I watched this movie not really sure of what to expect. I recall seeing a trailer for this film in the theaters, the Drafthouse, of course, and immediately made note of it. I lost track of it over the years, but then I found it in my Netflix options, added it to my queue and again lost track of it until a few weeks ago. When I sat down to watch, I was immediately transported back to my childhood when I would catch glimpses of various science fiction or horror movies on cable, not completely understanding what I was watching. And as I was researching this movie after I watched, the material noted that the director was influenced by the backs of video boxes that he would look at, not knowing what the movie was really about, and trying to use context clues in the descriptions and photos on the back of VHS tape boxes at the videostore to figure out the movie. This is something that I am very familiar with, as I grew up smack dab in the middle of the home video craze and I spent countless hours browsing local and chain video rental stores, using the same technique.
What I love the most about this movie is how it is equally disturbing and flat out fun as a throwback to the 80’s paranoia of the Cold War, and part speculative future fiction about an imagined futurized 80s. This future was grown out of a society where the New Age holistic movements took firm hold in society and changed the way people treat ailments, specifically mental illness. The back story is not really delved into too far, but there are some hints that a social revolution of some kind took place and institutional changes were made and allowed the rise of a company like Arboria Institute, the company in the film, could take place and make the impact on society that it has. But, there are very specific background references to historic “real world” Cold War events, so the world still has a place in our world, just with some fantastical elements.
The look of this movie is just fantastic, and any geek who remembers the slightly gauzy look of some sci-fi rip-off types, this is the feel that was captured so well. And there is the Euro-creepiness of Argento or Fulci thrown in for good measure. Panos Cosmatos, the director, is the son of filmmaker George Pan Cosmatos, often known as the director of Tombstone and Rambo: First Blood Part II. I don’t know much more of the senior Cosmatos, but I can say that Panos really nailed the atmosphere of 80s horror-sci-if-fantasy. Again, this movie has a grounding in reality, but that doesn’t stop it from going into some weird places, but those places aren’t so far out of the realm of possibility. This has a touch of Aldous Huxley and H.P. Lovecraft, more of the former than the latter.
I know I usually go into the summary of the movie, but I don’t want to go too much into the plot, because, well, it’s rather thin and the movie is an exercise in atmosphere and character study. It’s not boring, in my opinion, but the pace does not really pick up until the last 30 minutes or so, and it really gets going well from that point. Just know that there is the aforementioned Arboria Institute that spreads happiness through meditation and drugs, while searching for new ways to placate the population. There is a monolithic figure that can either be fact or figment, demonic goo baths, and telekinetic head trauma. I can’t urge you enough to seek this movie out if you spent hours piecing together horror and sci-fi movie plots based on the artwork and summaries found on the backs of VHS cases. This is the movie that captures that curiosity and delivers a trippy vision of the futuristic past of the 80s with astounding set and sound design. Give it a shot for something weird for the evening.