Neptune Frost (2022)

At its best, cinema is honest artifice.  At its best, cinema is fiercely provocative & political.  It’s a shared dream; it’s poetry. Neptune Frost is cinema at its best.  The genderfucked Afrofuturist sci-fi musical is the kind of start-to-end stunner that feels so peerless in its fury & creativity that there isn’t a clear, pre-established critical language to fully discuss what it’s doing.  In genre terms, it triangulates unlikely holy ground between the communal-solidarity sci-fi of Bacurau, the dreamworld lyricism of Black Orpheus, and the “Hack the planet” online resistance culture of Hackers.  Otherwise, it’s untethered to tradition, using the digital tools of internet-era filmmaking to build an entirely new cinematic sensibility from scratch.  While so many genre filmmakers are stuck mining the past for retro nostalgia triggers, Saul Williams & Anizia Uzeyman are honest about the look & means of the moving image of the present, and as a result Neptune Frost feels like the future of sci-fi in the medium.

Neptune Frost‘s resistance to clear comparison or definition is integral to its design.  It boldly opposes every institutional structure it can hurl a brick at, from major oppressive forces like Capitalism, Christianity, and rigid Gender boundaries to more pedestrian concerns like Plot.  There are two lovers at the center of its loose, musical fantasy: a coltan miner mourning the loss of his brother and a non-binary traveler mourning their loss of place & community.  They find each other in the Rwandan savanna, and their love for each other combines with their hatred of modern civilization to create a new way of engaging with spiritual life & the physical world.  Other refugees & dissidents appear drawn to their subsequent political commune like a spiritual magnet, finding a way to collectively “hack” into the world’s computer systems from their remote locale through the power of their own hearts & minds.  Enough characters have names like Innocence, Philosophy, and Tekno that Neptune Frost feels like it should have a clear metaphorical guide to its scene-to-scene events, but I would be lying if I could say that I can make full sense of it (or that I’m even confident about my vague overview of its big-picture premise).  Since it’s all conveyed through music & poetry, though, it doesn’t have to make logical sense; it just has to be emotionally potent, and I felt every minute of it deep in my chest.

I do believe there is a clear guiding force to its political messaging, at least.  As much as it sets out to methodically undermine every single institutional structure in its path, it’s all filtered through a very specific disgust with the mining of coltan in countries like Rwanda, where horrifically exploitative working conditions are treated as a necessary evil to powering the world’s smartphones.  It’s openly confrontational about this trade-off, starting with a needless death in a coltan mine and referencing “Black-bodies currency” in its free-flowing song lyrics.  The beauty in its political subversion is in the way its savanna hacker commune turns the tools of their oppressors against them, using the community of online connection to overpower the systems that profited from its creation.  It’s a purely electronic mode of spirituality & political fury that feels more real & vital to modern life than the organized religions & pre-existing political movements it’s supplanting.  I don’t know that it offers a clear, real-life solution to the exploitation of coltan miners, but it does have a clear ethos in how online political organization is necessary to create meaningful change in the physical world, despite the exploitation that makes that connection possible.

The closest I’ve seen previous experiments in form approximate Neptune Frost‘s specific mode of political-resistance sci-fi euphoria was in the feature-length music videos Dirty Computer & When I Get Home.  I love both of those films for their boldness in pushing the medium to its outer limits, but I don’t think even they quite match Williams & Uzeyman’s far-out achievements here.  More importantly, they’re both relatively recent works, which means Neptune Frost is at the forefront of something new, something not yet fully defined.  It’s a thrill to behold, even with the uneasy balance between its political hopefulness and the real-world misery that drives its resistance to current status quo.

-Brandon Ledet

Bonus Features: Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

Our current Movie of the Month, 2015’s Embrace of the Serpent, is an angry, hypnotic condemnation of colonialism, capitalism, anthropology, and all the various other ways white outsiders “bring hell and death” to the Amazonian regions of South America.  Shot in a high-contrast black & white and set in two parallel, interlinked timelines, it takes a deliberately nontraditional approach to its journey along Amazonian rivers.  In particular, it stands out as a modern subversion of the white explorer-centered narrative of (the Congo-set) Heart of Darkness, undermining the bravery & nobility of even its most enlightened white intruders while offering broader, more humanizing empathy to the Amazon’s Indigenous populations than previous descendants of the novel bothered to.  Its unusual visual aesthetics & narrative structure feel deliberately distanced from how the Heart of Darkness adventure story is usually told onscreen, emphasizing the academic & political deviations in its dramatic themes.

When Embrace of the Serpent first hit theaters in 2015 (as one of the first films to play at The Broad Theater, during the first year of Swampflix, forever ago), it felt like a total anomaly.  In the seven years since, there have been several additional South American-set Heart of Darkness subversions that have made their way through the film festival circuit (and through the doors of The Broad, incidentally), making Embrace of the Serpent feel like the start of a modern cinema trend that’s still building in momentum.  To that end, here are a few recommended titles if you enjoyed our Movie of the Month and want to see more films about the “hell and death” white outsiders have brought to the Amazon, regardless of the purity of their intent or curiosity.

The Lost City of Z (2016)

James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is the most direct, obvious companion piece to Embrace of the Serpent, which in a lot of ways makes it the least rewarding.  It’s not a terrible film, exactly, but the most it did for me was make me appreciate Embrace of the Serpent more through comparison.  While Embrace of the Serpent is a dreamlike meditation on the cultural & environmental ravages of colonialism as seen through the eyes of the Indigenous people who’ve suffered it, The Lost City of Z is a lot more straight-forward & traditionalist in its presentation & choice of POV.  It’s less of a subversion of the Heart of Darkness narrative than it is a continuation of previous doomed on-screen explorations like Fitzcarraldo & Apocalypse Now.  Its themes are so loudly pronounced, and its narrative flow is so rigidly episodic that it plays more like an expensive TV show than proper cinema, presumably to stay true to the spirit & sequence of events in its source-material novel.

