Monday, July 18, 2016

For the Plasma: Speculative Micro-Budget Mumble-Nothing

Remember when the Wall Street Journal’s dart board regularly outperformed the professional stock-pickers? At least that is how we like to remember it. If theoretical blind monkeys hurling darts can pick winners, why not the trees of Maine? How would they do that? A researcher pretends to explain it all in Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan’s For the Plasma (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Helen has invited her old friend Charlie to help her manage an evolving research project. Initially, Helen’s job was to watch for forest fires through the closed circuit monitors conveniently located in her turn-of-the-century country home. So much for the old ranger’s observation tower. Over time, the monotony of staring at the same images repeatedly started to warp her perspective. However, she discovered if she switched her mental focus to the global financial markets while taking in visions of Maine’s verdant forests, she could detect statistically significant trends. Does that make any sense?  Hell no it doesn’t, but Bryant & Molzan stick with it anyway.

For reasons that are murky at best, Helen dispatches Charlie (evidently Bryant & Molzan don’t think women don’t need last names in Maine) to do on-site inspections of the trees that catch her attention. As a bit of kookiness, there are helpful frames hanging in the woods to define Helen’s field of vision for Charlie and the audience. They could be intriguing visuals, but Bryant & Molzan never really do anything with them.

That is true of just about everything remotely interesting in Plasma. Bryant & Molzan just assume they have an intriguing premise that will keep people hooked and then proceed to play keep-away with it. A Walk in the Woods had more narrative drive and truth-in-titling than this mumblecorish exercise in cinematic hipsterdom. Of course, they also suggest Helen and Charlie’s relationship was always problematic, allowing it to quickly fray. Why is it movies have such a problem portraying healthy friendships between grown women?

In any event, Rosalie Lowe and Anabelle LeMieux are suitably somnambulistic as Helen and Charlie, respectively. Tom Lloyd is either brilliant or ghastly embarrassing as Herbert the nutty lighthouse keeper, but you’re on your own deciding which. Either way, we can appreciate how he livens things up a bit.

Intimidated critics will heap laurels on Plasma and belittle detractors for “misunderstanding” the film, but there is no there there. There is no internal system of logic to carry us away and absolutely no attempt to raise higher philosophical issues. Telling, the best scene gives a partial cliff notes’ cribbing of Kobo Abe’s The Ark Sakura, but that only reminds us of the exponential superiority of a film like Teshigahara’s The Face of Another. At the end of the day, the film just has a lot of walking in the woods to show for itself. Not recommended, For the Plasma opens this Friday (7/22) in New York, at Anthology Film Archives.