One of the best things about the digital revolution still underway in the film world is that it is now easier than ever for anyone to go out and make a movie. This is also one of the worst things about the digital revolution. Case in point are two films recently distributed on DVD through Indican Productions.
The first of these is Re-Generation, a low budget science fiction film about a doctor traveling to a mining outpost to artificially create legs for the "daughter" of the mining magnate. As the doctor prepares the daughter, Clara, for her new legs (she has a genetic mutation, which are apparently common in this dystopian future, that has given her gnarled stumps for legs), he uncovers secrets and scandals, as well as developing an easily foreseen and forced romance with Clara.
There are a lot of problems with the film. It's largely stilted, the acting is spotty and the script lags at moments, but there's an undeniable scrappiness to the project that can be charming. There are also moments where interesting ideas begin to poke their heads out, but instead of being developed are simply thrown onto a pile of odd quirk that writer/director Anais Grandifsky keeps hoping will turn into a film. For instance, at one point in the film Clara speaks with the doctor about how he had previously been an outspoken opponent of the kinds of genetic procedures he's now performing, and in fact had been a part of making them illegal, only to now be performing them himself. There's a fascinating germ within that conversation that, properly nurtured, could and should have been the heart of the film, but instead largely gets left behind.
The characters are all dynamically created, perhaps too dynamically created, as some of them seem to be in different movies than others. However, some of the performances, particularly Peter Stebbing's lead performance as Dr. Goode (get it? GOODE?) and Julian Richings as The Contact, are particularly effective. Stebbing plays the doctor very understated and straightforward, giving him a strange, unpredictable reserve in the midst of some very unusual circumstances.
The movie, although obviously shot on a small budget, tries its best to be visually interesting, and gets some good results with its beautifully stark locations, diverse color palette, and effective set dressings and costumes. There are a few missteps, the most blatant one being the extraordinarily ill-conceived mountain of dreadlocks that extrude alien-like from the back of lead actress Ingrid Veninger's head. I suppose a genetic mutant living in an unkind wilderness has limited hair product options, but still.
With these kind of micro-budget exercises, especially one dealing with such an out-there premise and genre, one's expectations must be very carefully calibrated. It may sound like a backwards compliment to say that the film did surprisingly well given its resources, but it is no small thing to fashion something unusual and engaging out of what one has on hand.
For instance, let's look at Lime Salted Love, a movie about a bunch of broken young pretty things in L.A. just trying to make their way. The movie was made, oddly enough, by a bunch of pretty young things, perhaps not quite so broken, but still making their way out in L.A. The movie is a massive heap of cliches, including multiple accounts of child abuse, drug abuse, rape, murder, insanity, time shifts and, perhaps most heinous of all, teddy bear abuse.
The movie was written and directed by its two leads, was shot on the cheap in 21 days using friends and associates, and was re-edited into the crazy Innaritu time-shifty style only afterwords in order to "make it work." All of these things are rather glaringly obvious.
The main problem here is that this is a film written and directed by actors. Actors are wonderful people, many of my friends are actors, and, truth be told, I do a bit of acting myself. I have nothing against actors. However, putting an actor in charge of writing and directing is often like letting the inmates run the asylum. They indulge in their worst, most damaging impulses, writing or, even worse, improvising terrible on-the-nose dialog and "witty" bon-mots that serve no purpose other than to show how clever they are. They equate drama with extremity, emotion with hyperbolic gesticulating, and dramatic tension with lazy hidden reveals and structural chicanery. Story, character arc, and thoughtful construction take a back seat to ACTING! I'd give an example, but the less said about the "red room" prose poem moment, the better.
Credit where credit is due, the cast is, at the very least, nice to look at. Kirstanna Loken (Terminator 3, BloodRayne), who also produced the movie, puts her body on ample display, and Danielle Agnello and Joe Hall have their moments as well. Still, it's nothing you can't get from a decent Cinemax thriller, and those at least have some moderate production value.
The problems with both of these movies is a lack of oversight. We can all agree that studios are big dumb corporations with an eye towards the lowest common denominator and many times they intrude upon the true artistic visions of those held in their sway. However, they also act as gatekeepers, arbiters of at least a certain level of decency as far as production value, story coherence, and audience investment go.
I applaud both of these films for getting made. Even with today's much greater ease regarding production, it's still a lot of work and struggle to get a movie made. But understanding the limitations of a person's means only goes so far. Some incredible movies have been done on minuscule budgets with short production schedules and only the resources one has on hand. Neither of these are those kinds of movies.
Re-Generation is an interesting exercise for those with an eye towards low budget sci-fi, but that's about all the audience it's going to find. Lime Salted Love will interest those who enjoy the histrionics of Pretty People with Problems, but it's the quality of a second rate student film at best. There are many wonderful independent films out there. Indican has released some of them, including The Weathered Underground, which I reviewed not long ago. These, however, can certainly be skipped.