Like Embrace of the Serpent, Gray’s film uses the work of a real-life historical figure (British explorer Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam) to explain how colonialist disruption of Amazonian life & culture has been perpetuated by even the most well-intended, forward-thinking academics.  Fawcett sets out to prove that the tribes of the Amazon region—thought to be subhuman by his fellow learned Brits—have built complex civilizations that long predate any similar British structures.  On his repeat missions into the region, he intends to prove the humanity of the people indigenous to the land, but instead he’s essentially mapping out new courses for rubber extraction, something that only becomes more valuable as Europe nears WWI.  It’s a “Be careful to not destroy what you wish to discover” story, but it’s told with such an uncritical, semi-heroic appreciation of Fawcett’s moral character that it feels almost retrograde in its politics (despite Fawcett’s real-life academic work still being relevant to modern anthropological study).  Essentially, The Lost City of Z is only worth a recommendation to anyone who found Embrace of the Serpent to be a little too loose & ambiguous, offering a cleaned-up, watered-down version of its ideas in a more easily digestible package.

Monos (2019)

Swinging wildly in the other direction, Alejandro Landres’s Monos de-centers the heroic white interloper’s POV entirely in its own subversion of the Heart of Darkness template.  Julianne Nicholson plays the only colonizer in the main cast: a medical doctor captured by an isolated faction of armed soldiers on the Columbian mountaintops.  She’s also the only adult, held hostage at gunpoint by a teenage militia who’ve only known a violent world in opposition to her kind.  While Embrace of the Serpent & The Lost City of Z treat the ravages of colonization in the Amazon as a past event that needs to be studied as history, Monos looks to its continuation into a dystopian future.  We already contextualized Embrace of the Serpent as a post-apocalyptic tragedy in our original discussion of the film, but Monos makes that context a clear, distinct circumstance of its setting.  It also pushes Embrace of the Serpent‘s dreamlike qualities even further into an intense, unknowable apocalypse – complete with a typically chilling Mica Levi score.  If Embrace of the Serpent ushered in a new era of Heart of Darkness subversions, Monos feels like its most exciting, daring follow-up to date.

Like in Embrace of the Serpent, the most challenging aspect of Monos is getting your bearings.  What’s clear is that we’re spending a couple tense hours in the Amazon jungle with a teenage militia as they struggle to maintain control over a political hostage and a sustenance-providing milk cow. The details surrounding that circumstance are continually disorienting as the whos, whys, and whens of the premise are kept deliberately vague. The temporal setting could range from thirty years in the past to thirty years into the apocalyptic future, limited only by the teen soldiers’ codenames being inspired by 80s pop culture references like Rambo & Smurf. The political ideology of The Organization that commands this baby-faced militia is never vocalized, hinted at only by the fact that the mostly POC youth are holding a white woman hostage. The film doesn’t waste any time establishing the rules of the world that surround this violent, jungle-set microcosm. Instead, it chooses to convey only the unrelenting tension & brutality that defines the daily life of this isolated tentacle of a much larger, undefined political resistance. It’s maddening – purposefully so.  The sights, sounds, and performances that flood the screen are consistently, impressively intense, especially once they leave the mountaintops to traverse the crushing river rapids below.  This is the post-apocalyptic world that past colonizers & adventurers have left behind; it’s a nightmare.

Icaros: A Vision (2017)

If Embrace of the Serpent & The Lost City of Z look to the past of colonialist exploitation in the Amazon, and Monos looks to its inevitable future, Icaros: A Vision might be a vision of its uneasy present.  It’s a psychedelic drama that discusses the ways Amazonian people are still exploited by capitalist & colonial greed to this day, except it focuses more on the psychotropic medicines of the region instead of rubber extraction.  Upon recovery from a near-fatal bout with breast cancer, visual artist Leonor Caraballo traveled to Peru to seek therapeutic guidance from the country’s local ayahuasca clinics, specifically the infamous Anaconda Cosmica, to help emotionally process her unexpected confrontation with mortality. While participating in the religious ritual of ingesting the psychotropic plant with the guidance of shamans, Caraballo saw a vision of her own death and returned to her home in Argentina convinced of two things: 1) that she was going to die of the cancer’s soon-to-come aggressive return and 2) that she had to make a film about her experience with the ayahuasca plant. The result of these convictions, Icaros: A Vision, partly serves as a therapeutic processing of dread & grief personal to Caraballo’s story. However, the film also strives to capture the religious reverence Peruvian people find in plants like ayahuasca and to poke fun at outsiders who treat the ritual that helped the filmmaker through her darkest hour like a colonialist act of tourism. Unfortunately, Caraballo did not live to see the completion of her own film; she guided much if its post-production decision making from her death bed with the help of her co-director Matteo Norzi. What she left behind, though, is a visually striking, peacefully meditative look at the culture surrounding ayahuasca rituals, recalling the eerie dreamspace explored in Embrace of the Serpent.

An American woman arrives at Anaconda Cosmica unsure of how ayahuasca rituals can help her process her fear of death and whether she even has the courage to find out. Other patients paying for the privilege of the retreat are addressing issues varying in severity from addiction & self-harm to alleviating a stutter to improve an acting career. The mood of the retreat is decidedly peaceful, a tone commanded by the always-present sounds of the jungle. Invading thoughts of technology, particularly MRI scans of the American woman’s cancer, interrupt the reverie on occasion, but don’t fully elbow out the serenity of the jungle until the nighttime ayahuasca rituals start & end. During the routine ceremonies, a shaman-in-training peers into the various hallucinations of his patients (or “passengers,” in the movie’s parlance) as if he were literally switching channels on a television. The spiritual difference between natural & technological imagery could not be clearer, as the young shaman attempts (through the ritual of meditative breathing & song) to save the paying customers from invading dark thoughts that could spoil their trip. Early on, the film is about his efforts to save the protagonist from the crippling fear of death sparked by her cancer diagnosis. However, at some point that dynamic flips. The American woman, now strengthened by the psychedelic therapy sessions, helps the shaman face his own fears of an incurable medical diagnosis. It’s interesting to see the service industry aspect of their relationships subvert itself as they naturally become better acquainted through the deeply intimate ritual of ayahuasca ingestion, but more importantly the film uses their tender interactions as a purposefully humanist window into a culture that could be depicted as all meditative chants and visual hallucination if not treated with enough open-minded empathy.

