Monday, January 4, 2010

Movies Worth Googling: strange movie reviews by Jenny Orosel

Movies Worth Googling...or Sometimes Not
By Jenny Orosel

I know I'd made mentioned doing a column this month on either cats in horror or the most craptacular sequels ever. I haven't forgotten about them, I swear (both Cat in the Brain and Howling 3: The Marsupials are on a stack in front of me), but within the past month something's come up. Actually, it came in the mail. A DVD that I feel the need to write about.

A year or so back I came across a flick adapted from Flatland, the novel by Edwin Abbot. Flatland: The Movie was an incredible work of computer animation and so well executed that I was shocked to find it was produced solely by one man-Ladd Ehlinger Jr. So when I found out he had a new movie, I was jazzed to check it out. As a slightly left-leaner, I was wary to hear it was a 'conservative horror film', but hey, I've enjoyed other movies where I wasn't part of the target audience (see my review of Deafula from the first TBG issue).

Hive Mind centers around conservative talk show host Doug Trench (played by Greg Trent). For twenty years, he has been hiding from the Hive Mind. Hive Mind used swallowed cell phones in adults and implanted RFID chips in children (think Digital Angel) to zap all humanity into its collective. Those who fought it were either murdered or absorbed against their will. The only one left is Trench. In hopes that he might find anyone else out there that survived, he fires up his old broadcast equipment and gives one last radio broadcast until Hive Mind hones in on his signal and locates him.

The movie is done in real time, and aside from a few moments at the end, the whole film is carried by Trench and his radio broadcast. We learn, through the course of the show, that because of Obama (the last President of the United States), the liberals, and feminists, Hive Mind was created to rid the world of hatred, war, and violence toward women. And we Americans, despite the warnings of "The Great Old Ones like Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin..." let it happen. And because it was more environmentally sound to keep women alive rather than men (women use less resources to stay alive), the men that weren't kept as breeding stock were killed off. There are female humans in the world, but they exist only as eyes, ears and hands of Hive Mind. And they are coming for Trench....

I've watched Hive Mind three times. The first, I was angry. The majority of his show had little to do with the evolution of Hive Mind, but how it was liberals who ruined everything because, well, because they hate individuality. By the time I heard how the women who were upset at female genital mutilation in third world countries were part of the problem because they didn't realize "that was part of the reason we went into Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria", I was lost completely. Yes, I realize that I was not part of the target audience for this flick, but it was hard to swallow being one of its villains.

I was angry, and I knew then this would be the horror movie I talked about here. As someone who is a huge fan on Flatland, I was especially disappointed with Hive Mind. However, if I was going to write about it, I would have to watch it again and pay more attention. So I did.

The second go-around of Hive Mind didn't infuriate me the way it did the first. Knowing exactly what I was getting into, I was able to see the movie through the bitterness. The technical aspects of the film were extremely well done. The camera work was quite good, the performance spot on. And yet, I still couldn't get past the movie's flaws. The opening credits of the film show Trench in photographs with "The Great Old Ones", shaking hands with Limbaugh, talking with Mark Levine, laughing with Ann Coulter. Yet, they were supposed to have been killed off two decades before the film takes place. After twenty years of living underground in a bunker, surviving on a diet of Spam and canned soy milk, you think Trench would look different than he did in the photographs. Nope. He was the same sixty year old then that he was on the day of that last broadcast. Little details like that will break my suspension of disbelief, making it harder to get back into the movie.

There were more plot holes in the 'how' of Hive Mind. I found myself wondering how they could create the kind of technology where either digested electronics or sub dermal ones could effectively shut off individual thought then wirelessly connect billions of brains across the globe. Not only that, but how could that kind of technology be developed in such secrecy that nobody could see it coming until the "switch was flipped". And who flipped the switch? These questions were not only not answered, but never addressed in the first place.

However, that second time I was curious. I know a little about conservative talk radio, enough to know that references to Trench's drug addiction, or falsified Wikipedia facts were references to Rush Limbaugh. However, it felt like there could be more. So for the third watching I enlisted the help of My Favorite Republican (and a talk radio fan) to watch with me and let me know what I was missing.

Oh, how much I did miss those first two go-arounds. Hive Mind was littered with not only references, but direct lifts from talk radio, mostly Limbaugh. Nicknames and catch phrases were stolen. Entire rants and speeches were swiped. That left me wondering why. I would say a good forty five minutes of the 100 minute movie were these stolen bits, none of which had anything to do with the Hive Mind or the general storyline. I can come up with two guesses. One is that the director needed filler to fluff the movie to feature length. The second is he wanted to prove his familiarity with the subject, thus gain credibility with his target audience. But all that extraneous stuff took away from the story development. He could have easily used some of that time to address the unanswered how and why questions, as well as another question that came to mind on that third viewing: suspending any disbelief and accepting that yes, the liberals of the United States got every American to take the cell phone pill and become part of the Hive Mind, how would that lead to the absorption of the entire human race? Billions of people exist outside America. How did Hive Mind reach them? That is something he could have put in instead of a rewording of Limbaugh's yearly "The Real Story of Thanksgiving".

When asked if he enjoyed the flick, MFR said "It was very pretty. Earnest but shallow." I asked him if it worked as a "collectivist horror film," as the case suggests, he thought about it and said, "No." So it didn't work for me, someone outside the target audience, and it didn't work for him, somebody that would seem a prime candidate.

That opens up the question, "Can political horror work?" I say absolutely it can. The most well-known example of this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nobody can argue that both the original and the 1978 remake were politically charged. However, you can find people from any spot on the political spectrum who state the movie works perfectly for their side. The message about conformity, whether for the left or the right, is a powerful one, and one anyone can relate to. That's how Invasion became a classic, yet Hive Mind never will be.

If you're looking for other political horror, I have one to recommend wholeheartedly. Land of the Blind, directed by Robert Edwards and released in 2006, is one of the best flicks, even beyond political flicks, that I have ever seen. We follow the everyman Joe from one political movment to another, revolution to revolution, all the while he's just looking to be a good man and a good father. I'm hesitant to say too much about the plot because I hope you readers will go Netflix it as soon as your queue allows. What makes Land of the Blind work is that you can't pinpoint it and say, "Well, it must obviously be made by somebody who doesn't like Politician A or Position B." A number of political figures are melded into the characters, from the Shah of Iran, to Jean-Paul Marat, to Imelda Marcos. Land of the Blind cannot be pinpointed to a specific time or place, either, with actors from various nations using their own particular accents, to having people in 1920s era clothing working on computers. Those broad strokes allow us, the viewer to either put our own interpretations onto it, or even to step back and accept its warning that, if we remain blind, the one-eyed man will become king.

Hive Mind:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Land of the Blind are readily available at any video store, or Netflix.

--Jen Orosel