Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Film Review: I Am A Ghost [2012]

     I discovered that this film existed while clicking around Facebook.
     You know how it goes.
     You’re refreshing your News Feed every five minutes, hoping something awesome happens in the interim.   You comment on the status of a long-distance friend you rarely see in person and then five minutes later when you forgot all about the little bon mot you dropped into the comment thread of their status someone else comments on either your friend’s status or your comment and you get a notification.   Sometimes the person commenting has something interesting to say, or has an interesting profile picture, or is of whatever gender you’re interested in so you click over and check out their profile.   It’s considered creepy to send a friend invite to someone that is a friend of a friend unless you’ve met in person,  especially if that person is of the gender class to which you’ve expressed a preference.   But checking out the things they like isn’t as creepy.
     Okay.   It’s creepy.
     Kind of like breaking into their apartment while they’re asleep and browsing through their DVD rack, clicking through their Netflix account, or thumbing through the playlist on their preferred music listening device.
     Okay.   Maybe not that creepy.
     But in these modern days of public digital existence where as soon as you connect a computer to the internet you’re on public display this is how I discover new media.   Not exclusively.   People talk and if you like some of the same things then maybe you’ll like some of the things that they like so you can make a note on your cell phone to check out whatever they recommend when you’re done catching up on all of the stuff that you’ve already downloaded to check out which is never.
     Sometimes something gets moved to the front of the queue.
     In this case it was the graphic design that caught my eye.
     Check out the Facebook page for the film.
     Go ahead.   I’ll wait.

     Looks pretty cool doesn’t it?
     Whatever it is, a band, a film, a play, whatever, I want to check it out.
     The cover picture is a bunch of laurel leaves with text between them so it’s a film.
     Check out the trailer.

     Now you want to see this film.
     At least I did.
     My point is that I want to take a second to congratulate the graphic designer.

     Congratulations also to whoever cut together the trailer.

     I tried to find the film for download using a few of the torrent sites I frequent but thankfully the film has done a decent job of keeping itself from being pirated.
     I’m going to continue to help them in their effort to keep their film from being pirated, so don’t ask me for a copy.   Yes, I have an M4V copy, and, no, you can’t have a copy of my copy.   Is this sort of hypocritical?   Yes.   But if you want to see the film before it’s released I guess you’ll have to try to catch it at a film festival while it’s doing the circuit or wait for it to get a legitimate release.
     Or you could do what I did and contact the film through the Facebook page and ask for a copy to watch because you program films and do reviews.

     The film itself is a sort of period piece by way of paranormal surreality.

     I remember when I was a teenager I had a friend.   A couple friends actually.   A few.
     One of those few friends had a camcorder and lived in an old house.
     The old house was on a normal city street, but it was three or four floors not counting the basement and since it was old, it was by association, creepy.   The house had all sorts of curious cupboards and cabinets and narrow, dimly lit staircases.   Yellowed stained glass windows with minor flaws in the glass and ornamental wooden newel posts at each end of every banister, the ornamental finial cap tacky to the touch with old finish made adhesive from the high humidity.
     Having a camcorder and a creepy old house, it made perfect sense for us to want to make a horror movie.   Being teenagers and having no experience at making films we figured we could use two VCRs to sort of edit the film together from whatever footage we filmed and maybe make a movie.   It wasn’t a bad idea.   Okay, it was a bad idea.   Mostly because the only idea we could come up with was some vague idea about vampires.   No real story or plot just vampires.   A vampire.   My friend Judie was going to be the vampire.   Brian would film.   I guess I’d be involved somehow.   Probably the romantic lead or the victim of the vampire or whatever.   Thankfully we never got around to wasting our time and effort.   It would have been a waste of time, effort, electricity, videotape, and a perfectly good location.   We’d probably waste a fair amount of caro syrup blood and a gothic styled gown too if we could have found one at the Salvation Army.   We were teenagers.   Give us a break.

     I Am A Ghost is not a waste of a cool location, a gothic styled dress and a couple gallons of stage blood.   The location is practically a character in the film.   If it was a pre-existing location they owe much to their location scout, or they’re blessed by friends or acquaintances that had a cool location available.   If the location was built as a set on a studio, then it’s a masterwork.   The set design is flawless.   Maybe there are flaws but on first viewing I didn’t notice any.   Maybe an expert on period décor would be able to identify the furniture, lighting fixture and decorative pieces and proudly exclaim “Ha!   There’s NO WAY that that dresser would ever exist in the same time period as that lamp!   What a bunch of amateurs!   Are you seeing what I’m seeing?   How am I supposed to get into this movie about a ghost when they can’t even get the time period of the furniture to jive?”.   I hate those people.    And since I am not an expert on period furniture, lighting fixtures, and décor, I thought it was flawless.   Plus the film elegantly side-steps the question of an exact time period in the dialogue which I thought was a nice if not a bit clumsy side-step, but done relatively well.