Icaros: A Vision is a quiet, still, meditative piece that fully lives up to the visual focus indicated by its title. Everything from muscular river dolphins & the green of the Peruvian jungle to video game imagery & bright florescent piss shape the film’s all-encompassing meditations on life & death. Somehow, the overall effect is more hypnotic than it is showy or gimmicky. Leonor Caraballo’s background as a visual artist shows in the way she carefully frames each isolated hallucination, but her vulnerability & ultimate mortality as a human being is what affords the work a solemn but rewarding purpose. Humor at the expense of “passengers” who treat the Anaconda Cosmica like a luxury hotel and its (non-actor) employees/residents like servants are slyly mocked in a social politics-minded undercurrent of humor. That comedy is just one thread in a larger tapestry, though, and the overall picture includes a hypnotic, but encyclopedic catalog of plants that are important to Peruvian culture, an ethnographic documentation of ayahuasca rituals’ adoption as tourist industry fodder, visual attempts to capture the vivid hallucinations triggered by those rituals, etc. It’s not as outwardly angry of a film as Embrace of the Serpent, but it’s one that brings the same cultural & political criticisms into a modern context that make them even more vivid in my mind.

-Brandon Ledet

The Science of Sleep (2006)

I don’t know that we’ve ever given Michel Gondry his full due as a visual stylist and an auteur.  While other Twee-era directors who came up while I was a high school art snob are still regularly working and relatively celebrated—Wes Anderson, Miranda July, Spike Jonze, etc.—Gondry’s name isn’t often referenced as one of the aughts’ absolute greats.  And yet, his combination of arts & crafts whimsy and gloomy French New Wave dramatics are so specific & idiosyncratic that I often see direct echoes of his work in titles like Dave Made a Maze, Girl Asleep, and Sorry to Bother You (which does name-check Gondry, to its credit).  You’d think that this year in particular would be the one that inspired the most breathless, fawning articles on Gondry’s post-Twee legacy, though, considering that two of the best films of the year so far—Strawberry Mansion & Everything Everywhere All at Once—are so strongly, undeniably influenced by his work.  I wonder if it’s the bitter taste of Gondry’s debut feature as a writer-director (as opposed to his more iconic music video work or his non-writing credit for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that has tempered his legacy as one of the greats.  Beyond its surface-level cuteness, The Science of Sleep is a deeply unpleasant, emotionally troubling watch, which makes it a tough sell as the purest feature-length form of Gondry’s vision as an auteur (despite that being a fairly standard internal conflict for Twee art in the aughts).  It’s also pretty great.

Revisiting The Science of Sleep felt like reliving the best and the worst parts of my college years in the aughts: the excitement of for-its-own-sake art collaboration and the complete ineptitude at healthy romantic interaction.  I even acquired my used DVD copy of the film in the exact way I would have back in 2007: plucked it off a shelf at the Goodwill (although I just as likely would have found it on a Blockbuster Video liquidation table the first time around).  Gael García Bernal stars as a toxic indie scene fuckboy who immaturely rejects the idea of settling for an office job even though his macabre, mediocre illustrations of famous tragedies are never going to pay his bills.  He’s a dreamer in the truest sense, struggling to differentiate between his nocturnal fantasies and the doldrums of his waking life.  He’s also a selfish baby.  When he moves in with his mommy to take a dull calendar-printing job that she arranged for him, he finds himself smitten with her next-door neighbor, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.  The neighbor is delighted by the fuckboy’s crafty creativity and values him as a friend & artistic collaborator.  The fuckboy badly wants that friendship to turn into a romance and throws a feature-length temper tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.  From the outside, The Science of Sleep looks like a cute, whimsical romance between a couple of wide-eyed twentysomethings who’ve watched one too many Agnès Varda films.  On the inside, it’s a rotten little story about how inept all twentysomethings actually are at friendship & romance, especially entitled young men who don’t know how to handle rejection with grace.

Gondry offers plenty ammunition to audiences who want to treat Twee art as whimsical fluff.  The film opens with the whiny babyboy hosting a dreamworld cooking show, explaining to a delighted TV studio audience how dreams are prepared – stirring random thoughts, reminiscences of the day, memories of the past, and earworm pop songs into a giant gumbo pot, and voila.  The stop-motion, papier-mâché, cut-and-paste surrealism of the dream sequences that follow is a wholesome delight, in sharp contrast with the toxic, selfish behavior of the manic pixie fuckboy protagonist.  Gondry shoots the waking scenes in a handheld documentarian style, while the dream sequences that frequently interrupt that real-world drama directly echo his iconic D.I.Y. dreamworlds in music videos like “Everlong,” “Bachelorette,” and “Fell in Love with a Girl“.  In general, I don’t think people give the aughts era of Twee art enough credit for being emotionally challenging & bleak, likely because the romance & whimsy of its visual style is so pronounced.  Even at the time, though, The Science of Sleep tasted sourer than most of its peers, smashing the romance of its dreamworld fantasy sequences against its characters’ cruel, immature behavior in a volatile mismatch of tones (as opposed to the more subtle melancholy of most Twee art).  It’s a conflict that worked for me a lot more on this recent rewatch than it did at the time, because all I knew then was that the lead made me uncomfortable and the movie wasn’t as romantic as I wanted it to be.  That discomfort feels more purposeful & self-aware now, especially since I can see my younger self’s worst behavior reflected in the main character’s glaring faults.

Gondry continued to work well after The Science of Sleep, with plenty of highs & lows in his creative flow.  His underseen, underrated drama Mood Indigo was an excellent continuation of the bittersweet Twee of his debut; his director-for-hire work on the superhero action comedy The Green Hornet was an all-around disaster; and the quirky crowd-pleaser Be Kind Rewind falls somewhere in-between those extremes.  I’m not sure he ever recovered from the perception that his debut as a writer-director was a step down from his much more beloved work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though, which in effect made Charlie Kaufmann appear to be the true genius behind that project.  That’s a shame, since I find Gondry to be the more consistently rewarding, emotionally engaging artist of that pair, and the works that have been inspired by his distinct visual style are more often among the best new releases of their respective years (whereas I can die happy without ever seeing another Kaufmann-inspired psych drama about writer’s block, or whatever).

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Mad God (2022) & The Overlook Film Festival

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and guest Bill Arceneaux discuss a selection of high-style, high concept horror films that screened at this year’s Overlook Film Fest, starting with Phil Tippett’s psychedelic stop-motion nightmare Mad God (2022).

