Adam Egypt Mortimer’s new feature thriller hit film festivals this year, perfect for a genre festival like Toronto After Dark. It has distribution both in the US and the Middle East but only appeared in Canada through Colin Geddes’ Kinovortex. The film has the privilege of being the only new release in the retrospective, a placing that makes actual sense. To its credit, it evokes Mandy‘s psychedelic goth aesthetic, as well as doing interesting things with its cyclical narrative. It eventually gets to its story, another entry into the sub genre of meek protagonists and their imaginary best friends. This time around, the protagonist is Luke (Miles Robbins) and his friend is Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who seems kinda real.
My first real paycheck as a critic involved my silence on Patrick Schwarzenegger’s acting ability in a candy pop role. I still questioned his line readings, as he mostly uses a robotic kind of line delivery during the first half. Also, to paraphrase Pauline Kael, a lot of his work takes place from the neck up, which is enough work. And his choices make sense in a character that’s about to go ‘crazy’ enough for him and his best friend. Robbins is more consistent although less showy, a hindrance in a genre film, but he physically evokes his meek character. Sasha Lane plays Luke’s artist girlfriend from Brooklyn, and she does things with words that breathe life into her character.
So Daniel reintroduces himself into Luke’s life because of some bad advice from his psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelius Braun (Chukwidi Iwuji). This is one of the instances where Luke takes help from other characters, which is something he eventually stops doing. The actors’ abilities during the second half doesn’t save the fact that it mistakes not taking advice as active agency. Luke decides not to get help from his mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson), who has her illnesses to grapple with. Characters here make limiting decisions the way real people do, but I’d rather see a film that explores its options. It doesn’t help that one of those options also involve Cornelius turning from a Freudian psychiatrist to a ‘magical negro’.
And another thing about some genre films like this is that it mishandles depictions of mental illness, literally or symbolically. It could have done things like, for example, give enough time to show how Claire’s mental illness regresses and redevelops. And there are a lot of problems about Daniel being a symbol of Luke’s mental illness and the inaccuracies therein. Sure, there are some moments when Daniel is a good influence on Luke, which makes this interpretation slightly more contemporary. But the film still feels Daniel like something to lock away or defeat, which feels like a step back, representation-wise. Genre films already have a bad reputation, and examples like this give them a worse reputation than they already have.
Ok, so I didn’t end up liking that one, but Kinovortex might have better things to offer later this year. Next month, they have Diabolik, featuring a character who can only have a good night’s sleep if sleeping with money. Which, same. And on December, they have The Stunt Man, which is like My Favorite Year, but much, much crazier. For more information on both films, go to https://www.tiff.net/calendar?series=kinovortex&list.