     The film, as the trailer suggests primarily addresses a ghost having a conversation with a medium who is trying to coax the residual spirit into the afterlife.
     You only see two actors on screen for the duration of the film which could have been awful.
     It could have been “My Residual Haunting With Andre”.
     Not that My Dinner with Andre (1981) was a terrible film.
     But there’s only room in the world for so many films with single-digit casts.
     There’s a lot of room in the world for them, actually, but it’s a risky decision.
     Especially if one of the three characters exists exclusively as a special effect tweaked voice-over.
     The first half of the film is an exemplary study on Brechtian/Artudian/Ionescoian absurdity.
     The titular ghost, (represented corporeally by Anna Ishida ) goes about her daily life.   Waking up.   Making breakfast for herself.   Eating the breakfast she made for herself.   Plunging a butter-knife into her hand.
     Something’s not right here.
     Indeed.   There’s something definitely not right here.
     The film uses repetition and a gradual increasing of the frequency of the repetition of the events of the daily life of the ghost to successfully suggest the consciousness of a residual haunting.   The film also uses several different angles and takes of the same event to intercut the events until they reach a montage-styled cycle, gradually increasing tension in an enviably methodical manner.
     Then, when you may begin to get bored by the repetition, the ghost is contacted by the medium and things get interesting.
     Not terribly interesting.
     Nothing blows up and there isn’t an action scene.
     It’s not that kind of film.
     There is some action in the final third.
     I guess you could call it a chase scene in that there is chasing that occurs.
     But that's not now.
     Now i
t just becomes a different kind of interesting.
     I hope you don’t get bored with my use of the word exemplary, so in this case, let’s use the word “casebook” although it is pretty exemplary.   Fuck it.   Let’s just use exemplary.
     The film uses an exemplary rise in action through changing the narrative direction of the film through the introduction of the medium to start the second “act” of the film.
     I love it when a film manages to do something new and interesting with traditional narrative form in film, since I’m a bit of a classicist when it comes to film.   I like my films to have a beginning, and ending, and three acts in between.   That’s just the kind of guy I am.

     There’s another change of direction in the film and I’m resistant to divulge the development since it’s about as close to subjecting the audience to a contrived “twist” as the film gets to its credit.

     One minor problem with the film is the “monster”.
     The “monster” pretty much looks like if you gave Joel David Moore the Star Trek Orion Slave Girl treatment.   Like if a hipster decided to spoof the Blue Man Group as Light Blue Man.   Or maybe if Doctor Manhattan toned down the saturation of his blue and threw on a bad toupee.
     I’m not trying to make fun of the film or the actor, but it’s pretty off-putting as a creative decision.  
     And I want to warn you that there’s swinging dick.   I’m not obsessed with or offended by penises.   I have one.   I’ve had a while to get used to it.   But it’s a bit disconcerting when the embodiment of evil in your film is chasing your heroine down a hallway and his dick is flopping around like a sky-blue rabbit’s foot on a short keychain.   The eye of the American audience is automatically drawn to exposed bathing suit areas.   At least mine is.   Show me a naked person and I’m going to probably look at their sexual machinery.   I’m not a pervert, at least no more than most, but if you film a naked guy pointing a gun at the camera, I’m probably going to have to look at his dick.   I don’t necessarily want to see penis in a horror film unless it’s organic to the story.   I’m all for equal time and gender equality in film.   If a girl can run around in a tight shirt with her breasts wobbling, then I don’t see a problem with a guy running for his life in a pair of tight-fitting boxers, maybe soak them down with blood so you can see the profile of his trouser dragon, you know, for the ladies, and I appreciatively nod at the decision to present the monster in the raw, but American audiences, accustomed to the puritanical soccer-moms of the MPAA getting their knickers in a twist whenever there’s male full-frontal in a film and insisting that the scene be censoriously circumcised, will either be able to get past it or not.

     Another problem is that the film wasn’t really scary.
     I know it’s tough to make a “horror” film these days.
     Anything aside from a madman causing grievous bodily harm to a random group of young people makes it difficult to market as a horror film.
     There are also contemporary “ghost” films like the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious (2010) and Sinister (2012), but those films also have a formula which makes them formulaic.
     I’d almost hesitate to call I Am A Ghost a horror film except that it calls itself a horror film on its Facebook page.   I AM A GHOST, the new horror film from director H.P. Mendoza starring Anna Ishida and Jeannie Barroga.”
     There was one moment when I was startled, but a screaming naked blue hipster charging at the camera wielding a butcher knife accentuated by a loud nondiegetic piano sting has that effect on me.

     I Am A Ghost is a different kind of paranormal horror film.
     It’s more of a cerebral horror film.
     I’d hate to say it was an art-house approach to a ghost story because of the pejorative taint of many in response to the term “cerebral” and “art-house”.   And unfortunately the pejorative response is appropriate for many “art” films.   Many of them are boring and fail in the primary purpose of a film to entertain, distract, amuse, or inform.   Thankfully, although I Am A Ghost is not frightening, it is interesting.   I watched it all the way through with undivided interest, although I prefer films to have an ending and although I Am A Ghost does end, to say it has an ending would be misleading.   I know that the director may have intended the ending to be somewhat ambiguous and I don’t always have a problem with ambiguous endings, but it seems that this has been the ending of choice for a few off-genre horror films as of late.    Comparable films would be Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012) as examples of cerebral “horror” films that were a pleasure to experience, but not frightening at all aside from a mild sense of cognitive dissonance and a building tension that fails to satisfactorily resolve at the end through the conventionl process of denouement.

     Should you take the effort and time to experience I Am A Ghost?
     If you like interesting paranormal period pieces with a twist you’ll probably enjoy it.
     Think perhaps, The Others (2001) without all of the major studio polish and gratuitous attempts to scare the audience with creepy set pieces.
     If you’re looking for something a little more scary in the paranormal horror genre you might want to watch The Sentinel (1977) and The Changeling (1980).   They may be dated, but that doesn't adversely diminish their impact that much.
     If you prefer dark startle-fests like Paranormal Activity and their ilk, then this film will probably be too smart or at least require too much thinking for you.   You’ll probably be bored, but thankfully they keep on cranking out sequels and spin-offs from the Paranormal Activity films so you won’t have long to wait till the next over-hyped one weekend top ten paranormal horror film and maybe that’s what you deserve if you keep paying to see them.

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