00:00 Welcome

01:50 Mad God (2022)

29:15 The Overlook Film Festival
35:20 Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2022)
44:05 Nosfera2 (2022)
1:01:31 Deadstream (2022)
1:15:22 Swallowed (2022)
1:27:57 Hypochondriac (2022)
1:33:22 Piggy (2022)
1:37:53 Flux Gourmet (2022)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Crimes of the Future (2022)

He has not announced plans to retire, but if Crimes of the Future does end up being David Cronenberg’s final film, it would be an excellent send-off for the director’s career.  Just as A Dirty Shame registers as the perfect marriage between John Waters’s early-career transgressors and his late-career mainstreamers, Crimes of the Future lands midway between the sublime body-horror provocations that made Cronenberg famous and the philosophical cold showers he’s been taking in more recent decades.  It’s less of a complete, self-contained work than it is a loose collection of images, ideas, and in-jokes aimed at long-haul Cronenberg sickos.  It’s got all the monstrous mutation & fleshy, fetishistic penetration of his classic era, which makes it tempting to claim that the body horror master has returned to former glories.  It presents those images in the shape of his more recent, more talkative cerebral thrillers, though, as if to prove that nothing’s changed except that’s he’s grown out of a young man’s impulse to gross his audience out.  Crimes of the Future is the kind of film that’s so tangled up in the director’s previous works that it makes you say things like “‘Surgery is the new sex’ is the new ‘Long live the new flesh'” as if that means anything to someone who isn’t already a member of the cult.  And yet it might actually be a decent Cronenberg introduction for new audiences, since it’s essentially a scrapbook journal of everywhere he’s already been.

If there’s anything missing from Crimes of the Future that prevents it from reaching Cronenberg’s previous career highs, it’s not an absence of new ideas; it’s more an absence of narrative momentum.  Much of it functions as a dramatically flat police procedural, gradually peeling back the layers of a conspiracy theory that never feels as sharp or as vibrant as the future hellworld that contains it.  It’s a pure, playful exercise in complex worldbuilding & philosophical provocation, which are both major markers of great sci-fi no matter what narratives they serve.  Cronenberg essentially asks what our future world will be like once we inevitably accept the New Flesh mutations of his Videodrome era body horrors, as opposed to recoiling from them in fear.  He imagines a scenario where the pollution of accumulating microplastics in our bodies has triggered a grotesque evolution of new, mysterious internal organs that are hastily removed in surgery as if they were common tumors.  Meanwhile, our new bodies have essentially eradicated pain, making the general populace a depraved sea of self-harming thrill seekers.  A murdered child, an undercover cop, a network of paper-pushing bureaucrats, and a nomadic cult of proud plastic eaters all drift around the borders of this new, grotesque universe, but they never offer much dramatic competition to distract from the rules & schematics of the universe itself.

Crimes of the Future is at its absolute best when it’s goofing around as a self-referential art world satire.  Its most outlandish sci-fi worldbuilding detail is in imagining a future where high-concept performance artists are the new rock stars.  Viggo Mortensen stars as “an artist of the interior landscape,” a mutating body that routinely produces new, unidentifiable organs that are surgically removed in ceremonious public “performances.”  Léa Seydoux stars as his partner in art & life, acting as a kind of surgical dominatrix who penetrates his body to expose his organic “creations” to their adoring public (including Kristen Stewart as a horned-up fangirl who can barely contain her excitement for the New Sex).  Cronenberg not only re-examines the big-picture scope of his life’s work here; he also turns the camera around on his sick-fuck audience of geeky gawkers & fetishists.  It’s all perversely amusing in its satirical distortion of real-world art snobbery, from the zoned-out audience of onlookers making home recordings on their smartwatches, to the hack wannabe artists who don’t fully get the New Sex, to the commercialization of the industry in mainstream events like Inner Beauty Pageants.  Although it appears to be more self-serious at first glance, it’s only a few fart jokes away from matching Peter Strickland’s own performance art satire in Flux Gourmet, its goofy sister film.

I hope that Cronenberg keeps making movies.  Even five decades into his career, he’s clearly still amused with his own creations, when there’s big-name directors half his age who are already miserably bored with their jobs.  Hell, he doesn’t even need to create an entire new universe next time he wants to write something.  Crimes of the Future‘s plastic gnawing, organ harvesting, surgery-fucking future world is vast & vivid enough to support dozens of sequels & spin-offs.  It turns out you don’t even need much of a story to make it worth a visit.

-Brandon Ledet

Gagarine (2022)

In the early 1960s, the Communist Party of France funded the construction of the Cité Gagarine housing project in the Parisian suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine.  On a practical level, the building was intended to house low-income Parisians & immigrant communities in its near-400 units.  On a more symbolic level, it was intended as a monument to the power & possibility of Communist ideology in France.  To that end, Cité Gagarine’s opening was commemorated with the attendance of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin—the first human to reach outer space—who also inspired its namesake.  To me, Gagarin is only significant as the muse for a kickass PJ Harvey song (simply titled “Yuri G“), but a half-century ago he was a much more inspiring symbol of the endless possibilities of a Communist Future, in France and beyond.

That dream apparently ended in the late 2010s, when Cité Gagarine was demolished for not keeping up with modern public health & safety standards in the decades since its construction.  As the Communist Party of France lost its financial & political sway, no other governmental power stepped in to support the Cité Gagarine residents.  First-time directors Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh are obviously fascinated by the political symbolism of Cité Gagarine’s history & demolition.  Their 2015 short Gagarine was inspired by interviews with the real-life residents of the housing project in the months before its condemnation, and they’ve since expanded the project into a debut feature of the same name.  It’s a small, intimate drama with huge, Paris-wide political implications about both the current state of European politics and what communal solidarity & resources have been lost from more hopeful eras of the past.

