APRIL 30, 2009
At some point during Disconnected, my friend Mike wondered how in the hell I could manage to write a review for such a thing. And I could certainly see his point - a traditional review would first give a brief synopsis of the plot, and then discuss the film’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as an overall assessment of whether or not the film delivered. But this is that rarest of films: one that a traditional review, or even the usual sort of ramble I deliver on these things, cannot possibly do it justice. It’s simply a film that has to be seen. No, EXPERIENCED; much like The Room, Raw Force, or Dangerous Men.
Unfortunately, like those movies, this one is wholly obscure (though at least Room and Raw Force can be seen on DVD, though a theatrical experience is far more appropriate), and I can’t imagine any one of HMAD regular readers have seen it. It’s been released on VHS, from what I can understand, but not available on Ebay, and the lone copy on Half.com runs 99.99 (we’re in a recession, people!). A DVD is scheduled for June 30th, surprisingly enough, but it’s packaged with two other films. Hopefully I am wrong, but I suspect that means it will be a shitty transfer with no extras or insight from the filmmaker.
And insight is certainly desired, because I honestly don’t have a clue what was going on throughout 80-90% of this movie. If you wanted to simplify things, you could say that the movie was about a girl named Alicia (Frances Raines) who is being tormented with strange phone calls, and the caller may very well be the same serial killer that has been terrorizing the town. But that would almost be doing a disservice to this wonderfully odd film, because it makes it sound so generic, which is the last thing you could accuse this movie of being. No, it’s all about HOW the story is told, or, more correctly, how the story ISN’T told.
It’s all in the little moments. The endless montages set to an admittedly catchy soundtrack, the “should have been cut, if shot at all” scenes like when Alicia sets her clock, our heroine demanding to know how her twin sister “got the number” for her apartment, the guy who ends every conversation with “See ya bye!” (he practically melds it into one syllable), the Hawaiian-shirt wearing cop with an affinity for grinders (the film’s best line: his partner’s sad observation that “those four girls will never enjoy another grinder again”) and who occasionally speaks directly at the camera to... someone (us?), or the old man who bookends the film, resulting in a finale that was so baffling and incomplete, I had no choice but to stand up and applaud.
Speaking of the old man, he is sort of the poster child for the film’s habit of piling on go nowhere subplots and red herrings. The guy shows up in the beginning of the movie, asking to use Alicia’s phone. She then goes into the kitchen for a drink, and when she comes back, he is gone. Then, through the entire movie he is never mentioned again, but she DOES keep receiving unexplained phone calls, in which all she hears is some strange electronic sound. Then at the end of the movie, he suddenly re-emerges, walking out of the house and folding his hands as if to say “I’m done here.” Was he the killer? Was he a ghost? The phone’s human incarnate? Did he kill her? Damned if I know.
Even better is the fact that the movie actually ends twice. Right around the 60 minute mark, the killer has been caught, the twin sister is dead, and Alicia is in mourning. Everything is more or less wrapped up, albeit abruptly (the final showdown between the cops, the killer, and Alicia is off-screen entirely). But then, the movie just keeps going. More phone calls, more sitting around drinking, and more phone calls on top of that. This “epilogue” even contains a still frame sequence of phone calls/drinking, as well as a flashback montage with good and bad memories mixed together haphazardly, as well as a brief shot that suggests the showdown with the killer was actually filmed. The idea of the cop being a 2nd killer is introduced, but never followed through on, and then the old man appears to finish ending #2. Amazing.
Also, Alicia works in a video store. I had a lot of fun trying to spot titles in the store, most of which seemed to be horror. Mother’s Day, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween I-III, The Shining, Jaws... it’s a pretty good selection, if you ask me. They’re all out of order, but that’s fine, they all face front. If I ever get this movie on DVD (and I will, believe you me), I will certainly freeze frame these scenes and try to match every single title.
According to the evening’s host (the movie showed at the Echo Park Film Center), the film was actually the student film of director Gorman Bechard. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the “epilogue” was filmed later in an attempt to pad the running time out to feature length, but otherwise it’s actually much more professional than most student films I’ve seen, especially one this long. The boom mic never appears, continuity is reasonable, and the acting is largely sufficient. Also, there’s a surprising amount of nudity - I’m pretty sure nothing in my film school ever had that going for it. And while it’s eventually overused and even laughable, the phone calls do have a certain eerie quality to them at first, and the film’s lone full blown murder scene is brutally violent and bloody. Of course, even that’s a bit odd (the guy windexes a framed photo above the bed afterwards). Ignoring the haphazard storytelling, the film’s only technical weakness is abysmally lax editing, but I chalk that up more to “let’s stretch this into a feature!” than an actual creative choice. I can’t imagine Bechard sitting there and saying “OK, she’s gonna walk out of her house and down the stairs, but let’s look at the house for a full 45 seconds before she does so.” There’s also a shot with the sun blinding the camera lens, but I found that sort of charming, and it’s just another scene of the girl answering her phone and then screaming, so it’s not like anything is lost.
I really want this movie to gain a cult audience; much like The Room has in Los Angeles (and spreading). It’s of equal entertainment value, and demands a crowd of baffled moviegoers embracing it as one. My friend plans to get a print and show it in his backyard (source of previous HMAD entries such as Cujo and Jaws); I plan to get everyone I ever met back there to see it for themselves. For the rest of you - consider June 30th your new Christmas.
What say you?