Episode #126 of The Swampflix Podcast: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, and 2020’s Honorable Mentions

Welcome to Episode #126 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, and Britnee continue our discussion of the Top Films of 2020 with some honorable mentions, starting with the quasi-local quasi-documentary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Enjoy!

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– The Podcast Crew

Boomer’s Top 15 Films of 2020

Honorable Mentions

15. American Murder: The Family Next Door is a frightening look into the future of the true crime documentary, not because the story that it tells is any different from one that you might have seen on Dateline or Unsolved Mysteries in the nineties or any of the hundreds of true crime TV shows that have sprung up in the wake of the sensationalist reportage of the past, but because of what constitutes its filmic material. Once upon a time, if 20/20 was relating the story of a spousal murder, producers were lucky to have a few minutes of useful, usable home video footage of the victim or perpetrator at a wedding or a child’s birthday party—shot on a fifty-pound, shoulder-mounted, air-cooled VHS camcorder—which could then be shown with melancholy music over it while Diane Sawyer delivered maudlin narration full of words and phrases like “ironically,” “cut short,” and “better days.” The rise of social media and its near universal use, alongside the proliferation of smartphones that allow for the instantaneous ability to effortlessly record oneself or one’s family, has created a strange new world of access to victims. This is especially true of those like Shanann Watts, whose interest in self-documentation bordered on the narcissistic, creating the opportunity for director Jenny Popplewell to use a wealth of Shanann’s own material in a documentary chronicling the dissolution of her marriage and, ultimately, her murder at the hands of her husband, who also killed the couple’s two daughters. It’s a harrowing peek not only into the soul of white male American entitlement but also what this style of reportage will look like as we move further and further into this new era, in which social media creates and reinforces narcissism and is powerful enough to (perhaps) topple nations through the spread of dangerous misinformation.

14. From my review of The Nest: “There’s nothing wrong with The Nest. The performances are great, as [Jude] Law effectively plays a man whose charm is so powerful he’s managed to convince even himself that his delusions are true, and he’s magnetic and contemptible in equal turns. You wouldn’t be able to accept a lesser actor in this role without thoroughly hating him, and that’s a testament. He’s also possibly the only actor who has ever managed to make BVD briefs look sexy, and at nearly 50 to boot. Similarly, Carrie Coon’s Allison is pitch perfect (and she’s proper fit, as one of Sam’s rude teenage friends notes). Each interaction contains the perfect amount of emotional distance and intimacy, and Coon is fantastic. By the time she really starts to fall apart, she’s held it together with such aplomb for so long that the audience feels her every revelation with empathetic exhaustion. I also like that there’s no beating around the bush about what the family’s problems are: there’s no infidelity (if anything, the couple’s sex life is the only thing about which they both remain passionate through the entire runtime), and all of the family’s anxieties stem entirely from Rory’s pathological obsession with money.”

13. W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt (Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight): Hailed as Poland’s first slasher film, this sophomore feature from director Bartosz M. Kowalski is a central European Friday the 13th with the serial numbers filed off (and with a few random bits and pieces taken from other American horror flicks and shows to spice it up a little). There’s not much more to it than that, but as a peak into Polish interpretation of the American slasher genre, which was itself born out of American interest in Italian giallo films and Spanish obras de suspense, it offers a look into the weird ways that a genealogy of horror can criss-cross the Atlantic. It has its moments of gore, but they’re not only few and far between but also campy in their sanitization; imagine a scene from Hostel but sweded with fake rubber arms and heads from Party City, and you get the idea. In any other year, this wouldn’t be anything particularly noteworthy here, but with fewer releases due to the plague, it’s worth checking out. What else do you have going on?

12. Class Action Park: A documentary about Action Park, a New Jersey amusement and water park that famously maimed, mutilated, disfigured, and even killed multiple people over the course of its decades-long ownership by disgusting capitalist and deregulation enthusiast Ebenezer Eugene Mulvihill. Through interviews with former attendees and adults who were employed at the park as teens, as well as the family members of victims of Mulvhill’s negligence who never saw him face justice, the film strikes a strange tone. It encourages a feeling of both reminiscence about a lost era in which children seeking agency for themselves could do so by going to a cursed amusement park straight out of your Pinocchio nightmares, while also delineating the criminal laxity of safety regulations and proper testing of facilities (famously, teenaged employees were offered $50 to try out a looping waterslide, in which people frequently got stuck and from which the teens emerged bloody and battered). The film also draws a straight line from the right wing’s raging hard-on for deregulation and Mulvhill’s ability to simply buy his way out of all consequences, even negligent homicide, to the Trump administration, with its seemingly bottomless pockets and lack of accountability. The film occasionally loses its footing when interviewees, including recognizable faces like Chris Gethard and Alison Becker, fondly recall their youthful expeditions to the park, but overall, this is a pretty decent look into what happens when greed is left unchecked.

11. The Invisible Man: I saw that “He is a world leader in the field of optics” meme on Twitter for what felt like months before I got the chance to see The Invisible Man, which made me think the whole movie was going to be more camp than thriller. It’s not, although it has its moments (the scene in the restaurant between Elisabeth Moss and her sister being the most obvious example), and it’s an effective story about both PTSD and dealing with others with NPD. Also, more people need to hire Aldis Hodge to do things; I’m always glad when he pops up in something. Give him a lead in something, already! (You can read Brandon’s review of the film here.)

Top 10

10. Mamoudou Athie delivers a striking performance in Black Box, essentially embodying three different characters over the course of the film’s taut runtime. He spends a lot of the film playing off of nothing, really, as Nolan wanders through his unclear memories, especially as those recollections begin to appear more and more disconnected from reality. Also impressive is skilled child actress Amanda Christine in her portrayal of Nolan’s daughter Ava; it’s rare that a child performer delivers anything other than a toneless recitation of lines that they barely understand, but Christine pulls off the balance between patience with her father’s challenges and her muted frustrations and fears that she’ll be separated from him if he isn’t able to recover his faculties. Although the film feels like a lower budget full-length episode of Black Mirror, it tells its story without the presumptive moralizing of that series (although your mileage will vary on whether that’s a good or bad thing with regards to Charlie Brooker’s program) and instead is a narrative that uses the trappings of a near-future scientific breakthrough to simply tell a story, rather than browbeat the audience.

