DeadroomReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 03/25/05 07:24:37
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: The notion of being able to talk to the dead is an intriguing one, as long as it’s those who can talk back and not the rotting flesh-eaters who tend to pay unexpected visits. Imagine the option of given time to anyone you want to speak to who has passed on. Would it be a historical figure or maybe one of the first to form your family tree? Perhaps it would comfort you to have that last bit of closure with a loved one (or even an enemy.) Four Texas filmmakers have come together to offer their four rooms of death and conversation and like life, it has its ups and its downs, but is consistently interesting and challenging.“Man & Woman” is directed by James M. Johnston and features Alana Macias as the deceased. Her memory has faded and a Man (Jeff Griffin) has come to help her find the pieces of her final hours. She has a clear vision of dying in a car wreck, but her interrogator (perhaps a cop) has other ideas.
“Tim & Percy” is Nick Prendergast’s tale and it’s the best of the lot. A young man (Bill Sebastian) identifying himself as a journalist interviews a recently passed-on author (Grant James) about the only book he’s ever published. He’s less interested in just another article about the reclusive writer, but unlocking the spooky parallels it has to his family’s historical timeline.
“Julie & Trevor” has perhaps the least meat to it. Yen Tan’s is a simplistic back-and-forth between a young woman (Lydia Miller) intent on confessing her crush on the gay co-worker (Paul T. Taylor) who perished in a fire.
“Kate & Layton” is on par with the second installment in terms of sheer philosophical intrigue. Layton (Harry Goaz, resembling Matt Frewer’s twin) reveals his continued love for his wife, Kate (Kelly Grandjean), during his afterlife only to be confronted with a harsh truth about moving on.
For two-thirds of Deadroom, the stories move in a 1-2-3-4-and repeat fashion before the urgency of truth in many of them begins to double-back just as you’ve found a comfort level. Each one is like a chapter play with cliffhangers we are anxious to get back to. Our predisposed anthological skills may distract us into looking for parallels between the characters and their fatalities, but let’s dispense of that illusion immediately so you can focus on each director’s tale on their own.
Of the four, "Tim & Percy" is clearly the one that could survive independently through a feature-length. The mystery deepens, even frightens, as we watch two characters uncomfortably fascinated with what the other is going to ask or answer next. The elements of divine intervention and pre-destination are essential to their queries. Percy, with his Almighty-esque appearance, speaks in free will trivialities and makes it harder for the inquisitive Tim to just walk out when the answers he’s looking for just aren’t there for him.
"Kate & Layton" is also smart in the way it weaves in the “what if’s?” of love living on after death. How long would you wait in eternity for your loved ones to join you. In circumspect, would the living be forced to make a choice in Heaven if moving on included a new love? "Julie & Trevor" is too relaxed to inspire the spirited debate of the elder couple and not passionate enough to make us feel the loss of someone taken too soon. Johnston’s “Man & Woman” is the most stylized of the four and builds a nice mood up to a gripping finale unfortunately busted by some rigid overacting.Anthology films are difficult to pull off; particularly ones that intercut with one another, since you always have your favorites and you’re eager to get back to them as soon as possible. Tarantino and Avery did wonders with the “three stories about one story” that was Pulp Fiction. The upcoming erotic trilogy of Eros from Kar-Wai Wong, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni is a bit more spotty. There’s a triumph inherent for Johnston, Prendergast, Tan and Lowery that they have managed to engage their subject and their audience more successfully then these age-old masters of the field.
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