The Unexciticist – Upsidedown Cross (2014)

With advertising making it appear as something of a wild crossbreed between Friedkin classic „The Exorcist“ and „Her Name Was Lisa“ (Roger Watkins, 1979), William Hellfire’s „Upsidedown Cross“ sparks some rather diverse expectations and ultimately subverts them all. Opening with a nearly twenty minute long sequence chronicling Nadine’s (Erin Russ) bread-and-butter job as a nude model in the most unagitated way imaginable, the spirit of Watkin’s bleak reflection on lifes slowly burning away in erotic industries of differing nature is very much channeled. Even somewhat mirroring the way the New Yorkian mad hatter employed rooms coated in myriads of expressive colors to spur his narratives, one important difference though is discernible from the get go. There is no pretense that any of this is – and be it only in a temporary pull-the-rug-from-under-your-feet way – real. That’s not paint laughing from your walls but deep red variations of bath towels, old curtains and improvised color stainers of similarly somber fabrics hung up to conceal two different yet closely related kinds of emptiness. Red, the color of love – it is perhaps the most important fixture in Hellfire’s film, doubling for passion where there is none to harbor.

Long after Nadine’s employment is permanently terminated by a pair of borderline abusive cops this magical color still sticks around on her lips and in that marvellous obsession for Erin Russ‘ hair the camera eye so freely indulges in. Like a permanent stamp slapped on her forehead would do, it acts as an unshakeable reminder of things once blooming, now looming in ruins. Depending on the illumination captured her dye job fluctuates between the damped maroon hues befitting snow white’s goth twin and far more fiery notes right out of any given SuicideGirls shoot. Always a stark contrast: The pallid shades of her expressive face, the shy eyes not psyched up through cosmetics, the droopy corners effortlessly sliping in that vibrant lipstick, lastly the boundless sadness chiseled into it all by life’s not once receding surge. Never fully spelled out on a purely narrative level, this bold, applaudable step into a HD-cam’s unforgiving limelight succeeds in painting a gloomy picture of depression entirely on its own. More than once these color shenanigans are highlighted in such a prominent way that hair and mouth alike seem to laugh right into their bodily house, unashamed and mere millimeters away from it, almost signifying the drawn out fights against innermost demons. A process explored in many different ways – first of all the demonic possession soon scented by Nadine’s religious mother Delilah (Colleen Cohan) of course, but also through a variety of intricate directorial flourishes.

There is a right array of Pollockesque blood paintings littered all across the once again shared homestead, painted by Delilah while simultaneously engaged with TV shows. She plants them where they can’t fit in. Behind figurines of our lord and savior, put up above the kitchen table with equally blood red picture frames around the raven-black backdrop likening them to an irritating collection of variations on Metallica’s outstanding „Kill ‚Em All“ cover design and consistenly in disagreement with the dominant color scheme at hand. Which is effectively the same wherever Nadine roams – rustic tones being overpowered from the inside by those almost blinding patches of red, both pitted against each other by distintly digital color processing. Red is a reminder of something lost amidst the overwhelming anachronistic feel evidenced by the characters‘ strange insistence on watching analogue sourced 4:3 content on their 16:9 flatscreens, listening to music on walkmans and having 8mm cameras lying around for no readily apparent reason. A sense of time slips through your fingers whenever you’ve almost had it, everything’s relative, everything’s floating in „Upsidedown Cross“, as if under heavy, but explicitly not medication induced sedation. Naturally the exorcist hired by the concerned mother picks up on the power of composition: Pulling off the metal posters in Nadine’s bedsit with an assured deliberateness peculiar to those in the know, he shifts the color balance of the entire room until the dominance of a trustwhorty thickness exuding browns grows unbearable. Then he simply plants just one massive, icily white banner in the center of attention and cadrage alike.

Fluctuating symptoms like these are the quintessence of Hellfire’s unusually tranquil direction, which at times resembles documentary filmmaking more closely than the agitation usually associated with horror cinema. Charles Scandura’s camera keeps a close eye on everyone, never confining them to shot reverse pattern collections of facial close ups, but never attempting any overt stunts either – the filmmakers have studied their Joe D’Amato well, his special brand of vigilant tardiness is of closest blood relation. „Upsidedown Cross“ is in essence a chamber drama driven by long conversations and credible acting in which everything of real importance is nonetheless told through a multitude of slight, ever-transforming signs, cues, or even hunches to the sides of, amidst, around and in faces. The films centerpiece, a first attempt at exorcism by the then still non-traditionally hostile but unpleasently encroaching priest, pours these artificialities from the calm sea right into the formerly stable ship in a daring attempt at comedy. All but inviting the well known charges of embarassing acting, cringy writing and general awkwardness generously hurled at everything remotely reeking of amateur film, this morphs in a grandiose success instead. Struggling with words, reading off more than accentuating the confidence of David Yow’s clergyman converts to unexpected vulnerability as his actor takes a turn at mimicking acting. Exorcism as a laughing matter, filmed theater with all players mostly squeezed in one tight shot – embedded in the stylistic before and after this absurdism can only evoke sadness rather than laughter. It is the very embodyment of that craved for excitation instilled in viewers and characters alike by signal colors and slow burn machinations on as well as off the screen.

This sudden bout of delira carries over right into the grim finale and its short, though hella intense violent outbursts (ripping out fingernails – you sure know how to make me squick, Mr. Hellfire!) at odds with the director’s stern refusal to abandon the calm ways of his film and those fabulous unicolor bathroom tiles my grandmother’s house keeps on rocking since the 1960’s. How could one long for something like this, you keep buggering yourself – and yet the clever layout encourages such notions over and over again. Here it lies buried, the extraordinary quality of „Upsidedown Cross“ – through its general structure and aesthetic alone it achieves what few films do: Capturing that peculiar feeling so dastardly familiar to longtime sufferers of mental illness, the incontrollable desire for something to happen, a small change, anything, even if it’s detrimental in the long run – just a little soothing against those vibes of utter stagnation. A state of mind where being the devil’s possessed almost passes itself off as fulfillment. The real horror at hand is of the unseen variant hiding out in broadly illuminated living rooms, in sunlit woods, in the distorting over-exposure only digital can summon.

Upsidedown Cross – USA 2014 – 96 minutes – Direction: William Hellfire – Production: William Hellfire, Chip Lamey, Amber Maykut, Phillip Pessar – Screenplay: William Hellfire, Mike Hunchback – Cinematography: Charles Scandura – Editing: Richard Marra – Music: William Hellfire, Mike Hunchback, T.S. McBride, Craig Mileski, Jeffery Schroeck, Miranda Taylor, David Yow – Cast: Erin Russ, David Yow, Colleen Cohan, Mark DeMicco, Rick Savage and many more

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Donnerstag, Mai 2nd, 2019 in den Kategorien Aktuelles Kino, Ältere Texte, André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Filmbesprechungen, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

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