Newcomer Alensi Bathily stars as the aptly named Youri, the last true believer of the Yuri Gagarine dream.  As Cité Gagarine is being forcibly evacuated, the teenage Youri has nowhere to turn, so he decides to squat until the building is physically destroyed.  A lifelong astronautical obsessive, he converts the abandoned building into a kind of D.I.Y. spaceship, recruiting as many fellow teens as he can for his naive mission into the uncertain beyond (including The French Dispatch‘s Lyna Khoudri as an amused love interest).  What little community is left in the aftermath of Cité Gagarine’s closure is only held together by Youri’s stubbornness.  He inspires fellow tenants with solar eclipse watch parties and analog retro-futurist refurbishments to his living space, but it’s just not enough to overcome the cold, bureaucratic indifference of the modern world.  No matter how much beauty or community Youri finds in his home, recent history has already decided his mission is doomed.

Gagarine maintains a striking balance between grounded, pessimistic realism and the magical thinking of a young mind still awed by the possibilities of life.  It searches for a far-out middle ground between a twee version of Silent Running and a distant galaxy where the Dardenne brothers occasionally lighten up.  As often as the film slips into heart-soaring escapism, it’s also balanced by a wealth of archival footage from Cité Gagarine’s history that makes it clear that fantasies of a bigger, better life were always part of its design (including footage of Yuri Gagarine’s attendance at the building’s inauguration).  Gagarine has had a slow international roll-out since it first premiered at Cannes in 2020, which speaks to its relative anonymity as a low-budget coming-of-age indie drama, but there is something special in its heart and its historical context that merits more attention than it’s ever likely to get.

-Brandon Ledet

Podcast #162: Field of Dreams (1989) & Dad Movies

Welcome to Episode #162 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss their dads’ favorite movies, starting with the Kevin Costner baseball fantasy Field of Dreams (1989).

00:00 Welcome

01:40 Crimes of the Future (2022)
08:22 Flux Gourmet (2022)
14:42 Brahms: The Boy II (2020)
19:56 The Shout (1978)

26:26 Field of Dreams (1989)
56:56 Seven Samurai (1954)
1:15:40 Dumb & Dumber (1994)
1:35:25 Tommy Boy (1995)

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

Movie of the Month: Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Boomer made HannaBrandon, and Britnee watch Embrace of the Serpent (2015).

Boomer: “The world is full of fishes,” Theo says. “We cannot possibly end them.” 

“You have no discipline,” Karamakate says, shortly thereafter. “You will devour everything.” 

El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent) is a 2015 Colombian film about an apocalypse. It isn’t one which comes with neither the fire nor ice of Robert Frost’s poetry or the heat or cold death of the universe that is hypothesized by modern science, nor a dumb superhero movie sky beam, nor is it one of clashes between heaven and hell (although they each certainly play a role). The film is a fictionalized synthesis of two real-life accounts written by German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924) and American ethno-botanist Richard Evans Schultes (1915-2001), embodied here as two separate men who are taken on a treacherous Amazonian journey by an Indigenous man named Karamakate, the ostensibly last survivor of a village that was destroyed by colonizers exploiting the natural resources of South America. Koch-Grünberg is reimagined as “Theo” (Jan Bijvoet), who, with his “liberated” manservant Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) approaches the young Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) in 1909 and asks him to be his guide to the sacred yakruba plant, a fictional sacred plant with healing qualities that Theo hopes will save him from his unnamed, wasting disease. Although he is initially hesitant, Karamakate is convinced to join this endeavor when Theo tells him that he has seen other survivors of his same tribe. The character inspired by Schultes, Evan (Brionne Davis), appears to the older Karamakate (Antonio Bolívar) in 1940 and claims that he has never dreamed and hopes that the yakruba will heal this missing part of him, working his way into the Indigenous man’s good graces by claiming to be devoted to plants, although his true goal is to secure disease-free rubber trees for American manufacturing for the war effort. 

Readers who have never seen the film may be asking themselves how this can be an apocalyptic story, if the latest time frame envisioned by the film is nearly eight decades ago, but for many of us, that is ignorance born of privilege as the descendants of colonizers and settlers, who can denounce the violence of our ancestry but nonetheless continue to benefit from it every day. As Pam Oliver once said, “If your ancestors cut down all the trees, it’s not your fault, but you still don’t live in a forest.” To put it another way, the (unfortunately now inactive) IndigenousXca Twitter account once posted a statement that lives in my mind perpetually: “something I don’t think occurs to settlers is that Indigenous people already are living in a post-apocalyptic world.” For the peoples of the Western Hemisphere, invaders came from another world, pillaged their natural resources, committed mass genocide, and drove the last living remnants of a whole world from their ancestral lands into reservations. For mass media created mostly by and mostly for white people, this is a common “apocalypse” narrative, wherein we are meant to empathize with and cheer for our mostly white heroes as they defend themselves against invading Soviets (ex.: Red Dawn), machines of our own creation (ex. MatrixThe TerminatorBattlestar Galactica), and aliens (ex.: Independence DayWar of the Worlds). Because we’ve been fed American exceptionalist propaganda for our whole lives by that same system and, frequently, our educational institutions, this results in a kind of psychic disconnect wherein the same people who are cheering the heroes in those works for fighting back against colonization and genocide will also show up to school board meetings frothing at the mouth to make sure that their children never learn about redlining or that Aunt Gloria was actually one of the girls who screamed the n-word at Tessie Prevost.

The river on which Karamakate spends his existence is a post-apocalyptic world. That the men he finds in his old village greet him with “We’re toasting to the end of the world” isn’t an accident. The “world mover,” as he is called by others, has been so traumatized by living through the (ongoing) destruction of his world that he considers himself to have become a chullachaqui, an empty shell that looks like a person but who lacks a living animus. The throughline of Indigenous destruction at the hands of profiteers, priests, and plantation-owners who come to “save” the “pagan” peoples of the jungle from “cannibalism and ignorance” is at the heart of Serpiente as, alongside Karamakate, we bear witness to the scars of exploitation on both the land and bodies of the people thereof. This is made manifest in the film’s final scroll, which is dedicated to those South American Indigenous peoples “whose song we never knew.” This is made most manifest in a pair of sequences that both take place in a Spanish Catholic Mission, in both 1909 and 1940. 

