25 July 2013 | bob the moo
Works at an aesthetic level but nowhere else – lots of good moments, but they never connect to one another
I've seen and enjoyed the last few films from Wheatley – not to the point that I love him but certainly to the point that I know he will bring me something interesting as a total package. He seems to do "brooding tone" very well while also engaging with plots, dark humor and generally well shot films. This one starts on the same way, moving characters into place and setting up some weird supernatural scenario which appears to be building and building. I was engaged by this but once we reach a certain point, it appears that this changes and it becomes almost nothing about a narrative flow and entirely about the visual and stylistic chaos of the final third.
Plot wise the film delivers nothing in this part. Characters who were dead show up, violent deaths occur, massive visions and tripping out. Those that defend the film say that you just need to go with this and that perhaps those that don't just don't like this sort of experience; I would point to 2001, it delivers content like this but does so in a way that makes sense and fits with the plot. In this case it is hard not to see it as being done for the sake of it and this is partly because the film is generally very aesthetically pleasing. The staged shots look great, the weird ideas are presented in a way that works (the two main "on a rope" scenes), the music produces a great sense of dread and generally it is a very well shot film. So when it offers nothing in the narrative sense, it is hard not to think that perhaps it has been focusing on the style all along and that any sense of a plot was merely just to get it where it needed to be so it could unleash stylistically.
Don't get me wrong, I liked it from this point of view but even having some structure or some basic narrative flow would have made it a good film, not just one that feels like the director was playing with how it looks and sounds. The cast deliver what is asked of them very well and their involvement is total, there are no bad performances here and I really liked the "small cast, small space" idea. Problem is that none of them have characters, just moments. They are great in this scene and in the next, but nothing bridges them. Indeed this is true of the whole film. Read the positive reviews here – they talk about how awesome a certain scene was or how great a certain visual trick was, but they really are not so clear about what was good about the film as a whole. Truth is I agree – there are lots of good individual moments, because the snippets are all cool to look at and very well delivered, but this isn't a music video, a fashion shoot or a 20 second commercial, it is a feature film that proposes to have a plot – but only proposes it.
For what it does well the film should be commended, but to ride on aesthetics alone for 90 minutes is a big ask and it is beyond this film. The ideas and structures probably cover it for fir the first half, but after this it really goes all out for the looks and style and, once you've had this and only this for 10 minutes then it starts getting boring without substance – and unfortunately once you hit that wall, there is probably still 20-30 minutes left to go, meaning it gets tiresome and a bit annoying. Worth a look for what it does well, but even on this level it has its limits – if this film is what he wanted to do then it would have worked much, much better as a 45 minute short.