Go Down Death (2013)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/26/13 09:44:06

"This is definitely a weird one."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to get your facts straight. I saw "Go Down Death" late in the evening toward the end of Fantasia, and was wiped enough to have spaced out at points during even a fun, off-beat-to-the-point-of-strange movie. Fortunately, I had a chance to watch it again to fill in the gaps and make notes of some names. The take-away from that: This is maybe not a movie to watch when alert and clear-headed.

Nothing wrong with that; the strange, unusual, and downright random can be a lot of fun, and Go Down Death has a full complement of characters and situations that are quite peculiar even for their seemingly post-apocalyptic setting. Writer/director Aaron Schimberg conceives a world with enough details to hold it together and enough large gaps to keep it from seeming wholly logical. The black-and-white photography adds a further dream-like layer to the whole thing.

It may not, however, be the sort of dream that reveals something telling or interesting when analyzed. Schimberg shifts focus from one set of characters to another with minimal feeling of overlap, but a homogeneously dreary atmosphere, which leads to a feeling that little is moving forward, story-wise. Other elements are just utterly random, from the completely disconnected sequence toward the end back to the claim at the beginning that the film is based upon the works of Jonathan Mallory Sinus (who may have created this world or reside within it) - which runs six pages, including annotations.

Some of "Sinus's" stories are oddly compelling, as are the characters who populate them. Butler, for example, may be an unusual choice for the central everyman - he's a kid who does every odd job in the town - but Rayvin Disla makes Butler earnest and ordinary enough to ground the movie while also fitting into its strange world, and plays well off Bryant Pappas as the sinister-sounding doctor who takes an interest in him. Brandon deSpain & Avi Glickstein are an amusing pair of soldiers off in the woods somewhere, while a bar features Sammy Mena giving surprising heft to a put-upon poker player and Simone Xi as Milda the singer. Her songs are so designedly bland and badly-sung as to easily get audiences to drop their jaws at just how weird this movie is.

None of these names are likely familiar; this is very much a do-it-yourself sort of movie. It's sort of a throwback in terms of its type of DIY aesthetic, shot on black-and-white 16mm film. The sets are nice even when they're obviously sets, with the whole production design doing an excellent job of evoking this world of people scraping by, with the oft-referenced City either a thing of the past or so deeply turned to decadence that it's best ignored and avoided.

Well, the latter is one way to interpret the end, even if Schimberg did say in the Q&A that it was mainly meant to make one's memories of the rest of the movie fuzzy. If that's its purpose, then it may best to make sure one can experience "Go Down Death" as a half-remembered dream, rather than look at it too closely.

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