Monday, December 13, 2004

Whaaaaaaaaaat?

The Passion of Darkly Noon, Starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd, and Viggo Mortensen, Written and Directed by Philip Ridley, Fugitive Darkly Noon Ltd., 1995

Normally I try to avoid giving plot summaries or detailed story outlines when I write a review, but I feel the need to be a bit detailed about this film, just to give you an idea. Chances are you will never see this movie. Chances are if you saw the box for this with its cornball title, it’s tawdry artwork, and the Hollywood cheeseball star factor (Brendan Fraser for god’s sake?), you’d laugh and pass it by. Or you’d do what I do when my wife and I go to the video store which is hold up such ridiculous choices as though legitimate suggestions. I do that habitually with anything starring Ice Tea, Rutger Hauer, any former Playboy Playmate, and the later career choices of Christian Slater.

So, you’re wondering now, why did you rent out this apparently bad movie in the first place?

The Reflecting Skin.

The writer/director responsible for this bizarre and without-redeeming-qualities slice of cinematic hell wrote and directed a small film, starring the then unknown Viggo Mortensen by that title. It is a beautifully filmed, slow paced cornfed nightmare involving vampires, pedophilia, religious mania, the atomic blasts on Japan, and murder. I saw it many years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It remains to this day one of the more unsettling films I have ever seen. The cinematographer was the brilliant Dick Pope who shot one of my other all time favorite films, Mike Leigh’s Naked. In fact, he is Leigh’s regular director of photography.

When I ordered this newest movie from the library, I was a bit wary based on the title alone. The Reflecting Skin has an eerie, curiosity piquing peculiarity about it. The Passion of Darkly Noon sounds like either one in a series of vaguely magical romance novels (The Desire of Roughly Midnight and The Ardor of Post-Coitally Morning rounding out the triple feature) or it sounds like some lame alt-sci fi/fantasy pulp.

When I got hold of the video box itself, I felt an even deeper sinking uneasiness. The artwork depicts a scowling Fraser in the midst of flames with a disturbed side profile shot of Judd and the words “When your deepest desire becomes you worst nightmare.”

Ugh.

I set the film aside and promised myself I’d give it a shot. After all, The Reflecting Skin had been such an amazingly good film. How bad could it be? I remembered a copy of D.M. Thomas’ excellent novel, The White Hotel, I once purchased despite its horrifically supermarket check out line cover (if memory serves it featured a naked woman all white silhouette, a Nazi storm trooper, and a woman’s head with her hair tapering up into flames or something along those lines).

Weeks passed, I renewed the film from the library, planning someday, really, honestly, to knuckle down and watch this movie.

It wasn’t worth the wait. In one short film, Philip Ridley managed to completely undermine his reputation — at least for me.

The film begins with Fraser staggering through the woods, ultimately tumbling down onto a single lane dirt road where he is almost run over by Jude (Loren Dean) who, based on how fast he’s driving through these woods, has never heard of deer. Jude takes the unconscious Fraser not back to town to a hospital, normal behavior, but to the home of Callie and Clay (Judd and Mortensen respectively).

There he is nursed back to health by Callie, Clay having wandered off into the woods days ago to think — a regular habit of his. Callie, going through Fraser’s things, finds a Bible with the words “Darkly Noon” written in the front of it, and when he regains consciousness he explains it’s his name, one his parents picked by opening the Bible at random and placing a pen on the page. He proceeds to tell Callie how he and his parents used to live in a small town where everyone lived according to the Bible. His parents apparently believed something, we’re never told what, unorthodox, and the townfolk surrounded them in their house, cut off their food, water, and electricity, then bombed the house and shot the place up. Now that’s Bible-based behavior!

Because Callie is always dressed in shirts tied up to show off her flat stomach or in summer frocks more akin to chemises than actual dresses or maybe because she rubs ice cubes above her breasts or maybe because she hops into a natural spring dressed in lingerie, whatever, eventually Darkly starts to get aroused. But after all this flirty behavior, Callie is overjoyed when Clay comes back.

Darkly wanders off into the woods where he meets an old woman, Roxy, who lives in a camper with her pit bull. Apparently, this is Clay’s mother and she claims her husband found Callie in the woods years ago, and then she tempted him and teased him, causing his heart attack and death. Callie, Roxy says, is a witch who killed her husband and seduced her son. Darkly is disturbed by this and again runs off into the woods. He falls asleep there and wakes by the side of a lake, just in time to see a giant sparkly silver and red shoe float by.

Yes, I didn’t know what to think of that either.

This vision sends him back to Callie and Clay, though now he is into some masochistic phase, wrapping his torso in barbed wire under his clothing. Again he disappears into the woods, again to meet Roxy, whose pit bull has died. The two of them lug the pit bull to the lake, Roxy makes a bier for the dead dog in the giant silver shoe then sets it on fire for the world’s first cinematic canine viking funeral. When Darkly next comes calling, Roxy has killed herself with her rifle.

Apparently, the last straw. Darkly sees a vision of his dead parents who explain he must return to Callie and Clay and kill them. He paints his body red, steals one of Clay’s wood working tools akin to a machete, and attacks the two just as they’re getting it on. His wild swings of this machete-thing severs some electrical wiring in the house causing lightbulbs to explode, the walls to sizzle and ignite, and the bed to burst into flames. I’m not an electrical expert, but that seemed gratuitous on top of gratuitous.

Darkly, prepared to deliver the coup de grace to Callie’s melon, is stopped short by her telling him she loves him. This pause allows family friend (and Darkly’s original savior) Jude to appear and shoot him with a rifle. Callie weeps even though Darkly has just about hacked Clay to hamburger.

The next morning, Callie, Clay, and Jude are still in the woods, the house burnt to the ground. Despite the fact that Jude has a truck and that Clay is seriously injured, his arm almost chopped off and his leg broken, it hasn’t occurred to these spectacular outdoorsy jackasses to hop in the truck and head on over to the hospital.

Adding insult to injury, two adults and two children in whimsical costumes emerge from the woods trailing an elephant. Uh huh. You read that right. The male adult tells Callie that they were in a circus and wrecked their boat, losing a giant silver shoe in the process. His son, he explains, has a tiny replica of the shoe, the only thing he loves anymore. He asks Callie if she knows the way out of the woods, she tells him she does, everyone begins walking away from the camera save Callie and the little boy. He offers her his silver shoe replica. She takes it and smiles.

Credits.

You tell me what the fuck, I’m still wondering.

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