Friday, December 28, 2007

UNHOLY (2007) d. Daryl Goldberg

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

It has been said that the ability to enjoy fiction is dependant upon the reader’s capacity for “suspending their disbelief”. The same is true of film and the more bizarre the film, the harder the filmgoer has to work at being “swept away” by an implausible or incomprehensible story. UNHOLY, starring Adrienne Barbeau and Nicholas Brendon, is certainly a bizarre film, and while it may not be an “enjoyable” experience, it is an intriguing one.

UNHOLY is the story of a mother whose daughter has just committed suicide under peculiar circumstances. As Martha digs deeper into the evidence, she uncovers conspiracies that enmesh her son Lucas, the town of Downington, PA, the U.S. government, Nazis and the occult. In a surrealistic swirl of events, Martha becomes more deeply embroiled in scientific/paranormal experiments involving time travel, invisibility and mind control, leading her to self-discoveries that are impossible to accept.

Imagine a film that has its conceptual roots in movies like DONNIE DARKO, TOTAL RECALL and FIGHT CLUB and then add to the mix influential dabs of David Lynch and Takashi Miike and you’ve got an idea what UNHOLY is like. The fascinating underlying premise of this film takes a long time to unfold, but the patient plot isn’t the problem. The story is told in a semi-reversed order ala MEMENTO, but the spars of the story are so inconsistently thrown out to viewers trying to keep afloat in the plot’s waters that the effect is more unsettling than gripping. In addition, UNHOLY is a short film, less than 85 minutes, so there isn’t enough time to really explore the absorbing elements that are awkwardly referenced. For example, Ms. Barbeau’s character Martha, tries to extract information from a pair of young experiment participants/victims while poisoning them and herself in a car rapidly filling with carbon monoxide. Between the gasps, wheezes and lapses of consciousness, the evidence Martha extorts spills forth like spittle from a baby’s chin, lumpy and infrequent, but horribly enthralling none-the-less. Anyone interested in a story that involves time travel, Nazis and government conspiracies will be drawn into this film against their will and will find it not fully satisfying but leaving a lingering taste of expectation on their tongues akin to “was there something I missed that I need to reconsider?” If a film gets you thinking, it hasn’t totally failed in its mission or its promise.

The extras menu on UNHOLY is pretty lean, including a commentary by director/writer Sam Goldberg and writer/producer Sam Freeman. There is a poster/stills gallery, the film trailer and trailers for other Anchor Bay/Starz titles. After a film that raises more questions than it answers, a lean extras menu doesn’t help a viewer to “scratch the itch”.

Kudos must be given to Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Freeman for their efforts at undertaking an ambitiously complex story and trying to create imagery and action to support it. While they were not entirely successful, watching UNHOLY was a more thought-provoking experience than a lot of big-budget theatrical garbage I’ve had to endure in recent years like the remake of THE FOG. That film made me as angry as I’ve ever been, left me feeling soiled and violated. UNHOLY left me in the pose of “The Thinker” and while I didn’t rush to e-mail my friends imploring them to see this film, at least I felt it was 85 minutes fairly well spent.

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