9. When Brandon and I first discussed Shirley on the podcast, I expressed my discontent with the way that the film fictionalized Jackson’s life, and I stand by my feelings that I would enjoy this film more if it were about a fictional woman instead of ostensibly being about the woman behind We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I’m not CinemaSins and I’m not just a nitpicker for the sake of picking nits, and it’s not like I’ve never been annoyed by someone else’s complaints that such-and-such a thing never happened, or wanted someone to just shut up about how the real so-and-so never actually went to wherever a scene is happening. But I am also that person that gets annoyed when something that falls into my very specific wheelhouse or area of interest gets something inconsequential incorrect but gets it wrong to an absurd degree (if you need someone to be the curmudgeon when supposed interstellar distances are measured in hundred of millions of miles). For all of that, and regardless of my general antipathy for using Jackson this way, Shirley is a fascinating narrative about the interplay of reality and imagination, and an insight into the transgression of the act of creation, all wrapped in a tense period package. Just pretend it’s about a fictional author who happens to share some similarities with the real Jackson, then track down a copy of Let Me Tell You to get a more intimate insight into the real deal.

8. The Other Lamb was proposed by Brandon to discuss on one of the Lagniappe episodes of the podcast, both because it was about cults (more on that in a moment) and because it was specifically about a Christianity-adjacent cult of personality (which is kind of my thing, in case you missed it), and he thought it would be up my alley. He was right! This has been a year that has been adversely affected by the elasticity of time, where the endless everpresent “nowness” of staying at home in quarantine sometimes makes it feel like January 2020 was just a few weeks ago, while the prolonging of quarantine because some people keep ruining it for fucking everybody also makes it feel like the same month was 27 years ago. So much of that year feels like it was filled with very frenetic media, with frantic pacing and constant noise to fill the empty and aching void of the months that elapsed entirely without human contact, but The Other Lamb stands apart, with its story that at first appears to be about calmness, tranquility, and serenity. Even as the plot thickens, it never quickens, and is instead as languid in its storytelling at the end of the film as it is in its opening moments, to great effect. Sumptuous and powerful.

7. Speaking of the elasticity of time, The Lodge feels like it came out four years ago, but I guess it really was just at the end of the previous winter. A holdover from the 2019 year-end slate, I saw the film with someone with whom ties have been severed and whom I expect I won’t see again in this life. At the time, I underestimated how much it would stick with me, and felt smugly superior for guessing the twist to come; it’s been long enough now, but objectively and subjectively, to point out that this film fits in nicely with directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s debut film Goodnight Mommy, as this film could just as easily been titled Gaslight Mommy, since that’s what happens (with special bonus points for the fact that the beginning of the gaslighting features literal gas like its namesake). Still, if there’s anything we’ve seen in the past year, it’s the power of misinformation not just to mess with people’s psyches, but also to rend families apart. Following so closely on the heels of Doctor Sleep, perhaps I simply wasn’t prepared for another film that is so indebted to The Shining for its visual language, but it has a staying power that can’t be denied. (It’s also got a subplot about cults, and I am a man of simple but sincere interests.)

6. In my review of Kajillionaire, I wrote about how, “when I was going through a really bad breakup in 2014, there was a quote that I stumbled across on Tumblr (again, it was 2014) that spoke to me on an intimate, deep level. I thought it was part of a poem, but I could never find it again, and I spent six years occasionally plugging the random bits of it that I could remember into Google to see if it would spit out the name of the poem, or the poet. Finally, in September, the search engine of record returned a result. The author was [Kajillionaire director] Miranda July, and it wasn’t a poem, it was an excerpt from her book It Chooses You: “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” There’s something fascinatingly and fantastically alien about Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood)’s situation, on top of and adjacent to the world that the rest of us live in. Miranda July seems to have asked herself about how one extremely specific person was making it through life —where she was putting her body, hour by hour, and how she was coping inside of it. It’s a character study of someone raised in a culture that is invisible, tangential, and almost inconceivable.”

5. As I wrote in my review, Spree “demonstrates a profound understanding of the relationship between new and traditional media, the power of and potential for abuse within internet discourse, and the deleterious effect on mental health on a societal level that can result from a pivot towards a social reward system that depends upon toxic narcissism. Kurt (Joe Keery) has no desire to garner fame for money, political power, to increase his sexual desirability, or as a means of class mobility: notability, in and of itself, is the goal. It’s the timeless tale of wanting to be popular, with no other goal. He lives in a completely different economic system where clout is currency, and even disengagement from that alternate reality doesn’t make one safe from its reach. In the film’s closing moments, we are treated to the best demonstration of writer/director Eugene Kotlyarenko’s understanding of the foibles of media in all of its forms.”

4. Horse Girl tells my favorite kind of story: that of a woman struggling with her sanity. I have recently had the opportunity to inspect this fondness for this genre in myself–is it sexist of me? Although I’m not really the best person to answer that objectively, I think my fondness for the subgenre of “women on the verge” is mostly because I prefer women protagonists in all of my fiction, and I always have. I’ve been reading Paperback Crush lately, Gabrielle book about girl-targeted YA fiction that is subtitled “The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction,” and realized that, although I was largely forbidden from reading “girl books” of the kind that she is writing about, I tried my best to sneak around and read them anyway in my youth. Many of them are about young girls fighting against societal norms that have no bases in logic or reality: girls can’t x, whether x was a sport or a certain familial role or a campus political position. I, too, often felt that various things were forbidden or unreachable for me, either because of my parents’ religion or our rural isolation or The Closet, and the fiction that featured that as a narrative device weren’t about other boys (to say that my endless hunger for girl fiction caused parental, rural, and Closet conflict is an understatement). My love for movies like Puzzle of a Downfall Child, An Unmarried Woman, Queen of Earth, and the most recent addition to this pantheon, Horse Girl, is just an extension of that fondness. Hear me and Brandon talk about Horse Girl here.

