Asides

Imagination (2007)

I’ll admit it, I didn’t come to this film with high hopes. I had seen Netflix reviewers trash it again and again, but I hoped that it would at least be original. By the middle, when the talking fruits showed up, I was waiting for the one hour ten minutes to end.

By the credits, I was wondering how such a horrific train wreck ever came into existence. There’s a vague possibility that this could have been a good, albeit strange, film. What went wrong? As it turns out, almost everything.

The plot (if you can call it that) follows two prepubescent girls named Anna and Sarah through their joined imaginary realities. Their parents are struggling — Sarah is nearly blind, and Anna has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. As their psychiatrist attempts to understand their increasingly bizarre fantasies, we watch dream-like sequences done through stop-motion animation and special effects. When tragedy strikes, the girls retreat further into their imaginations, causing the psychiatrist to wonder what the visions mean.

That’s pretty much the sum of the story, avoiding spoilers. It actually was an interesting idea, visualizing two introverted girls’ secret world. The result, however, is horrendous. First of all the acting is pathetic — it’s hard to watch. As you watch the actors’ pitiable attempts to be “emotional,” you wonder how they could have possibly set themselves up for this kind of humiliation.

It feels like the director went out to a local park, watched people for a while, and chose a few, asking them to be in a movie. They agreed, despite their complete lack of dramatic skills. The two girl’s performances are understandable — they’re still young, after all. However, watching the adults, especially the psychiatrist, desperately trying to play their roles leaves you shaking your head in horror.

The other problem with Imagination is that Anna’s “Asperger’s Syndrome” and Sarah’s blindness are pointless, more or less just there to rationalize bizarre dream sequences. What may have helped this film is to explain why the girls “live in a world all their own.” Anna, we are told again and again, “can’t socialize,” but we rarely see her interact with anyone in the film.

It would have been interesting — more interesting, perhaps, than the weird trip scenes — to try to explain Sarah and Anna’s need to go into their own realities. Ben X did this efficiently. We understood why the main character, Ben, became obsessed with the virtual world and tuned out of real life. Imagination, however, is obviously a miserable attempt to play with hallucinogenic effects and claymation, without a glimmer of character development or logic to make sense of it.

There is one good quality, however. Even though the filmmakers got so many other things wrong, their skills at claymation are apparent. One scene, in particular, is darkly creative and weird, in a good way. In this case, the bizarre imagery actually attracted my attention. It makes you kind of wish they had kicked out the actors and let the clay figures take center stage.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this movie to practically anyone, unless they are especially fond of weird for weird’s sake. Do not watch this looking for a realistic or informative view of Asperger’s — you won’t find it here. If you want something unusual, watch The Fall — in fact, watch practically anything else. Just stay far away from this bizarre, pointless mess of a movie.

American Mary (2012)

Moral depravity, sexual deviation, and extreme body modification are  all on gut-churning display here in “American Mary,” a surprisingly polished indie horror film with a impressive performance by Katherine Isabelle.

As someone who found “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)” too strident, I can say I found that “American Mary” had a well-needed (and unnerving) realism that adds a kick to the violent scenes, of which there are many. Oh, boy, you have no idea.

Mary Mason (Isabelle) is a seemingly normal, attractive aspiring surgeon who is introduced to the world of Extreme Body Modifications. Want laces sewn through your back? ‘Need’ horns applied to  your head for a more demonic look? Mary is on the job.


But when Mary is attacked at a party, her surgical skills come to good use as she deals with the attacker in the harshest way possible. My first reaction is shock that this ‘body modification’ thing actually exists. My second reaction is actual pity for Mary’s victimizer. No THING, no matter how dastardly, deserves that.

The cinematography in “American Mary” is very prim and professional, and the make-up and gore effects challenge the assumption that ‘indie’ is synonymous with ‘amateur.’ I was nearly convinced that the face of the actress who played emotionally damaged plastic surgery freak Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) was the real deal but I soon discovered that Lindberg was a perfectly lovely blonde.

The mask-like face of modifier Beatriss (Tristan Risk) is equally frightening, though less believably so. The performances were altogether good, and I think Katherine Isabelle has what it takes to become a modern scream queen. Her transformation from everyday college student to morally bankrupt ‘underground’ surgeon to sadistic, levelheaded, confident killer is compelling and adept.

Directors and sisters Sylvia and Jen Soska (who also appear in the movie as the ‘Demon Twins from Berlin’ have created a frightening vision of the moral abyss of the surgical world, and the freaks and refuse that exist within it. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people who would put themselves through surgical Hell in order to deal with deep-seated issues that would be better confronted in the shrink’s office.

Ruby Realgirl’s bodily obsession was sickening, and you just wanted to tell her to TALK TO SOMEONE- that will help. The movie was really a tragedy in some ways, especially the end. The title “‘American’ Mary” makes you think after the movie is  over about the price of beauty, the price of wealth, and how we define being ‘happy’ or ‘wanted.’ It’s a bitter pill, but one well worth your time.