I caught this movie at it's premiere, at the local Fairfax theater where the filmmakers (apparently) watched a lot of movies growing up. I came in with no expectations — it had been offered to me as a premiere, and as movie buff, I'm always up for an independent film.
The filmmaker introduced the movie, highlighting his love of "absurdist" and "surrealist" filmmaking. As I would come to learn, in his vernacular, this is code for "covering up bad filmmaking by calling it absurd."
The movie chooses to ignore certain conventions of filmmaking, in particular characters and plot. We are introduced to our lead character with few words, and never actually given a name or moniker for well over an hour. In fact (and it became so absurd I timed it), the first time a character is identified by a name comes well over 25 minutes into the film. Absurdism is not an excuse to disregard character nor plot. The plot, such as it is, only vaguely becomes identifiable more than half way through the film, after a number of long, no-context monologues by various characters. You can even work a movie with no plot — such as "Slacker" — but you need to engage your audience's interest. By not providing any context for a viewer to latch on to, that audience is quickly alienated.
The filmmakers clearly love using the "effects" buttons on their editing system, as they tried every filter and option within the system. A particular favorite was pixelation — intentionally pixelating segments for no apparent purpose. The team running the theater actually was discussing this afterward — they were unsure if the movie was being displayed correctly or if the projector was broken. When your audience can't tell if the film is broken or not, you're not surreal — you're badly edited. Various editing effects are used "because we can" rather than "because we should." Often, less is more — and in this case, that's ignored.
Scenes are shot oddly for no apparent reason — one scene involving a bench has the actors leaning to one side. Inspection shows that must have been shot on a hill with the camera perspective changed to create the effect of characters leaning. No reason is offered in the narrative nor any particular dramatic link. The viewer is left with the idea that the filmmakers simply think it "looks cool", and we can get away with anything if we call it surreal.
Editing is also used to cover over poor technical capabilities. It's clear the filmmakers love blood but don't know how to film a fight scene — one slashing scene is cut so aggressively and out of order to cover poor makeup and blood technique, but that is so obviously the reason that it fails.
It's popular to get the idea of "rules breaking" as visionary. The flaw is that rules of delivery and film are not there to restrict a filmmaker, but instead to enable them to connect to the audience and deliver a message. Breaking the rules for intentional, planned reasons can result in visionary accomplishments. Ignoring them because you don't have an appreciation of their power results in disasters like Welcome to Sugartown.
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