Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Canvas, Rotoscoped Horror

This so-called “Painter” is like the Galactus of serial killers. The cosmic demon has already killed tens of thousands of people across the world, in order to paint murals with their blood and guts. How has the government responded? By trying to cover it up. That is supposed to be FBI Special Agent George Rohan’s job, but he is not handling it well in screenwriter-director Ryan Guiterman’s animated feature Canvas, which releases today on VOD.

The Painter’s reign of terror was a lot like the pandemic, but it is impossible to quarantine yourself away from the extraterrestrial killer. It just appears wherever and whenever it wants. To respond to growing outrage, the Painter Defense Agency (PDA, ironically) was formed. Eventually, they declared the problem solved, but Rohan knows the truth. On loan from the FBI, he does the PDA’s dirty business, framing scapegoats for Painter murders and scrubbing the evidence. The government believes this prevents catastrophic panic, but Rohan is keenly aware they are not doing anything to solve the problem.

To tell this dark tale, Guiterman employed rotoscoping animation techniques, where the cell animation was applied over video footage, as seen in projects like
A Scanner Darkly and Undone. In this case, it adds a disturbing element of realism to a terrifying fantastical premise. Perhaps less successful is the spot use of live action video for effect, often as a screen within a larger animated scene. Regardless, given the way government agencies and the WHO lied to us during the pandemic, Guiterman’s themes of crisis and cover-up have massive resonance.

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of Rohan (who has an interesting monologue to start the film), most of the characters are not especially involving. The drama involving Rohan’s daughter and her fiancé, Reila Martin, an investigative journalist is pretty by-the-numbers. Also, the idea that a journalist would challenge the government during a time of crisis is now harder to buy into, after we’ve seen the media and social networks carrying water for the state bureaucracy during the pandemic (remember when you weren’t supposed to wear face-masks?).

Still, there is something about the Painter that most definitely strikes an archetypal chord. There have been demonic serial killers before, but
Canvas takes it to a planetary scale. Guiterman also creates powerful images that aptly suit horrific nature of the supernatural predator. Recommended for its animation and ideas, Canvas releases today (8/9) on VOD.