VOD Review: Collective:Unconscious.
A charming and challenging collection of 5 short films based upon the remembered dreams of 5 directors.
This week we look at a collection of short films by a collection of emerging directors. Collective:Unconscious has a novel twist in that all five films are a collaboration, with one director submitting a vividly remembered dream and a second director adapting that dream into a short film. The tone and quality varies, but each is an interesting artifact in of itself. The whole package is engaging and visually novel, and as it is freely distributed by its creators, it is perfect to dip into and out of as you so choose.
The whole film is united by segue sequences in which a narrator leads the audience in a discussion of dreams and hypnosis, which sets up each film. The soft, incantatory nature of these sequences act as mental sorbet to recenter yourself between the vignettes. It is effective, and employs its own visual aesthetic, making it a short film in itself.
As the films are each unique and varied, I’ll sum up each and give a brief review of each in turn.
First film: Black Soil, Green Grass.
A man clad in noise cancelling earphones records the folk songs of his aging grandmother. All around them, a loudspeaker is counting sheep with such force that it is literally able to burst the ear drums of any unprotected person. The man finds that his grandmother’s songs can cancel out the speakers, allowing him peace and solace. He embarks on a journey to destroy one of the towers and replace its tape with one of his grandmother singing.
This film is the strongest of the group, though that’s not to disparage the others. It has a strong narrative and striking visuals, as well as a organically powerful soundtrack. The acting is understated but effective. Like all dreams, there are elements that seem natural to the peace that end up not really mattering or making sense, like the fact that the woman’s songs seem to attract beetles, but that’s pretty much par for the course in a dream. As a film, it has a solid structure and is engaging for its total run-time.
Second Film: First Day Out.
This film struggles a bit. At times, it is obviously the stuff of dreams: there are odd characters moving in disjointed manners, the scenes shift on a whim, and everything is very stylized. At times, the films seems to be visually representing the literal words spoken by the men narrating over the sequence. It doesn’t end up feeling like a cohesive whole, thought it is well shot and paced, with some memorable elements.
Third Film: Beemus, It’ll End in Tears.
A young person, possibly transgender, is enrolled in physical education classes at Mt. St. Helen’s High School, a facility perched upon the volcano which is periodically wiped out by the mountain. The young person is awkward about their physical body, made more intense by the pretty much physically “perfect” youth in the class, and a teacher who is the stereotypical school coach. Mr. Beemus doesn’t understand physical boundaries or adolescent angst, and forces our hero into uncomfortable situations. This all comes to a head when the mountain erupts in the middle of class.
This is my favorite film of the series. The characters are stereotypical, but fully invested. The wacky situation feels fully dream-like, but is also deadly serious about an issue that is becoming more widely acknowledged in society. The acting is perfectly over the top, like a mash-up of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore mixed with Rawson Thurber’s comedy Dodgeball. It has a solid through-line, great visuals and practical effects, and a really funny-sweet ending. See the collection just for this film (though, really, they’re all worth your time!)
Fourth Film: Everybody Dies!
This film is funny and devastating at the same time. It boldly confronts the current issues of young black kids being shamelessly brutalized by society. At one point, Ripa reads a letter from a kid who is turning 14, but “has been an adult since sentencing…there are no kids in jail.” The kid begs to die. The narrator chimes in over Ripa saying “sorry, not your time!” This film is short and explosive, full of irony and anger. See the collection just for this film…OK, I’m pretty much going to be saying this for each film. But seriously, if this film doesn’t make you laugh and cry hot tears of rage at the same time, I don’t know what is going to do it for you.
Fifth Film: Swallowed.
Visually and aurally complex, this film feels like it is going to be dynamite for anyone but me. I just can’t quite slip into the mind of a new mother. I mentally get what is going on, and believe you me I hate babies with a passion…but the film just doesn’t quite resonate with me. So plot aside, I have to say that I enjoyed this piece because of the riot of sounds and images it contains. It is the only film to have digital effects, and it looks and sounds like a polished horror movie. I want to see more from this director just on the strength of her horror flick chops. Lily Baldwin is going to be a name you hear in the future.
I enjoyed my time with Collective:Unconscious. It is bold and well integrated. There is a ton of talent and heart, and is willing to talk about tough subjects with style and substance. The collection isn’t a completely even experience, and you’re going to have to pick and choose favorites, but the great part is your going to be picking your favorite from 5 pretty strong contenders instead of trying to find just one film you like. The fact that this film is free to stream on You-Tube and Vimeo is courageous. Art for Art’s sake. Therefore, iff you can see this film screened, do so. The hypnotic nature of the narrative must be incredibly powerful live, and these up and comers deserve the money and attention.