3. His House is the story of two people from South Sudan who find themselves in England fleeing violent conflict (presumably the Dinka/Nuer conflict, although it’s never explicitly stated). It’s also much, much more than that. This bold debut feature from screenwriter and director Remi Weekes tackles topics of grief, disenfranchisement, loss, immigration, disconnection, and the things we keep while other things are left behind. There’s so much unspoken but powerfully present in the interactions between Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as, respectively, Bol and Rial Majur. There’s something so palpable in Bol’s desire to disappear into this new community, joining in with the old men singing songs to their futbol heroes and blending in by purchasing an exact duplicate of the outfit on in-store advertising. By the time he’s literally trying to burn everything that ties himself and his wife to their past, it’s impossible to predict where the film will go next. Even the most artistic horror film rarely transcends into something truly beautiful, but His House does all of this and more. Brandon’s review can be found here.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire left me undone. I was mesmerized by its every moment, captivated by every tableau. There’s nothing really “new” about queer love between two women that is repressed, silenced, and hidden, especially in period pieces with their long, loving glances across infinite spaces trapped in immaculate drawing rooms. I’m not really sure what magic Portrait has captured that is absent in its peers, but there is something truly astonishing about it. The sound design, the set design, the costumes, the cinematography: this is a film that is essentially perfect in every conceivable way. We have seen many films that are similar to it, but in its field, it is peerless. Read my review here.

1. There’s a scene in I’m Thinking of Ending Things in which our seeming protagonist, played by Jessie Buckley, is trying to explain to her boyfriend’s father (played by David Thewlis) how a painting with no people in it can evoke an emotional response. “No,” he responds. “I would have to see myself in it to know how I felt.” Although the rest of the Swampflix staff apparently did not feel the same way, this was, to me, the best movie of the year. My erstwhile roommate and his current housemates and I synced up to watch the film during a period of the year when I was putting down new floors in my home as part of my desperate attempt to make myself feel like I wasn’t trapped in the same place for the foreseeable future and my TV was briefly moved into my bedroom. As I sat, straight up, in bed and watched as Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend made their way to his parents’ house through a thickening snowfall, I felt myself taken in and entranced by an incredible intensity of feeling. By the time the couple actually arrive at their initial destination, I already felt like I had gone on a complete journey and that the film must be nearing its completion, only to realize I had felt a film’s worth of emotional movement in a mere 45 minutes, and that there was still nearly an hour and a half left, which I was soon to learn was even more of a journey ahead. During a long, strange, sad, infuriating year, this was a film that reached inside of me and found a deep, sincere, and profound loneliness and externalized it on a screen before me, engaging me with myself in a way that I’ve experienced precious few times in my life. After I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I am genuinely not the same as I was before it. (You can read Brandon’s less positive review here.)

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt (Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, 2020)

W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt (Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight) is a 2020 Polish horror film about a group of camping teens who are stalked, attacked, and murdered by mutants in the woods. It’s 10% Phenomenon by way of the aesthetic of the European forest and the house in which the mutants are sheltered by their mother, a solid 40% Friday the 13th per its teenage-camping-trip narrative, 20% Scream via the discussion of the “rules” of horror films, 15% C.H.U.D., 8% Housebound, 2% Fargo, and 3% X-Files black goo episode for some reason. Like certain things that advertise themselves as being 98% recycled material, it’s rugged, durable, and serviceable, but not that exciting.  

The film follows a standard gang of five teens who, along with their adult chaperone/instructor Iza (Gabriela Muskała), are guided through “Camp Adrenaline,” which not only separates the kids from their electronic devices but also appears to be at least partially punitive. At least that’s the impression that one gets from Julek (Michał Lupa), who I think is supposed to be “the fat one” but who just looks like, you know, a teenager, is explicitly stated to be there instead of at a South Korean eSports summit because of his parents’ concern regarding his hobbies (the kid has 900K YouTube subscribers, though, so that’s like a career, dad). There’s also handsome, athletic, and–based solely on the number of mobile devices he owns–presumably wealthy Daniel (Sebastian Dela), who is immediately attracted to blonde cardboard cutout Aniela (Wiktoria Gąsiewska), who honest-to-goodness curls her hair in preparation for the hike. Rounding out the teenage troupe is soft-spoken closeted kid Bartek (Stanisław Cywka), who seems excited to disconnect from social media and its accompanying jealousies and clout jockeying, and Zosia (Julia Wieniawa), our final girl who is haunted by the death of her family in a fiery car crash. 

No, you’re not having déjà vu. You have seen this before. You may not have seen it better, but you have seen it. 

Each of the deaths is nigh-identical to a kill you’ve seen before in the Friday the 13th movies. The first death, in which one of the kids is trapped in their sleeping bag and then bashed against a tree, is how Judy is killed in The New Blood (Part VII); the second, in which someone is impaled through the neck, has shades of the death of Jane (also from New Blood) and Jack (from the original film). There’s also a decapitation, which is a Friday staple, a head crushing and a person being bisected (both appear for the first time in Part III), and a woodchipper. The last of these accounts for the 2% Fargo mentioned above. I don’t know what it’s doing here, but as for that 10% Phenomenon, it turns out that the killers were the sons of a poor woods woman living in bucolic, pristine Polish woodland in her little adorable house, until one day they were turned into mutant cannibals (or at the very least cannibalistic humanoids) by the black goo inside of a meteorite* and were thereafter locked in their mother’s cellar (where they dwelled underground). We learn this from a man (Mirosław Zbrojewicz) who lives nearby, a postman who escaped from the terror twins some 30 years prior in the film’s opening, in a scene reminiscent of the expository scene in a lot of films but I went with Housebound because I am so very tired. When it’s not aping Friday the 13th, we also get Julek’s recitation of the six “sins” of horror films: curiosity (i.e., “let’s look inside”), disbelief (“it’s just the wind”), overconfidence (“it’s just a haunted house”), splitting up, having sex, and being unattractive, some of which have already been broken and the others follow shortly thereafter. 

Where this film triumphs over the forebears from which it borrows is in the kids themselves, who are all more charming than they have any real right to be, given that these could just as easily have been cardboard cutouts of people. Julek crushes on Zosia almost immediately, and attempts to compliment her in his own awkward way, mostly by comparing her to Sarah Connor, even before she squares off against the unstoppable killing machine(s). Zosia, for her part, finds this endearing, even quoting the T-800 back to him in a sweet moment. Daniel, for all his swaggering and posturing, turns out to be a virgin whose only relationship has been with a woman online, and he’s a secret stoner to boot. There’s also a sweet scene between Bartek and Aniela, in which the two bond over the absurdity of the social expectations placed on them, in which Bartek opens up about how his father is completely blind to his son’s sexual orientation, even when the kid brings home his boyfriends. It’s bittersweet in a way that Friday the 13th knockoffs and imitators rarely get to be; when Jason mows through a group of teenagers, it’s the deaths that are memorable while the characters, other than a few outliers who manage to make an impression, are usually interchangeable. That we the audience know that Aniela and Bartek are doomed lends an air of poignancy to Bartek’s bitterness about the difficulty of being gay in Poland and Aniela’s comiseration. The scene also leads into one of the film’s few genuine shocks, which elevates it by default. 

