I don’t remember why I avoided these movies for so long, but they’ve been buzzing around the internet long enough that it’s time I check them out. The first dialogue scene is a 90’s version of Doris Wishman, this ain’t good. I decided which teens I’m rooting for based on the posters hanging in their room – Alex (Devon Sawa of Idle Hands) has Pecker and the Goo Goo Dolls, but Claire (Resident Evil regular Ali Larter) has Cub and Mule Variations, so she wins.

Devon, Ali, Sidemouth Todd:

Big school trip, but Alex gets all upset after dreaming the plane falling apart, and also has a bad haircut, so six get kicked off the plane, which does fall apart, and since they cheated death, death comes for them one by one. Sidemouth Todd (Chad Donella of a Saw movie) dies first, clotheslined in the tub. The teacher (Kristen Cloke of Black Christmas Remake) is taken out by everything in her house in a coordinated attack, and two kids (curly girl must’ve been Amanda Detmer of Saving Silverman, and Seann William Scott six months before Dude Where’s My Car) die in vehicular accidents, unexceptional but for their shock timing. Despite the Goo Goo Dolls poster, Devon grew on me, and his escaping the FBI in a rowboat is really good. He and Claire are both alive at the end, but I only see her in the cast of part two. Very excited to see Tony Todd as a mortician, hoping he’d be Death Incarnate, but just a mortician… he’s in the cast of future Final Destinations, so hopefully this will still play out.

There’s talk of alternate realities. It’s fun that the characters are named after classic horror people – sometimes it pays off, as with teacher Val(erie) Lewton, and sometimes it’s just weird… I’m sure naming the FBI guys after the Caligari director and Nosferatu actor looked cool on the page, but when they introduce themselves as “Agents Ween and Shrek” it sounds ridiculous. Director James Wong was a major X-Files contributor, and named the asshole teen Carter, hmmm. Wong followed up with forgettable Jet Li film The One, and somehow made a live-action Dragonball movie I’ve never heard of.

It was a twitter post by director/star Kentucker Audley which first alerted me to the online nature of Sundance this year, both that he had a cool-sounding new movie, and that ordinary punters like myself could watch its premiere for a reasonable cost, so I felt I owed it to him to watch this… though at this point in the late afternoon, an overall Sundance skepticism had set in, and I’d lost my hopes that it would be great. Thankfully, it was great, or at least good enough to seem great after Mayday – a hundred times wackier than that movie, beautifully imaginative and very fun to watch.

A year-2035 dream auditor has to visit an offline old woman who still stores her dreams on analog tape, to calculate how much she owes in taxes based on the objects her subconscious summons – or how much her estate owes, since she passes away while he’s on the job. Her VHS dreams start bleeding into his own life, and are more pure than the auditor’s own dreams. This is because she knows that companies beam advertisements into dreams, and has developed a protective helmet as an ad-blocker.

The woman knows about the dream-ads because her son is in charge of the ad agency, and when he arrives after her death he determines that the auditor knows too much, and tries to burn him alive in mom’s pink house to destroy all evidence. Asleep in the flames, he bonds with a young dream-Bella on a small island, making this my second movie in a row about an island-bound dreamer needing to awaken to their dangerous real life. Scenes from earlier that felt randomly eccentric return as sense warnings. Despite his meaningless job working for the man, the auditor deserves happiness because he stops to save a pet turtle on his way out of the burning house.

Tyler Davis’s Vanity Fair review is good at noting what makes this movie special, while accidentally summarizing my own Sundance experience:

Like Ham On Rye, another recent fantastical low-budget film, Strawberry Mansion puts modern dread at the fore through a series of dynamic set pieces that reveal just how many obstacles are placed between us and our inner lives … The boundaries between our imagined lives and the ones we try to lead in the midst of never ending sales pitches has thinned to a sliver … It’s easy to mistake Strawberry Mansion for a simple parable about advertising and the federal government. But ultimately, it’s a strange film about art and its conditions … Increasingly, as we’re asked to look at more and more yet with less and less of our minds activated, all the watching becomes unbearable. Strawberry Mansion takes a wild swing at yanking its protagonist—and us—out of this predicament.

“Feels good to fall, you know? The further the better.” After a dream of skydiving, Grace Van Patten (The Meyerowitz Stories, daughter of the Master Ninja guy) is working a shit job at a nightmare wedding, then ends the day by putting her head in an oven, so I guess the rest is an Over the Garden Wall near-death fantasy with a Peter Pan wonderland feel. She’s recruited as a sniper by the other women on the island she falls onto, never being well advised on wtf is going on, as they’re constantly being attacked by men whose planes they steer into rocks and storms using deceptive radio practices (and the Wilco yankee-hotel-foxtrot clip).

“Maybe we should capture some instead of killing them all.”
“We’ve tried that, that was exhausting.”

The woman are actors she glimpsed at the wedding, from bride Mia Goth to bathroom attendant Juliette Lewis, now a solitary motorhead badass. Eventually there’s a music sequence with a troop of men, and Grace believing that her old life could be better if only she could return by escaping this island. A good looking movie, but the thing about taking place in a fantasy world where nothing makes sense is that nothing makes sense. The widescreen ratio means the watermark with my email address never obscured the action.

Mia and Grace go Moonlighting:

Feminist murder gang: