DEBUT PSYCHO-THRILLER Janet Llavina directs Hypnagogic, which has strong overtones of horror in a story about a teenybopper who starts seeing things.
Hypnagogic is another dark Maine-made film, a psychological thriller with strong overtones of horror. It tells the story of teenybopper Summer. Haunted by the death of her mother, she experiences a breakdown, complete with demonic visions and other distortions of reality. Sound like a familiar yarn? It is. But success and failure are all in the execution. This kind of setup can make for something great — Polanski's Repulsion comes to mind — or something more akin to high-school horror.
Unfortunately, Hypnagogic is closer to the latter than the former. The filmmakers were clearly working with limitations — financial, technical, and otherwise. The hardest of those challenges for a viewer to overcome is the amateur acting. In spite of their best efforts, these actors have difficulty carrying a story with so much madness and angst. The direction is also inexperienced. The camera moves seemingly at random, making simple scenes of dialogue spatially confusing, and creating illogical transitions.
On the plus side, the music (by Bard and Avery Stemmler) is diverse and interesting — when it stays out of nu metal territory. There are backwards electronics, repetitive and haunting; medieval chants; and Throbbing Gristle-like atonal washes of noise. There's also a strong John Carpenter vibe throughout. It's a bit cheesy . . . but fun and effective. Buy a $10 ticket to the Nickelodeon for the October 18 showing (7 pm), support local film, and see the freakiness for yourself.
It makes sense that Maine would produce first-class horror films. Ours is an idyllic state with endless woods, quaint cabins, and sublime sights. But this beauty can also appear, at times, dreadful. A walk in the woods is peaceful until you become lost — cold, scared, and alone. The cabin can be worn-down, inhabited by someone poor and desperate. The ocean view can inspire, but in a storm it scares the pants off of you.
Enter Damnationland: The Way Life Should Bleed, a yearly showcase of Maine-made films in the horror and thriller genres. In the words of producers Eddy Bolz and David Meiklejohn, Damnationland presents "genre-defying original works from Maine filmmakers that redefine the classic thriller and horror categories, leaning toward visions that are surreal, comedic, and artful, while still providing scares, shocks, and surprises." In other words, it's thoughtful. But it's still terrifying.
Now entering its third year, and moving triumphantly from its former home at the Nickelodeon into the much larger State Theatre, Damnationland is the most anticipated dark-arts event of the season. It's a chance to celebrate a local film scene that's seemingly more diverse and vital with every passing year. Like hot mulled cider, soups, and sweaters, it'll get you in the spirit of the season. Most importantly, it's a chance to see some good art — plain and simple.
Last year's program included such stand-outs as Derek Kimball's supernatural folktale Are You the Walkers? and Jeffrey Griecci's stylish Telephoto. This year's program is similarly promising, marking the world premiere of new films by Allen Baldwin (Merrow), Regina Bartholomew (Parallaxis), The Sisters Grumbling (Carrying Place), Kyle Rankin (Raw Footage), and R.J. Wilson (with the colorfully titled Raid of the Vomit-Blood Fiends). All five will be screened as one uninterrupted program lasting approximately 80 minutes.
Don't miss the October 19 show (8 pm) at the State Theatre; tickets are $10, which is a great deal for kicking off the Halloween season with some Maine-made spookiness.