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a strange little plot cul-de-sac in which Bartek escapes from the killers and makes his way to a small church, where he asks the priest (Piotr Cyrwus) to call for help. The priest initially claims that the church’s landline is out of service, but when the phone rings, he ditches this pretense and knocks Bartek. When the boy comes to, he’s tied to a chair with a ball gag in his mouth, but when the priest leaves to check and see why the woodchipper turned on by itself, Bartek frees himself and hides in the confessional, his fate left unknown for a pretty long period of time. It’s a scene fraught a truly weird energy where it seems like our buddy is in for some kind of sexual assault, and it feels extremely out of place. Bartek’s treated as kind of an afterthought once the killings begin, and even his fate feels more like a tied-up loose end than a logical plot progression. It also occurs that the situation feels a little bit like the gimp scene in Pulp Fiction, which means that this film really is 100% recycled material. 

It’s also worth noting that the gore here is largely understated. There are some dismemberments and even a decapitation, but on the scale of believability they hover somewhere around “Christian haunted house alternative.” Even in the film’s most cinematic scene, a flashback to Zosia’s father crawling out of the wreckage of his burning car while she watches, not only does the fire look fake, but it doesn’t even look like he’s in that much pain. A few times we see grue drop into frame from offscreen, but the combination of R-rated concept with mostly TV-14 content makes the whole thing feel smaller than the sum of its parts. It’s not bad, but it barely exceeds “fine.” 

*This fact is, and I cannot stress this enough, completely irrelevant. It could have been any MacGuffin, even just like, radiation or something, but for some reason it’s X-Files black oil.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

CC’s Top 15 Films of 2020

1. We Are Little Zombies The meteoric rise and fall of a punk band formed by four disaffected, emotionally stunted Japanese orphans who run away together after meeting at their parents’ respective funerals. It captures both the exuberance of youth and the rage kids feel when the world is outside their control. As a directorial debut, it’s like the best bands’ freshman albums, with years of pent-up creative material exploding onto the screen. I just hope Makoto Nagahisa has enough ideas leftover for his next film, because I’d love to see more.

2. American Utopia I saw an abbreviated version of this David Byrne concert at Jazz Fest a few years ago and was supposed to see the full show at the Saenger in 2019, but it was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict with a Disney Live! production. And then COVID-19 eliminated any chance of that show being rescheduled. So, it was a little bittersweet getting to see the movie version for my birthday this year, but it was still a powerful experience. The way Byrne questions who we are in the world as people and as citizens really spoke to me. It’s like an emotional, danceable TED Talk about our interdisciplinary connections, studying humanity as if it were a type of fungal mycelium. If anything, the show’s only become timelier & more relevant since the 2018 performance I attended. Police brutality has been a scourge forever, but last summer it came to a head in a really public way, and I was impressed to see a concert film directly deal with that injustice.

3. The Wolf House An animated Chilean film that addresses a real-life religious cult that committed wartime atrocities and other crimes against humanity dating back to the 1960s by recounting them in an ugly fairy tale. It’s got all the trappings of a pre-Brothers Grimm folktale: the sour ending, the moralistic behavioral warnings, the magic that is both beautiful and cruel. Although it’s framed as a rediscovered propaganda film lost since the 60s, it’s constructed with some of the most astonishing modern animation techniques I’ve seen. It’s ostensibly stop-motion, but it’s achieved through a wildly imaginative multimedia approach. That innovation is more than just an all-style-no-substance gimmick, though; it’s an integral part of the storytelling. It’s evil, it’s sick, and it’s grimy.

4. Birds of Prey A wonderfully stylized, deliriously hyperactive superhero movie that doesn’t drag or feel laboriously obligated to comic book backstory or pathos. It steps on other superheroes’ capes, soaring in its own unique, chaotic way (a power seemingly fueled by Vodka-Red Bulls).

5. Emma. I love how sharp this Austen adaptation is, both in the physical choreography of its characters’ movements and in their cutting, carefully chosen words. The costumes & sets are also superb. Its biggest detractors criticize it for how mean Emma is, but that’s also just how she’s presented in the novel. Emma Woodhouse is not some sweet saint; she ruins lives for her own amusement and is too vain to admit how much pleasure she gets out of that transgression, which is just teenage girls for you. It’s nice that Anya Taylor-Joy has decided to stop aging so she can play these parts forever. Johnny Flynn also commands the same animal sexuality he got to display in Beast, except dressed up here in nicer clothes. The whole film feels like a dangerously sharp knife with an exquisitely crafted handle. It can draw blood, but it’s an object of pure beauty.

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire This period drama is very sumptuous & sensual in its cinematography, unlike the sharp angularity of Emma. It’s soft like the beautiful green fabric of the dress in the titular portrait. Still, I love the bleakness & the remoteness of its locale and its outlook on human relationships. It notes the rigid, absolute limitations placed on women, even women of a very privileged class. Despite the corseted parameters culture places on its characters, there’s a free-flowing wildness of femininity & womanhood that runs through it, best exemplified by the acapella folksong sung around the bonfire.

7. Dick Johnson is Dead A documentary made in collaboration between Dick Johnson and his filmmaker daughter, Kirsten Johnson, working through their anxieties over his impending death by staging fictitious versions of that impending tragedy in increasingly imaginative ways. Its interspersed interviews with Dick and the people in his orbit examine the nature of relationships between children and their parents, our larger societal relationship with death, and indefatigability of the human spirit. It’s a happy film about a sad subject, ultimately feeling triumphant in the way it cheats death for Dick. Even though he will die, he will always feel alive to people who watch this document.