In 1909, Karamakate arrives with Theo and Manduca, after the three of them have already interacted with a man, for all intents and purposes an enslaved man, who has been violently disfigured by those who run the rubber plantations, and we see Manduca’s own scars from his time on one. They discover that the mission, which is implied to be a former plantation, has one remaining priest, and that this place is essentially a residential school in all but name, wherein indigenous children are abducted, renamed, prevented from speaking their “pagan” language (this is the subtitled translation, but to my ear it sounds like they’re saying “lengua demoníaca,” which is literally “demon tongue,” which I have no doubt is historically accurate and extremely telling); when Karamakate tries to impart some of their ancestral wisdom that weaves together both myth and medicine, the children are beaten mercilessly by the priest. The Amazonian River in 1909 is a place of both scars and fresh wounds; by 1940, there is only madness and death. The now-adult population, which may be the same boys whom Karamakate had met 31 years before, have descended into a full-on cult with a Messiah and everything. The beatings of the priest have devolved into a series of ritualistic sacrifices and self-flagellation, and the self-proclaimed messiah seems to have continued the priest’s tradition of kidnapping children, if I’m judging the age of his “wife” correctly. This can only end tragically, which it does. 

That colonization is inherently the antithesis of conservation is also an omnipresent theme in Serpiente. Before accepting Theo’s proposal, Karamakate sets out a series of prohibitions by which he must abide. To the western viewer, these first appear to be mostly the kind of “superstition” that we dismiss out of hand, but are a complex interweaving of thoughtful conservation, medicine, and defense alongside the spiritual, in a way that means that extricating one from the other is an exercise in self-sabotage. At the film’s outset, we’re never given a reason that Theo mustn’t eat fish or other meat. Shortly thereafter, they encounter Tuschaua (Marcilio Paiva) and his people, who have a prior, friendly relationship with the explorer, and Karamakate is surprised to learn that they eat fish even when they shouldn’t do so until a specific seasonal time has been reached, indicating that there’s an ecological element to the proscription. This is further emphasized during the first encounter with the Spanish Mission; Karamakate warns the children that “one day, [the colonizers] will finish all the food in the jungle.” The fish are like the rubber trees which are like the yakruba, all resources that are renewable but not endless. “The world is full of fishes, we cannot possibly end them,” Theo later says, but he’s wrong; Karamakate understands that they must abstain until after the rains end because there has to be a balance, and that Theo “will devour everything.” Further still, when Theo breaks this proscription, not only does he fall physically ill, he is also unable to further accept holistic medical intervention, as his body will now reject it. It’s spiritual, physical, and ecological, entwined. Theo’s inability to follow these rules are a demonstration that, to paraphrase the proverb, there is no ethical colonization, even when relations are friendly. When Theo discovers that Tuschaua’s people have taken his compass, he decries that leaving behind this (to them) advanced technology will, in time, supplant and erase their Indigenous cultural knowledge of an “orientation system […] based on the winds and the position of the stars.” What he can’t see, but that Karamakate does, is that contact with Europeans has already begun to undermine them, as evidenced by their preparation of fish despite the season being incorrect. Theo may truly believe he’s doing the moral thing by attempting to prevent further cultural contamination, but the first dominos have already fallen, and to introduce Tuschaua and his family, possibly the last generation of their people because of the intervention of profiteers, to a technological advancement and then deny them its use isn’t a kindness, but a cruelty. 

At the mission, Karamakate sees a plaque (in Spanish, which he presumably cannot read, and thus this is solely for the benefit of the audience) endowed by the Colombian government, which thanks the violent colonizers for “[bringing] civilization to the land of cannibal savages and showed them the path of God” (emphasis added). When sharing his knowledge with the children there, he warns them: “Don’t believe their crazy tales about eating the body of their gods.” Decades later, those same children now not only believe these tales to an extreme, but then do in fact eat their Messiah. I think that this can be interpreted in several ways—that wickedness often reveals itself in the way that it projects its worst aspects onto the proverbial other (like when the same people who ~allegedly~ participate in interstate sex trafficking also unironically tweet out #disneygroomer because a media monopoly reluctantly and sluggishly took a stance against a law that in practice is definitively going to result in a surge of domestic violence and rampage familicide), or as a contributing narrative thread in the overall tapestry of the film’s conservationist thesis. Hanna, what did you make of this during your first viewing? Did you get a sense of that, am I plucking at strings, did you interpret it completely differently?

Hanna: What a great point! I think I basically had the same feelings as you. In addition to receiving the message of holy cannibalism through Christianity, the heart of the mission is founded on the belief that the children are “cannibal savages” being uplifted through God; under the instruction of the priests, there’s no way for the children to find meaning for themselves outside of that narrative. What kind of identity can you form when you’re assured that you’re fundamentally inhuman at the core, and the “righteous” path you’ve been assimilated into is violent at its core? I definitely agree with the projection aspect as well. Like Karamakate points out, colonialism is inherently cannibalistic; the dominant culture is actively devouring the bodies and resources of the colonized people, destroying their way of life and the ecosystem on which they depend. To deny and rationalize cannibalism, the colonizers convince themselves that their subjects are not only inhuman, but that they would have no hope of redemption without the mercy of “civilized” people; you’re not a cannibal if you’re not eating people!

I think Embrace of the Serpent is, by far, the most nuanced, honest, thought-provoking movie I’ve ever seen about colonialism and conservation. The film is shot almost entirely in black and white, which works well with the narrative shifts between 1909 and 1940 – it kept the two time periods tied together in my mind as one artifact, and the film almost reads like a marriage of two old pioneering documentaries that someone salvaged. There’s no hint of sentimentality here. The Amazonian jungle is lushly rendered (even without color) and beautiful images abound, but the film is unflinching in its depiction of violence, whether it manifests interpersonally, physically (self-inflicted or otherwise), or internally. I’m always entranced by films that seem to have a tactile temperature; they tend to be meditative, slowly dragging you down into a maddening dream or nightmare. This was definitely a nightmare, but especially because it’s a lived reality.

The two timelines vividly depict the ripples of alteration and destruction that invasion has wrought onto Karamakate’s community and the ecosystems that community depends upon. I agree that this is an apocalypse movie, and I think that (barring natural cataclysms) most apocalypses probably end up looking like this: a slow deterioration of life as it was until the old ways of existing are no longer possible. It seems pretty difficult to make a movie about colonialism that didn’t somehow feel like it was exploiting suffering for the sake of self-reflection, but Guerra apparently worked in close collaboration with Indigenous communities from the Amazon; I think the infusion of that perspective has a lot to do with the film’s success.

