This week I watched three films from Fandor’s streaming selection of ‘Midnight Movies’ from the Criterion Collection. These are inherently divisive films, with their deliberate weirdness making them something a viewer will either embrace with glee or just roll their eyes at, depending on the individual. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this divide in reactions; it’s just a dice-roll against personal sensibilities. I got unlucky with two out of the three.
House is presented in the too-happy style of some Japanese commercials, with big fake smiles and giant personalities based on single traits. The editing is rapid and there is a lot of hand-drawn animation on the screen. The movie begins at an already-manic pace, and only gets crazier and less coherent as it moves towards a conclusion. I can see the appeal on an academic level, since there is nothing in Western cinema which resembles this even remotely, but I found it utterly draining. It’s too full-on for too long, despite only running for 88 minutes, and I completely lost interest about halfway through. I greatly enjoyed a film in this style at the Sydney Film Festival a few years ago called The Warped Forest (Shunichiro Miki, Japan, 2011), but that film doesn’t seem to have been released on DVD (even in Japan), it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and it has just 41 ratings on IMDB.
The plot, which is (at best) tertiary to the style, follows a man who discovers his girlfriend is pregnant, and then is tasked with looking after the monstrous creature she gives birth to. The film’s photography is its greatest asset, offering occasional beauty or interest, and distracting us from the utter tedium. Lynch thinks it’s creepy to let shots run on, in stillness and silence, for truly uncomfortable amounts of time. Scenes end, and then we sit there watching nothing for ten… twenty… thirty seconds. This film requires more patience than I was willing to give it. I found it utterly unrewarding.
The film is a visual treat. Edith Scob looks otherworldly and angelic walking around her large, empty house in a featureless mask, while her father’s collection of stray dogs barks and howls in the background. The film also shows a pair of detectives attempting to solve the disappearances of the young women, and while their scenes are less visually iconic, the investigative aspects of the plot are still compelling. Eyes Without a Face is the best film I saw all week, and not just because the other two were total duds.