8. Possessor This techno body horror from Brandon Cronenberg feels like the cursed love child between his father’s eXistenZ and his own Antiviral. The plot isn’t particularly important. What’s most compelling is the psychological battle between its characters to gain possession of the corporeal vessel they share (a testament to the powerful performances from actors Christopher Abbott & Andrea Riseborough). It’s a truly shocking film, alienating the audience with images no one should see. The visual effects are fascinating, both beautiful and disgusting.

9. Palm Springs A Groundhog Day time-loop film, which is quickly becoming its own genre. This one’s timing felt very in-tune with the themes of the pandemic. It captures the anxieties we especially felt early in the stay-at-home lockdown orders but channels them into something fun & constructive. It’s a pleasing comedy that transforms the year’s shitty, never-ending nightmare into a solvable equation.

10. The Shock of the Future A day in the life of a young composite character who’s an emerging artist in late-70s electronic music. Over the course of the film, she composes the very first electropop song, a tribute to several women pioneers of analog electronica who struggled to get recognized for their innovative artistry in a male-dominated industry. It’s impressive in the way it pushes against the myth of the individual artistic genius perpetuated by most biopics, instead stressing the importance of community & collaboration. It’s also fascinating to watch electro pioneers tinker with individual pieces of analog equipment to create new, exciting sounds. It made me want to play around on some vintage synths & drum machines myself.

11. Deerskin Who doesn’t love a film about killer fashion? Between this & In Fabric, that may only be a subgenre of two (so far), but it’s a wonderful extension of the killer-objects horror of classics like Death Bed, Rubber, and Christine. Despite indulging in that ridiculous, high-concept genre, this is a surprisingly thoughtful film about the inadequacy that mediocre men face at middle age, and their psychotic efforts to overcome that deficiency. Jean Dujardin previously charmed American audiences in Best Picture-winner The Artist, but here he’s a sad, pathetic grifter who’s lost his job and his only meaningful relationship, now having to scam people just to hang out with him. It’s hilarious. Also, shoutout to Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Adèle Haenel’s performance as his only accomplice; she’s a great audience surrogate in her amused fascination over the ongoing car wreck of his life.

12. Color Out of Space I always love attempts to modernize Lovecraft, bringing his mythology (but not his personal politics) into modern media. This is only the second most successful visualization of the original short story’s central threat in its visual effects, trailing behind the 2010 German film that better captured the impossibility of its adaptation. It’s much more effective in metaphor, crafting yet another horror of male inadequacy that examines the lengths that men will go to maintain their power & privilege. Nic Cage plays an absurdly silly man who fears his family is starting to rupture due to illness & emotional alienation. His desperate efforts to draw his nuclear family back into order only place them directly in the path of cosmic horror even further outside his control. A lot of critical focus has been around his over-the-top performance, but those antics aside this is a harrowing film about loss & cancer, fearing not just the disease but its emotional erosion of familial relationships, interpreted through the powerful medium of cosmic horror.

13. The Invisible Man Okay so it turns out the overriding theme of the year is the lengths that sad, pathetic men will go to maintain power & privilege. This one is a genuinely scary film that operates in a realm of traditional horror tropes. For a lot of its audience, it’s doubly scary because of its domestic violence aspect, capturing the feeling of the ground being pulled from under you when you realize your abusive relationship is not the loving one you initially pictured it to be. That realization happens before the film even opens, but we’re made to live through its terrifying aftermath.

14. The Twentieth Century This pseudo-biography of a real-life Canadian politician is also a highly-stylized farce about, again, a pathetic man’s foibles in his quest for power. History says its events are set in Canada, but what’s onscreen is some nowhere nether-reality of dry ice and gorgeous matte paintings, populated by caricatures rather than characters. Guy Maddin & David Lynch are obvious influences on its imagery, but it’s all filtered through a more vintage George Méliès patina. It resurrects the early-cinema Méliès tradition of the féerie play: crafting an artificial fantasy plot & spectacular visuals but anchoring them to a melodramatic morality play about the weaknesses of privileged men.

15. Extra Ordinary This goofy-not-scary Irish horror comedy shares a very particular sense of humor with titles like Housebound & What We Do in the Shadows, to the point that it’s shocking it’s not from New Zealand. A woman who is not yet middle aged but no longer young doesn’t know what to do with her life, mostly because she harbors unresolved guilt over her paranormal-expert father’s death. Luckily, she gets pulled into a zany adventure that saves her from her rut and resolves that leftover guilt. And surprise, the villain she faces is a sad, pathetic man desperate to hold onto his power & prestige – an aging rock star played by Will Forte with the same childish temper tantrums he threw in Last Man on Earth.

HM. Swallow Although this was my #1 film last year, when I saw it at the New Orleans Film Festival, I would be remiss if I didn’t include it again this year when it was more widely available. It’s a subtle but highly stylized psychological horror about bodily autonomy, class warfare, and trauma, illustrating the complete lack of control you have over your own body & destiny if you’re born on the wrong end of class & gender dynamics.

-CC Chapman

The NYC Art Gallery Concert Film

I recently found myself falling down a hyperspecific rabbit hole watching live performances of bands that meant a lot to me in high school. It started with the David Byrne concert film American Utopia, which I caught up with on HBO as part of the late-in-the-year hunt for potential Best of the Year list-toppers. Even more so than the landmark Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense, American Utopia is a unique specimen within the concert film genre. Unlike most rock concert docs, it doesn’t aim to energize or throttle the audience in any discernible way. It’s an upbeat but gentle work, staged with regimented, clinical precision within the rigid confines of a Broadway theatrical setting. Spike Lee directs the film with a controlled, observant formalism that only appears in flashes in his messier, more idiosyncratic works. As a movie, American Utopia is more like stumbling across a performance art piece in an NYC art gallery than attending a rock show or even a typical Broadway musical. It’s not the only concert film of that exact ilk, though, and I soon found myself seeking out more heady art gallery concert docs on its wavelength to keep the arty party going.

