Tuesday, January 30, 2018

It Takes from Within: The Horror of Experimental Film

If your life turned into a horror movie, it would probably be fun for a while to find yourself amid a group of super-fit teenagers getting hammered and frisky. On the other hand, it would be horrifying to wake up in an experimental film. Suddenly, the world would be a grainy black-and-white place, where dour looking Seventh Seal-style figures in black would ominously hard-stare at you across forlorn vistas. In some ways, we will take an excursion into that nether-zone where the two genres intersect, but filmmaker Lee Eubanks always favors the obscurely symbolic avant-garde tradition in It Takes from Within (trailer here), which releases today on DVD, from First Run Features.

We meet a man and a woman bickering in a hideaway motel on the day of a funeral of someone well known to him. Perhaps they are also the older couple seen in the prologue, but it is hard to say, since nobody has names in this shadowy world. Regardless, the man and woman played by Kristin Duarte and James Feagin are clearly a long way down the Lynchian Lost Highway.

Eubanks regularly plays with the motif of couples in various states of discord or distress. Their relationship to each other and their partners is always kept ambiguous. Frankly, there are any number of sinister encounters and evil imagery that would be perfectly compatible with an old school horror movie, but Eubanks refuses to invest them with the context and meaning to make them scary. By comparison, Nikolas List’s Tombville shares a somewhat similar experimental aesthetic (minimalist sets, existential characters and settings), but because it is at least 25% more grounded in narrative, it is exponentially more frightening—and more effective—and more memorable.

Yet, ITFW exists on a plane unto itself, which for all practical purposes makes it immune to any criticism that might be leveled at it. Eubanks is obviously deeply steeped in critical theory and postmodernism. He also composes some striking tableaux, which look starkly beautiful though the lens of cinematographer Jason Crow, but that is about all we have to work with.

If you want a film that invites you to impose all the meaning unilaterally than this is your catnip. On the other hand, if you prefer a film at least meets you half way than you’re just hopelessly bourgeoise. It is what it is and you already know if its your thing, so if it is, have at it, when It Takes from Within releases today (1/30) on DVD.