Like Boomer mentioned, the cultural exchange between the settlers or visitors and the Indigenous people is difficult to navigate; the contact has irrevocably changed the Indigenous people, but there’s no going back from that point, so withholding knowledge or trying to stem contamination is impossible and cruel. That being said, there are a few moments of true human connection that I really appreciated in this film; in one scene, Evan plays Haydn’s “The Creation” on his gramophone for Karamakate. It was hard to read Karamakate’s expression at that moment, but he seemed moved to me, and the music takes him back to a memory of Theo in his last days of sickness. The last scene of the movie involves an unbelievable gift from Karamakate marking the end of one civilization’s way of life, even in the face of a violent betrayal (the only scene with color in the entire movie). Brandon, what did you make of this ending? Did you feel any shred of hope for humanism and connection in spite of centuries of selfishness and violence, or did redemption die with the yakruba? 

Brandon: If we’re going to consider the present state of the Amazon post-apocalyptic, it’s difficult to read Embrace of the Serpent as anything but a tragedy.  If either timeline in the film were present-day, there might be room for hope, but we know that capitalist exploitation of the Amazon’s people & resources didn’t cool off after 1940.  The yakruba’s extinction at the end, although fictional, represents a wide range of decimated resources, and Evan represents a wide range of white colonizers responsible for that tragedy.  All Karamakate can offer him is a glimpse of the beauty & power that will soon be lost forever, in all its natural glory.

The film smartly undercuts a lot of its warmer, humanistic interactions in this way.  I’m thinking particularly of the sequence in which Theo & Manduca entertain a small tribe with a practiced song & dance routine around a campfire, a moment of communal delight that first warms Karamakate up to the idea of collaborating with white outsiders.  It’s the very next morning when Theo freaks out about his stolen compass, souring the possibility for positive cultural exchange with supposed ethical concerns about industrialized technology ruining locals’ more “natural” way of life.  There’s no way that interference from white outsiders won’t irrevocably change the local culture forever, so all Theo accomplishes is shielding them from any possible positive gains from the tragedy that will gradually consume them.  There cannot be any hope in these cross-cultural interactions no matter how personable & heartfelt they feel in the moment.

The sudden introduction of color at the end did make me think more about the film’s digi black & white cinematography.  The contrast between the deep shadows of trees and the sharp white voids of the sunlit sky is striking, but it’s definitely an unusual way of capturing the immense beauty of the Amazon on film.  Britnee, what do you think of the film’s visual style?  Does the sudden rush of color at the ending make you wish it had been styled differently?

Britnee: I thought about this for most of the film. Why would something as beautiful as the Amazon jungle be filmed in black and white? It wasn’t until the burst of color at the end that I understood that choice. As the Indigenous tribes and natural resources of the Amazon are destroyed, the Amazon loses its vitality. While the black and white imagery was stunning, it created a dreadful ambiance that really connected me with the emotions of Karamakate. Well, as connected as a white woman can be. I will never truly understand what it feels like to go through, as Boomer perfectly stated earlier, a post-apocalyptic tragedy. 

I had a couple of self-reflective moments while watching Embrace of the Serpent, but one that really struck me was during the scene where Karamakate asks Theo to get rid of all the luggage that is weighing them down during their journey. I stared around my room to look at all of the junk I’ve acquired throughout the years, and I couldn’t even imagine how it would feel to not value my possessions as much as I do. I associate memories with all of my belongings, but how would it feel to have the same attitude as Karamakate? I don’t really need all of this baggage to survive or maintain a high quality of life. I mean, I’m still probably not going to get rid of anything because I’m a garbage person, but Karamakate really hit me in the feels with that one.

Lagniappe

Britnee: This made me think of Fitzcarraldo, which we covered on the podcast a few years ago. The production of Embrace of the Serpent was definitely not as problematic though!

Brandon: We talked a lot about the evils of capitalism & colonialism here (always worthy subjects), but to me this registered most clearly as a condemnation of anthropology as a morally bankrupt field of study.  Theo’s attempts to interact with Amazonian locals without altering their way of life is pathetically misguided, as evidenced by the wide-scale destruction that follows in his wake decades later.   The real-life Theodor Koch-Grünberg’s research is a cornerstone of anthropological field work to this day, so that cursed corner of academia was never very far from my mind throughout the film. 

Hanna: Embrace of the Serpent was a difficult movie to watch and process, but I’m glad it exists. I really appreciate the director’s efforts to make a piece of art that honors and includes the perspectives of Indigenous communities, and from my perspective, he did a great job of honestly reckoning with the destruction of Indigenous life and the loss our world experiences (and will continue to experience) as a result.

Boomer: Unfortunately, the IndigenousXca Twitter account stopped posting some time ago, and the bio now indicates that it’s an archive for posts made from the account Oct. 23, 2014 – Dec. 3, 2020. In a post on the associated blog from March 2021, entitled “Social media burn-out, it’s not just you,” the author writes that this has a lot to do with the stresses of being very online and that it became overwhelming. The author’s personal Twitter, however, is still active, and you can go follow her now and keep up with her thoughts on contemporary politics, which are always insightful and thoughtful.

Next month: Britnee presents White of the Eye (1987)

-The Swampflix Crew

Umma (2022)

A few months ago, it was baffling that a Sam Raimi-produced horror film starring Sandra Oh was getting so little press coverage in the early weeks of its theatrical release.  Now that I’ve seen it for myself, I totally understand the lack of enthusiasm.  Umma follows through on its promise of giving Oh the same heightened-emotions acting showcase that similar recent horror films like Hereditary, The Babadook, The Invisible Man, The Night House, and Here Before gave their own lead women in distress.  The problem is that it aspires to participate in that distinctly modern subgenre without fully understanding its appeal.  Umma indulges in the go-to themes of post-Hereditary trauma horror while backdating its filmmaking sensibilities to the look and feel of mainstream horror in the aughts, somehow offering the worst of both worlds.  It’s useful as a glimpse into what aughts horror might have been like if its protagonists weren’t 100% white by default, but it’s even more useful as a counterpoint to contrarians who claim A24 & other “elevated horror” peddlers have ruined the genre in recent years.  Things used to be way duller, and not that long ago.