I was lucky enough to catch the traveling American Utopia show live at the 2018 Jazz Fest, but it was a lot more of a traditional rock performance than what’s captured in the movie version. Watching Byrne perform for the first time live in the afternoon sunshine, I found myself crying while dancing in a rare moment of ecstatic happiness – maybe the second time I’ve ever experienced such euphoria at a concert. That Jazz Fest set was an abbreviated version of the show, one that cut out a few songs and, more importantly, abbreviated the spoken monologues that act as the show’s thematic throughline. In the movie (and, presumably, most live performances of the act), Byrne’s parade of solo & Talking Heads hits are bookended by short lectures that examine the function & the soul of American culture from a distanced outsider perspective; it’s a kind of spiritual sequel to Byrne’s small-town America portrait True Stories in that way. It’s an honest but optimistic temperature check of where America is today, both acknowledging the horrors of racially-motivated police brutality that have long been a stain on this country’s honor and pointing to our current moment of change as a possibly transformative turning point towards a better future. Meanwhile, everything onstage is rigidly uniformed & regimented like a dystopian sci-fi film, with the traditional rock performers’ instruments & colorful costuming stripped away to mimic the minimalism of modern performance art.

American Utopia has earned plenty accolades as one of the best cinematic experiences of the year, but it’s not the only NYC Art Gallery Concert Film that was recently highlighted as a Cultural Event. In an effort to stay visible as a cultural institution despite ongoing COVID-lockdowns, the Brooklyn concert venue St. Ann’s Warehouse has been periodically broadcasting past shows on YouTube, free-to-the-public. A recent one that caught my eye (thanks to write-ups on sites like the New York Times) was a 2007 concert film version of Lou Reed’s Berlin. The follow-up to Reed’s cult solo record Transformer, Berlin was a critical & financial flop in 1973, a failure that broke the rock ‘n roller’s heart to the point where he refused to play songs from the album live. The 2007 performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse is a decades-in-the-making event, then, finding Reed performing the proggy concept album in its entirety with a sprawling backup band that included contributions from Sharon Jones, Antony, and a full children’s choir. It also translated Berlin into the world of Visual Art, layering in dramatic visualizations of the album’s loose “narrative” (as projections on the stage and interjections on the screen) as if they were fuzzy memories bubbling up to the surface of the songs. The film’s director, fine art painter Julian Schnabel, does his best to turn the concert film experience into an instillation piece, achieving an art gallery aesthetic in a much uglier, more somber way than Byrne’s work. Weirdly enough, both movies also happen to share a cinematographer in Ellen Kuras.

After watching Berlin & American Utopia in short succession, I caught myself wondering what the ultimate NYC Art Gallery Concert Film would be. The answer was immediately obvious, although I had not yet seen the film myself because of its limited availability. Laurie Anderson’s 1986 concert film Home of the Brave is a 90min distillation of her two-night concert piece United States I-IV. Having now only seen a fuzzy rip of the film that’s lurking on YouTube (as it unforgivably has never made the format leap from VHS & laserdisc to DVD), I’m fairly confident in calling it The Greatest Concert Film of All Time. I know that title has been communally bestowed upon Stop Making Sense, but Anderson’s piece certainly belongs in that conversation, if not only for highlighting how her work pioneered a lot of the more Conceptual Art elements that goes into Byrne’s stage shows. Anderson also observes the soul & structure of America in a series of abstracted, outsider-POV lectures the way Byrne does in American Utopia, but those monologues are interwoven into her avant-garde new wave songs to the point where there’s no boundary between them. Projectors, voice modulators, newly invented instruments, and guest appearances from William S. Burroughs of all people are prominently featured in her show as if they were the hallmarks of a rock ‘n roll music video instead of weirdo outsider-artist eccentricities. While American Utopia & Berlin evoke the mood & setting of an art gallery, Home of the Brave is an art gallery, and it’s a shame that it’s the only film of the three that you can’t currently access in Blu-ray quality.

Although she’s less of a household name elsewhere, Laurie Anderson was very much an equal & a contemporary alongside David Byrne & Lou Reed in NYC art snob circles (and Reed’s spouse in the final years of his life, a pain explored in the experimental essay film Heart of a Dog). Stop Making Sense might have preceded the concert film version of her United States I-IV act by a few years, but she was already pushing its more out-there ideas (especially its use of projectors) to their furthest extremes in her own stage work at that same time. If anything, American Utopia finds David Byrne leaning even further into the Laurie Anersonisms of his own work, to the point where it feels like it’s turning Home of the Brave‘s idiosyncrasies into a concert film subgenre all of its own. The only other concert doc I can name that approaches these films’ shared NYC art gallery aesthetic is Bjork’s Biophilia project, which is great company to be in. They might not be the most raucous or chaotic specimens of rock ‘n roll hedonism, but they collectively strive to elevate the concert film to new artistic highs; and Anderson clearly stands as the mastermind of the medium.

-Brandon Ledet

Brandon’s Top 20 Genre Gems of 2020

1. VHYES A sketch comedy anthology that mimics the uneven rhythms of a home-made VHS “mixtape,” combining spoofs of late-80s cable access garbage & a fictional home movie wraparound. It’s lean, strange, and amusingly absurd in all the ways I wanted it to be. Post-Adult Swim filmmaking at its finest.

2. The Berlin Bride Two reclusive 1980s Berliners split ownership over a mysterious mannequin; one uses her right arm to replace his own amputated one, the other treats the rest of her as his newlywed bride. Very funny & weirdly upsetting. Often feels like a surreally cheap riff on Peter Strickland’s work, which I mean as a high compliment.

3. Crazy World A Ugandan gang of kidnappers are thwarted by the unexpected Kung Fu skills of their pint-sized captives & their enraged parents. My first Wakaliwood experience was just as wildly entertaining & inspiringly low-fi as I had hoped. A total blast & a surprisingly heartwarming document of no-budget regional filmmaking.

4. Spree A grotesque satire about social influencer brain rot in the eternal search for likes, following a live-streaming ride share driver who becomes a serial killer in a desperate bid to Go Viral. I’m always a huge sucker for technophobic thrillers about how the Internet is going to kill us all, and this one was a worthy addition to the canon. It’s especially apt at pinpointing just how pathetic clawing for social media clout feels to an outside observer, even as a near-universal vice.

5. The Platform A nasty dystopian sci-fi pic that’s a lot like Snowpiercer & High Rise in its blatant illustration of wealth disparity, except that it’s so into Philosophy & economic theory that there’s room for little else. It’s almost 100% worldbuilding but it has more than enough Big Ideas & gory catharsis to pull that off.

6. Gretel & Hansel As beautiful & creepy as it is silly, and I kinda wish more movies were allowed to just dick around like this. The tension between conventional genre payoffs & Oz Perkins’s “elevated horror” tendencies is absolutely thrilling throughout this self-conflicted novelty. I don’t believe Perkins has it in him to make a genuine opening-weekend crowd pleaser, and this delightfully weird attempt at such a prospect is outright adorable.

7. Come to Daddy Elijah Wood stars as a hipster coward who finds himself sparring in a cramped isolated locale with his deadbeat alcoholic father. Written by the guy who penned The Greasy Strangler, it eventually turns into a Greasy mutation of a Jeremy Saulnier-type dark comedy as its violence escalates.

8. Bad Hair A Justin Simien horror comedy about a killer hair weave. A lot of people are going to ding this for taking its over-the-top premise too seriously in its first hour, but I think that’s its saving grace. If it were zanier and less politically purposeful it would’ve gotten old real quick; instead it really earns the campy B-movie payoffs of its climax by laying a lot of thematic groundwork and, against all odds, establishing a genuine sense of dread.

9. Weathering With You For its first hour this feels like an amusing-but-weak echo of Your Name., but the plot keeps pushing further & further into the weirdest direction possible until it ends at an absolutely stunning Choice of a conclusion that fully won me over. I really liked how Your Name. applied the Miyazaki reverence for Nature to Big City environments and this one goes even further in that respect by having Nature reclaim the City as part of itself.

10. She Dies Tomorrow Amy Seimetz’s dryly humorous chiller in which fear of impending Death is a communally transmitted disease. Rarely is cosmic horror so relatable. This feels like the darkly Funny existential crisis other people have been describing I’m Thinking of Ending Things as, but I didn’t experience. Whimsically bleak.

11. Sea Fever An eerily well-timed aquatic horror about a crew of deep-sea fishermen who have to quarantine themselves because a Cronenbergian parasite has infected their water supply. I was genuinely chilled by this once it got cooking, even if it borrows a well-worn story template from The Thing; it’s a much more impressive entry in the genre than this year’s so-so Underwater was, if nothing else.

12. Palm Springs I don’t know that this is the tip-top best of the recent string of post-Groundhog’s Day time-loop media (there’s been a lot of good’ns!), but I do like that it pushes the genre forward by acknowledging the audience’s familiarity with it and jumping into the flow of things way downstream. It doesn’t hurt that it’s really funny & charming throughout.

13. The Pool A bargain bin riff on The Shallows, in which a couple is stranded in a drained swimming pool with a killer crocodile. The CGI on the croc is so absurdly shoddy that the movie has no choice but to pave over its budgetary restrictions with a playful sense of humor. And then, just when you think it’s going to play Everything for cheap laughs, it gets shockingly fucked up. Fun, upsetting trash that’s willing to push its limited scenario to its furthest extreme. It also might be Pro-Life propaganda?

14. The Hunt It’s difficult to get too excited by another “Most Dangerous Game” riff the same year as the great Bacurau, but I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Its both-sidesing makes it a little too timid to succeed as a satire, but I appreciated the way it treats modern American politics with the broad, ugly, unsubtle caricature of a pro wrestling angle. Feels accurate to the Moment as a cultural temperature check and packs plenty of cheap payoffs as an exploitative novelty.

15. His House Reinvigorates haunted house genre tropes with the same tactics that titles like Blood Quantum, Zombi Child, and The Girl With All the Gifts used on the similarly overworked tropes of the zombie genre: by shifting the cultural POV and the purpose of the central metaphor. You’ve seen these exact story beats & jump scares before, but never in this exact cultural context.

16. The Lodge This is not as solid as the directors’ breakthrough Goodnight Mommy but it covers a lot of the same ground: creepy kids with maternal resentment, a few chilling indulgences in dream logic, telegraphing its Twist but then following through in the grimmest way possible. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz just seem to hit an icy sweet spot for me, even though they seem to disappoint a lot of people. And it turns out they’re an aunt-nephew duo? Weird.

17. Blood Quantum A zombie breakout among white urbanites reaches an isolated Indigenous reservation, and it appears that the Indigenous people are immune. It’s a solid genre entry, especially in how hard it leans into post-Romero gloom & gore. Outside its central conceit & cultural context it’s very much a straight-forward zombie movie, though, so it’s unlikely to win over many people with general zombie genre fatigue.

18. Spontaneous A post-Heathers high school black comedy about a spontaneous combustion pandemic, one that feels shockingly well-timed in a way the filmmakers could not have anticipated.

19. Capone Covers only the final year of the notorious gangster’s life, which he spent under house arrest while left senile by neurosyphilis at the age of 48. This is in the same genre as Venom, by which I mean it’s a tragically bland nothing of a movie that Tom Hardy’s bizarro performance transforms into a riotous good time through sheer force of will.

20. Tito First-time director Grace Glowicki casts herself as an impossibly timid geek who’s drawn out of his cowardly seclusion by an idiot stoner who barges into his life. Meanwhile, vaguely menacing demons attempt to invade the frame but never arrive. The central performance is consistently entertaining, grotesque, and frustrating, like watching Crispin Glover suffer a traumatically bad acid trip. The movie itself is much more difficult to pin down. It’s an arthouse-horror/stoner-comedy? I almost want to describe it as Josephine Decker’s Cheech & Chong, but that’s way overselling what it can deliver.

-Brandon Ledet

Druids Druids Everywhere (2020)

For the first half hour of Druids Druids Everywhere, I thought I had finally hit a wall with my enjoyment of Matt Farley’s backyard horror comedies. Now that I’m nearly a dozen feature films into his staggering catalog, it’s not like there’s much left to discover anyway. This past year I’ve found myself looking under every unturned rock in the Motern Cinematic Universe looking for Matt Farley movies that slipped by me a couple summers ago when I was at the heights of my Motern madness. It’s mostly been worth the effort! While not as heavily promoted or discussed as cult-gathering Motern Classics like Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, both Obtuse Todd & The Paperboy offered some of the most sublimely inane moments of understated comedy in any Matt Farley work I’ve seen to date. Then, Druids Druids Everywhere shook my faith in the entire endeavor. Was it possible that Farley (along with longtime collaborator Charles Roxburgh) had made a movie even I, a hopeless devotee, couldn’t enjoy? It was scary; then it got better.

