Wednesday, January 03, 2007

VISIONS OF SUFFERING (ANDREY ISKANOV, 2006)



It's really unfortunate that Visions of Suffering takes the turns that it does, because the film itself starts out with a fairly brilliant premise and features some of the best looking digital video effects and cinematography that I've yet to see in the medium.

The film starts out in a barren forest, a muted yellow filter laid over the scene to create a more desolate effect. We see a man in glasses (played by Aleksandr Shevchenko) wandering around the forest, viewing odd, organic white stuff dripping onto trees, while bizarre spiders pulsate in the branches above him. He continues running through the forest until he encounters a grotesque, cloaked man beating a sort of tribal drum. He approaches the man in the cloak who then turns around revealing a terribly disfigured face, and the man wakes up.

It turns out that every time it rains our protagonist has terrible nightmares about death and anxiety, and they're starting to get the best of him. Once he wakes up, he tries to phone his girlfriend, only to find that his phone will produce no results other than an odd hissing noise. Since he needs his phone, he walks over to a neighbors apartment to use the phone to call a repair man.

The repair man comes to fix the phone. The man in the glasses asks the repairman if he ever has nightmares, and the repairman responds that he "just has dreams. The world we live in is already a nightmare." He goes on to explain about a sort of esoteric vampire/demon that pops up in dreams had during rain that you can hear over the phone lines. The problem is that if you tell somebody about these vampires, they will kill you. Naturally, as soon as the repairman finishes fixing the phone and leaves the apartment, he is killed by one of these demon vampires, and his death happens to be one of the most impressive scenes in the film.

Unfortunately, shortly after this scene the film takes a turn for the worst. A completely unnecessary subplot has a priest (at least, he's a priest according to the films credits) obsessing over a woman with really bad goth makeup. He too suffers the nightmares when it rains, but doesn't appear to be too phased by them. He sits at his desk, moping over the woman while consuming some indiscriminate alcohol. He pulls out some photos of the woman and they fall onto a book of satanism and witchcraft, which he picks up and begins thumbing through. After a while he decides to don some ridiculous goth makeup himself and go to the ridiculous goth club that the woman (who also, apparently, happens to be the man with the glasses' girlfriend) works at.

So he goes to the club and we (the viewers) are treated to an endless barrage of (once again) ridiculous goth antics, such as a stage show of a woman being beaten (oh! how subversive! there are women in the audience cheering it on! what has society come to!), industrial rave music that sounds like it would have fit in perfectly circa 1994, a man who breathes fire, and a man who can control his very sharp knife very well (watch me cut this cucumber on somebody's neck!). If any objectivity has been lost in these last few sentences please forgive me, I was very frustrated by this point.

So after we're offered a half hour (with very brief cuts back to the man in the glasses keeping the demon/vampires out of his flat) of these industrial/goth festivities, we get to remain in the club and watch three protagonists (one that has been seemingly introduced for no reason other than to offer another victim to the vampire-demons) take drugs. For most of them the drug of choice is some pill-form of LSD. Naturally, being the visually oriented director he is, these drug scenes do little more than give Iskanov an opportunity to show twenty more unnecessary minutes of "trippy" and "psychedelic" drug visuals that, once again, have little to no value on the story that's at the core of the film.

Needless to say, after the characters finish the initial wave of their trips, the demons pop up in the club (via some bizarre spaceship bullet thing... I think) and it isn't long before more people start dying in varying degrees of creative ways. Eventually the man with glasses' girlfriend makes it back to his flat, where the man is in a paranoiac state, crouching under an end table with a knife in his hands. The girlfriend chides him a bit, and then opens the window to reveal that it's no longer raining. The man tells her he needs to take a short nap, and afterwords he'll explain what he's been too. As the girlfriend walks out onto the balcony to look at the city, she turns to the man and says, "you'll never believe this, but it's starting to rain again." And you can probably guess what happens after that.

Aside from the plot, the film is very accomplished in some regards. For one thing, the visual effects (not the computer effects) are very well done, and extremely grotesque. The shining, memorable moments in the film are mostly due to some brilliant prosthetic effects. Another accomplishment in the film is Iskanov's visual style, which involves multiple color filter overlays on many scenes, and bizarre framing. These visual effects add to the films nihilistic world view while creating a sort of poetic substance to it.

However, the computer generated effects, for the most part, are atrocious. The vampire-demons, when not in prosthetic form, are ridiculous generic looking "alien" sort of things, and the aforementioned "drug trip" scenes are unnecessarily naive (think of every stupid hippy poster you've ever seen... plus fractals). Another short-coming the film suffers from is the music. While decent and suitable for a large majority of the scenes, there are some awful industrial tracks that feature vocals. Now, I could buy the track that I had the main problem with in the nightclub scene (as I find it easier to accept tracks with vocals on a soundtrack in a diagetic method more so than non-diagetic), but it's placement takes the viewer out of the atmosphere the film has done a fairly decent job of doing up to that point.

So all in all, the film is a disappointment. After building up a very successful visual style and an interesting premise, Iskanov ignores everything he had going for him to create an intentionally subversive mind-trip that loses all of it's relevance by the already culturally dated iconography and abandonment of storyline.

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