Every post-Hereditary trauma horror needs a blatant 1:1 metaphor to dictate all of its scene-to-scene scares.  Umma claims the cliché anxiety “I’m turning into my mother” as its own metaphorical territory.  Given how common the cyclical, hereditary nature of abuse is as a go-to theme in modern horror, that might not sound specific enough of a metaphor, but Umma takes the phrase “I’m turning into my mother” very literally.  Not only does Sandra Oh’s childhood abuse survivor start to repeat her mother’s cruelty while raising her own daughter (influenced by her mother’s ghost, of course), but she also physically mutates to look like her, forming CGI wrinkles & drooped cheeks in her most monstrous moments.  She is haunted by her mother, but she is also transforming into her.  There’s some genuine, heartfelt drama to be mined from that premise, making it very clear why Oh found the project so promising as an actor that she also put her weight behind it as an Executive Producer.  Her only mistake, apparently, was in not pushing screenwriter Iris Shim to hire a more visually ambitious director.

Umma is well considered in its narrative & themes, but it’s got absolutely nothing going on visually or tonally that feels fresh or even up to date.  It just played in theaters a few months ago, but it feels like watching the last leftover DVD from the Blockbuster Video going-out-of-business sales that you just never got around to.  It can be interesting to see that dusty aughts-horror aesthetic applied to the story of a Korean American family, and the film’s most memorable visual details are directly tied to that cultural POV: kumiho attacks, haunted hanboks, creepy wooden masks, etc.  It’s a shame, then, that those details couldn’t be brought into the meticulous visuals & atmospheric tones of the A24 horror aesthetic that guided its choice of themes.  The dingy, underlit basements & attics where it stages most of its ghost attacks are shot with an outdated, uninspired visual eye that hasn’t been seen onscreen since the 2000s remake cycle of titles like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and The RingUmma is Shim’s debut feature, so I hope that if she continues to work in horror, she’ll take more inspiration from the genre’s recent visual & tonal trends along with its function as a metaphor machine.  As is, it seems like she’d be more at home directing TV – a writer’s medium.

-Brandon Ledet

The Overlook Film Festival 2022, Ranked & Reviewed

The sudden appearance of The Overlook Film Festival on the local scene in 2018 & 2019 was an unholy, unexpected blessing. There are only a few substantial film fests staged in New Orleans every year, so for an international festival with world premieres of Big Deal horror movies to land in our city was a major boon. It was almost too good to be true, so after a couple off years of COVID-related delays, I was worried The Overlook might not make it back to the city. But here we are again, praise the Dark Lord.

Two dozen features and just as many shorts screened at the festival over the course of a single weekend in early June. It was overwhelming. Self-described as “a summer camp for genre fans,” The Overlook was centrally located, corralling almost all of its screenings to the new Prytania Theatres location at Canal Place. It was wonderful to attend this unbelievably cool genre extravaganza again, especially after two years of seeing their incredibly sharp programming talents get absorbed by the online-only Nighstream festival.

Listed below are all nine features I caught at The Overlook Film Festival that weekend, ranked in the order that I most appreciated them, each with a blurb and a link to a corresponding review. For a more detailed recap of our festival experience beyond these reviews, check out the next Lagniappe episode of The Swampflix Podcast, where I will be discussing the fest in full with local critic Bill Arceneaux.

Mad God

Phil Tippett’s stop-motion passion project is both a for-its-own-sake immersion in scatological mayhem & an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  It’s meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count me among the awed freaks who never wanted the nightmare to end.

Flux Gourmet

David Cronenberg isn’t the only auteur fetishist who’s returned to his early works to construct a new fantasy world overrun by grotesque performance art.  This feels like Peter Strickland revising Berberian Sound Studio to bring it up to speed with the more free-flowing absurdism he’s achieved since.  The result is not quite as silly as In Fabric nor as sensual as The Duke of Burgundy, but it hits a nice sweet spot in-between.

Deadstream

A found footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house.  This was a constantly surprising delight, getting huge laughs out of supernaturally torturing a YouTuber smartass with a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor.  It effectively does for Blair Witch what Host did for Unfriended, borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive horror gags.

Good Madam

I will be interested to compare this with Nanny once that makes its way to the general public, since both films revisit Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl through a supernatural horror lens.  Considered on its own, this is perfectly chilling & sharply political, pushing past an easy metaphor about a house being haunted by apartheid to dig into some surprisingly complicated, heartbreaking familial drama.

Piggy

Not enough people have seen The Reflecting Skin for the comparison to mean anything, so let’s call this Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Instagram era.  A bullied outsider’s coming-of-age horror story accelerated by a cathartic, torturous team-up with the neighborhood serial killer.  It’s made entirely of pre-existing genre building blocks, but it still feels freshly upsetting & perversely fun in the moment.

Swallowed

Low-budget queer body horror about a drug deal gone horrifically wrong, featuring sharp supporting performances from Jena Malone & Mark Patton.  Has some great squirmy little practical gore gags that keep the tension high throughout, but I was most thrilled just to see a harrowing queer story that wasn’t about coming out or gaybashing.  Even more thrilled to see a movie where fisting (almost) saves the day.

Hypochondriac

Queer psych-horror about a potter who’s being hunted down by his childhood trauma, represented by a Halloween costume wolf (halfway between the Donnie Darko bunny & The Babadook, except the monster wolfs ass).  More charming than scary, but judging by the “Based on a real breakdown” title card it’s coming from such a personal place that it’s easy to root for.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

What if Harmony Korine had to be less choosy with his projects and settled for making a straight-to-Shudder Gen-Z update of Carrie?  It’s certainly a step up from The Bad Batch, but I’m not convinced Ana Lily Amirpour has lived up to the potential of her debut yet.  Smart programming for the opening night of Overlook Film Fest either way, since it’s steeped in plenty of Nawlins Y’all flavor to acclimate the tourists.

Watcher

A little too lacking in scene-to-scene tension & overall novelty for the fourth Rear Window riff of the past year (bested by Kimi & The Voyeurs in those rankings, surpassing only The Woman in the Window).  Still, I appreciate the icy mood it echoes from post-Hitchcock Euro horrors of the 1970s, and the ending is almost enough of a shock to make up for the dead air. 

-Brandon Ledet