28 June 2010 | Chris_Docker
Teenflick formula does difficult subject - rather well
Pelican Blood is a small budget indie film that most certainly will not be to everyone's taste. It will require an exceedingly open mind to get involved with (rather than repelled by) the story, which concerns two teenagers that met on a suicide website – probably something like 'slashmywrists.com.' Its sexually charged, unpredictable plot, and unravelling, testosterone-fuelled emotion, will give you a drug induced high as it rips your heart to shreds and offers you a few pieces for keepsakes.
This film is fast and funky and deadly serious, and massively flawed, yet just about succeeds in its difficult central premise. There is none of the arty at-a-distance feel of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. There's no chance of treating it as an aesthetic exercise, intangible and distanced from any sense of close reality. Pelican Blood's protagonists are full-blooded, off-centre youngsters that are in a compulsive love affair, both with each other and the idea of their own eventual extinction. If you have ever been caught in a relationship that you know is 'wrong' for you both but equally inescapable, you will have an idea of the obsessive love tantalisingly portrayed. If you were in their place, you can imagine feeling the same. A punchy soundtrack and attractive, highly competent young actors help to make Pelican Blood unsettling yet compulsive viewing.
Nikko survived a recent suicide attempt and narrowly avoided being sectioned. "I once went out with a girl and we were both going to kill ourselves. Turns out one of us wasn't serious," he declares at the beginning of the movie. He used to self-harm, but gave it up by promising himself suicide - which 'sounds better, more real.' He doesn't take medication as it 'turns him into a zombie.' He can't bear the thought of going back in the loony bin – barely repressed tears convince us of his sincerity. Nikko's not 'nuts' – he just doesn't want to live. Nothing against life - just that, "If life doesn't work out for you then going through the motions is the biggest tragedy." He is a geek. His only outlet is birdwatching. Something he also does very seriously. Each sighting noted down with meticulous detail. When he gets to 500, he's promised himself the big treat. And he's at 498.
Stevie is a girl that any red-blooded man could fall in love with at 500 paces. It is only later that we discover that she is bi-polar and also suicidally fixated. (Which maybe helps explain why she's attracted to a no-hoper like Nikko.) Stevie's an extreme animal rights activist. Throwing protest paint-bombs from high buildings and with no safety rail gets her high. Nikko's pals call her 'the bipolar whack-job.' (She calls his ornithology mates something even less repeatable.) His idea of a date is (quite unsurprisingly) going to a bird sanctuary. She almost has to beg him for a kiss (but he does eventually put his hand down her pants as she holds the binoculars). Stevie really couldn't care less about spotting birds - but she will happily go ballistic to thrash someone they catch stealing eggs. When Nikko and Stevie have sex, they enjoy 'suicide games' for afters. Sharp blades or helium. They're in love and the chemistry is electric.
Pelican Blood is a fast and queasy affair bolstered by a good soundtrack and predictable (if none the less effective) montage and other standard teenflick formulae. Their love affair escalates from deep romance dance-y music to sombre black rock; and descending half tones to ratchet up the sentimental bonding while macho talk from Nikko's mates keeps the cheesiness at bay. This is a constantly unsteady balancing act and veers dangerously into becoming clichéd. I also found I couldn't quite hit ecstatic heights at seeing honey buzzard (number 499), even when its devotee is leaping through fields in slo-mo and a poetic voice-over extols the wonders of this rare flying biped. Needless to say, accidents will happen and things do not go smoothly for ill-fated lovers. It's not exactly Virginia Woolf and The Hours, but is the pain of illness any the less real if he's a buckle short of a straightjacket? The ending has a beautiful bitter-sweet twist and rescues the film from the seemingly inescapable nose-dive into a black hole. Too weird to be called a romcom, it will need some clever marketing to find packed cinemas.
If you think this film isn't going to work out for you, it probably won't and you should avoid it. But if you can handle sailing into unknown waters with a stellar young cast and a fearless director, go for it. And don't worry about the title – you can look that up afterwards.
ps an excellent soundtrack by the way. I hope they release it.