FTP: Motivational Growth (2013)

MAY 16, 2023


One thing that frustrates me about the indie horror scene is how often I see things that really aren’t that much different from the big studio offerings, at least in terms of the stories they are telling. Sure, the films from the Screen Gems and Paramounts of the world will boast bigger stars and production value, but it’s nice when there’s a distinction re: what they’re about. Which is to say I can’t imagine a movie like Motivational Growth coming out on 3,000 screens with trailers for the newest Marvel sequel attached, and that’s exactly what I want from my indie horror. Not all the time, of course – there’s always some room for the generic slashers and possession tales at any price point! But it’d be nice if things like this movie were the norm, not the exception, when it came to very low budget genre offerings.

Because this is a movie about a guy named Ian who never leaves his apartment and has a talking mold growth in his bathroom that encourages him to get his life together, a plot that kicks off when his only friend, Kent, dies. And Kent is a vintage television set.

So, yeah. Weird movie, right? And admittedly, it’s not exactly one I’ll be pulling off the shelf all that often – it can be a bit repetitive, for example. Writer/director/editor Don Thacker comes from a short film background (and has made several more since) and that sort of shows; you can almost hear him wondering how to get things padded out to 90 minutes at times, especially given the fact that the film never leaves the confines of the apartment (save for some hallucinated scenes in which Ian sees himself as a character on some old (fictional) TV shows). So it’s a lot of “someone shows up and talks to Ian, who makes them leave before talking to The Mold for a bit before someone else interrupts” kind of circular plotting, and the film is even broken up into ten chapters, which we learn on the commentary was implemented in case he couldn’t get funding for a feature and had to break it up into ten shorts. There’s a plot, and it’s building toward something, so it’s not like you can just remove this or that chunk, but it still occasionally suffers from the weight of that episodic structure.

But it’s a movie about a talking mold! And said mold is voiced by Jeffrey Combs (somewhat misleadingly given name above the title prominence on the cover; he never actually appears in the film), who gives a terrific performance, injecting it with enough personality that you grow to like him/it while also retaining more than just a hint of malevolence. A phoned in vocal turn or one that was simply too far in either direction could have been disastrous for the movie, but Combs absolutely nails it. And it doesn’t hurt that The Mold is a practical effect, brought to life through puppetry and forced perspective type filmmaking as opposed to a CGI effect, which also could have made the movie less than bearable. It’s a perfect marriage of effect and performance, the likes of which we rarely see outside of, I dunno, The Muppets or something. Also, speaking of effects, it's a pretty goopy film at times; it's not EXACTLY body horror, but it skirts on the lines and wouldn't be totally out of place on a shelf with such fare. There's a decaying corpse that legit left me kind of icked out, which doesn't happen all that often.

And going back to the indie stuff, even if you were somehow left with the impression that this was a cynical cash grab, or the result of a few tech bros looking to double their crypto fortune by throwing together that looked good on a spreadsheet, the bonus features more or less all revolve around the fact that this was Thacker’s dream project, with everyone working to fulfill his singular vision. In interviews, behind the scenes pieces, and the commentary (where he’s joined by Combs and lead actor Adrian DiGiovanni), the filmmaker speaks of his influences, the biblical motifs he threaded throughout the narrative, the reasons he wanted to do The Mold practically and why he went to the trouble of casting/recording Combs first to make sure DiGiovanni’s performance would always be in proper tune with his. Even Combs admits he doesn’t understand everything in the film, and that’s a good thing! Better than showing up to rattle off a few lines as the unseen madman in some Saw knockoff, right?

So in short: more like this, please. Again, it’s not my favorite movie of the year or anything like that, but it was completely unique (even some mild comparisons to Little Shop of Horrors or Bucket of Blood type “kill to improve your life” stories are suggesting a very different kind of movie) and never left me in a position of “OK I know how the next five minutes are going to play out, let me look at my phone for a bit.” All I really want from this lo-fi stuff is to realize when it’s over, or even at some point during, that it’s NOT going to be one of those movies that I end up rewatching (and maybe even re-reviewing) in six or seven years because even if I was entertained, it was so “stock” (respect to Lars) that I’ve forgotten I’ve seen it. Short of a brain injury or some kind of degenerative disease, there’s no way I could forget having seen the talking mold movie with a random Game Genie reference. Well done, Mr. Thacker.

What say you?

P.S. Great chiptune score! Per the commentary it was actually recorded with an NES, somehow. Love it.


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