Originally intended to be the fourth & final entry into Farley & Roxburg’s “Druid Cycle”, Druids Druids Everywhere was always going to be a for-fans-only proposition. To fully appreciate their crazed commitment to the long-running bit of the Druid Saga, you’d not only have to already be under the spell of their greatest non-druid hits like Local Legends and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas, but also to have seen the pre-requisite druid titles Adventures in Cruben Country, Sammy: The Tale of a Terrible Teddy and, the crown jewel of the series, Druid Gladiator Clone. That’s a lot of homework, especially for a no-budget comedy about a druid cult. It makes sense, then, that they decided to shelve the film in 2014 without ever officially releasing it, if not only to avoid scaring off new audiences who might have stumbled into it as their very first Motern experience. In the six years since that decision to shelve the film, though, public demand for Motern Content has only gotten louder, making Druids Druids Everywhere a Day the Clown Cried type Holy Grail for the few dozen freaks who’ve seen all the other Druid Saga films and maintained enthusiasm for more. And now it’s finally been released as an extra feature on the recent (excellent) Gold Ninja Video release of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!. I wish I could report that it was fully worth the wait.

To put it as simply as possible, the first act of Druids Druids Everywhere suffers what I’ll call The Adam Sandler Problem. Recalling the most annoying, soul-draining performances in Sandler’s cursed oeuvre, Matt Farley starts the film speaking in a painfully unfunny Voice that threatens to tank the whole enterprise if he sticks to it the entire runtime. It’s not exactly Little Nicky-level bad, but it’s not far off. Thankfully, he eventually drops the Voice (and its accompanying Spirit Halloween Store fake beard) and teams up with Roxburgh to rid the New England woods of the druid cult that’s been haunting them for four movies solid. Immediately, Druids Druids Everywhere feels like classic Motern, with extensive straight-faced gags involving evil clouds, home-cooked cans of Spaghetti-Os, and cargo pockets stuffed with magical dirt. The back half of Druids Druids Everywhere is rewardingly funny, but you have to suffer through some pretty dire schtick to get there. But, let’s face it, if you’ve gotten this far into the Motern catalog you’re going to be willing to put in the effort.

All the underplayed absurdism & recurring goofball players Motern fans love eventually bubble to the surface in this movie’s final act. If you’re already a Motern convert, it’s genuinely just a joy to dick around the woods with Farley, Roxburgh, and company MVP Kevin McGee for 90min. I doubt anyone who’s not already a fan would find much of value here, or likely even make it past the fake beard & Adam Sandler Voice intro in the first place. They knew that when they made the film, though, and it’s honestly generous of them to release it now anyway just so hopelessly curious nerds like myself could complete the Druid Saga and feel at rest. Sure, this is for-fans-only, but if you’re a Motern fan all you really need is moments of recognition to point at the screen at such classic Matt Farley Bits as walking!, ranting!, and playing basketball!. Please refer to the ranked Motern hierarchy below to determine whether you’re ready to enjoy such a low-key, but warmly familiar indulgence.
Must-See Motern Classics
Local Legends
Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!
Monsters, Marriage and Murder in Manchvegas
Second-Tier Motern Gems
Slingshot Cops
Freaky Farley
Druid Gladiator Clone
For-Fans-Only Motern Charmers
The Paperboy
Obtuse Todd
Sammy: The Tale of a Terrible Teddy
Adventures in Cruben Country
Druids Druids Everywhere

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Snowpiercer (2013)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer and Brandon discuss Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut Snowpiercer, which was selected as Swampflix’s Movie of the Year in our very first week as a website.

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherYouTubeTuneIn, or by following the links below.

– Brandon Ledet & Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Liberté (2020)

The premise for Albert Serra’s latest #slowcinema provocation was too alluring of a hook for me to pass up, even though my patience was stretched beyond its limits in his previous film. In The Death of Louis XIV, Serra captured the boredom of waiting for death, filming French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud as the titular monarch in his dying days, practically passing away onscreen in real-time. In its follow-up, Liberté, Serra captures the boredom of an unenthused orgasm, framing sex as the same kind of tedious bodily function as he previously framed death. I naively assumed meaningless sex would be more interesting to watch than a meaningless death, but Serra manages to make them equally boring & spiritually empty. To be fair, both movies are about boredom; I just don’t find that an especially rich subject, turns out.

In this glacially paced period drama, a small group of pre-Revolution French Libertines in exile take political refuge in the woods, passing the time by diddling each other and members of a nearby convent. There are no character beats or plot points to speak of, just bored old men seeking debaucherous sexual thrills over an unfulfilling, never-ending night in a “cursed place in the woods.” Figures don’t arrive on the scene so much as they materialize like ghosts, haunted by their philosophical commitment to seeking orgasms as an act of political rebellion, even though the going-through-the-motions drudgery suggests their hearts aren’t really in it. Throughout, Serra contrasts the gorgeous & the grotesque, the obscene & the serene. Quiet shots of the eerie woods are scored only by crickets and the rustling of pantaloons. That nature footage alternates with depraved, often unsimulated sex acts like analingus & piss play, presented with the same lack of urgency. There’s no purpose or direction for this monotonous, half-hearted activity, and it only ends because the sun eventually, thankfully rises.

It’s difficult to know what to do with a movie that aims to shock and bore audiences in equal measure. Liberté dwells in an awkward, liminal space between amoral debauchery & art cinema refinement. It’s like watching Salò hold out its pinky out while taking dainty sips of tea, perverse both in its content and in its own self-conflicted nature. I’m not sure that it adds much to the themes & textures of explicit provocations about the self-destructive nature of meaningless sex, though, especially since that canon is populated by much more exciting, exquisite titles: Salò, We Are the Flesh, In the Realm of the Senses, Stranger by the Lake, etc. There’s a sense of humor to the exercise at least, detectable in the way the Libertines stumble between sexual partners like Romero zombies in a shopping mall, or in the way one participant declares “Open the gates to Hell!” before rimming a nun-in-training. However, I gather that most of Serra’s amusement is rooted in intentionally boring himself & his audience, which is not at all my speed. This is a provocation fit only for #slowcinema aesthetes; more hyperactive trash gobblers like myself need to seek our own perverse thrills elsewhere.

-Brandon Ledet