and concepts, however I might have to say they can work on the other step of filmmaking.
Films are all about concept actualization, it’s equal parts ideas and story as it is in execution and presentation. I could have the idea of the next great Star Wars film and it might even be a cooler and more engaging story than Rise of Skywalker, but it’s not going to be if it’s filmed in my backyard. This flick has some neat moments, but they essentially turn into non-sequiturs as the backbone linking it all together is just the weakest element.
Visually, there’s plenty of use of colors and animations and the camerawork is enough to keep it interesting. I was blow-away by a really neat transition effect where they would layer scenes together so a frame would get interrupted by someone opening a door for example. That’s a really neat effect but it looked really bad due to the “hopefully intentional” distortion on this transitions. I don’t know use a projector next time or do this in a different fashion. I also didn’t find it all that meaningful or interpretational but maybe that was more on me. Same with a long-drawn-out dream sequence that maybe had a deeper meaning but just came across as a “let’s try to do a long take” sequence and was a rather uneventful one with the camera staying locked comfortably behind the subjects.
Moments of trying to achieve a new filmmaking technique is very forgivable at this level and is actually something I give kudos to but the rather bland storytelling on display is where a lot of issues arise. There’s no intrigue as I never once found that I am invested in the “mystery” of what’s going on as I’ve never questioned to believe otherwise than the main character suffering from some form of insanity. As previously stated, the film’s grandiose moments often don’t elaborate themselves or come across with enough substance for me to digest or analyze. Then on the other side of the coin, boy is it brutally insecure in its themes and messaging that they really invest time in telling and not showing. This film really lacks external conflict to evolve the stakes of the internal conflict. Most screenwriting involves some sort of conflict or dilemma happening in each scene and if you’re really good at it than you hide your exposition or thematic statements within one.
For example, Theo visits and discusses with the Doctor the fact that he’s going to start taking some “normal pills” or he may suffer serious consequences. Instead of trying to plead his sanity or give explanation why he wouldn’t want to take the pills or see no need for them; he instead rambles on about theoretical realities. Donnie Darko is a very comparable movie as it addresses a lot of philosophy concepts, but their introduction is much more organic and even well supported by scene conflict. Donnie is always challenged and is placed into situations that have him either elaborate or reaffirm his convictions and believes. In this scene for instance Donnie could interrupt class and tell the teacher that he thinks differently but his divergent thoughts have added value when we see him clash with his teacher instead of telling her this randomly.
That is probably the best way to summarize the fault with this film. Everything is there for a decent flick, but lack of scene-by-scene purpose ends up making it feel constantly meandering. I watched this with good friends Jon Spencer Reviews and Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews, and we all seemed to agree that despite best efforts the narrative cohesiveness and tension were sort of amiss. Even giving JS the musical number, he asked for (yes, a real thing, sort of) wasn’t enough to save this one from an agreed meh reaction probably closer to not good than enjoyable.
Not to say that the film doesn’t have a visual eye and fun vibes. On the contrary, the film plays like an indie band album worth of music videos which are creative and interesting but would have rather just had them make music videos. I did jokingly through out that, “This film walked so Your Name could run” which also features a ton of music-video like scenes. To any non anime fan, I guess it’s so Sing Street could run. I would recommend that you watch that instead, or a lot of coming-of-age indies that just either production wise or story wise have much more than this film has going on. There’s just too many indie darling coming of age stories that work so much better and are more professional that it’s hard to recommend this beyond seeing a really raw and stripped down filmmaking.
I mean I’m maybe coming across as too harsh on this film and that’s more that the issues with the film are very noticeable. I still give it a 4 or 5 out of 10 as it is very watchable experience if you give it the leeway of how tight of a budget it is. It’s something that honestly, I could see myself attempting to do a film like this if I decided to make one as it does have ambitions and neat concepts despite being a far cry from studio level production. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker I might recommend it as I always am an advocate of watching things at different levels of budget to help temper your own expectations.
The only other thing I would bring up is that this is maybe an “offensive” or questionable depiction of mental illness. I mean I don’t think maniac people or people with disorders are as “quirky” or external about their conditions as depicted here. I don’t know, it’s really nothing that I was bothered by personally and I excuse this being a noticeably young production crew that is leaning into caricatures than nuance but there’s nothing malicious such portrayals maybe just a missed opportunity that might make some uncomfortable. Yeah, accuracy of these types of facilities or conditions or how it works is something that maybe could have used a tad more research to heighten some believability into the world.
Check this one out if you want to get haunted by the indie spirt but don’t come into it with tampered expectations as this one could use some more inside the box thinking.
Also “normal pills” is not my terminology, I am making fun of YouTuber Dream’s controversy where he made a music video about concealing his identity and accepting not conforming by dumping his prescribed medication. A moral that I don’t know if I subscribe to, especially teaching children with no nuance or discussion…. Don’t cancel me. I don’t guys I mean I don’t know enough info on the guy but always maybe consider the possibility that someone concealing their identity or hides behind a faceless persona could potential be a shady character….. wait.