30 January 2011

Make-out with Violence

I don't really know what's the best way to judge this film. On the one hand, if I look at it as the first feature film by a collective of artist friends who've never done this before -- if, that is to say, I view this as a bunch of aspiring students putting together their first major endeavor -- I can admire the very fact of its existence, overlook its many shortcomings, and respect the fact that a cohesive whole with some decent ideas even exists somewhere in there. I can admire the boldness of the idea and the willingness to leave so much out of the story (like how Wendy died, why and/or how she came back, who tied her to a tree and why), both in order to focus on the details that matter and also to leave a surreal mystery at the fringes of the story (the thing is lousy with Twin Peaks homages). If I consider this the way I'd consider a locally made film by friends or peers of mine, I can get a little excited that it comes as close to working as it does.

On the other hand, this film has an awfully big crew, and touts an awfully showy soundtrack (though no big names jump out at me), and has won an awful lot of accolades & audience-choice awards at festivals, and all of that encourages me to treat this film like a grown-up movie, not an aspiring kid making good. But if I view this with the critical eye I use on other films, it's hard to be nearly so kind. The acting is bad -- but bad acting is one thing. Here, the acting just doesn't make sense, which means the directing is what's bad. Tiny moments feel forced and come off with the weirdest energy, casual gestures feel as artificial as if they'd programmed very stoic robots to perform them. Motivations barely exist, and many actions in the story seem taken so the characters can quietly make visual puns or poetic imagery for an unseeing audience (i.e., the camera). Key dramatic (especially tragic) moments and emotional beats are skipped over, and would-be contemplative moments are lingered on lovingly -- which frankly means that the writing is also bad, here. If I were to believe in these people as they are presented in the film, I would assume this community is six people large, all of them are heavily sedated, and suffer from Asperger's sydrome.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a hatefest for Make-out With Violence -- nothing of the sort. It's just that, all good-intentions and young-punk energy aside, this film stands as everything I'd be terrified my first feature film might be. It's like a parade of wrong choices: from casting to performance to direction to script to photography to camera and lighting choice to tone to jokes to pacing to theme to perspective. Nothing is an unmitigated disaster, but not a single one of those things ever hits spot-on like it wants to (or should, at least). Every single choice looks wrong, in the end, and most of it smacks of a) limitations due to budget concerns, b) a lack of bravery or tenacity with the story/emotional world, and possibly c) the result of direction by committee -- as "the Deagol Brothers" is a self-professed collective and no one member has stepped up to claim the title of writer or director.

So, yeah. I guess Make-out With Violence doesn't work for me, pretty much at all. And it was frustrating to watch (and emotionally unsettling, as I can imagine myself falling into a lot of these traps). But it wasn't miserable, and I don't regret the time I or the filmmakers spent on it. In other words, it's amateur and messy, but it's not the The Green Hornet.

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