In 2012, I reviewed a foreign indie film called Id-iology. Will’ Terran’s challenging movie was about deeply-neurotic, unhappy people whose various self-esteem, sexual, and relationship issues devolved into full-on nastiness and destructiveness. It was the sort of work that many would easily dismiss, confusing the author’s general subject matter for the author’s thesis (as a counterpoint, see Your Friends & Neighbors (actually, don’t, just laugh along with me at Neil LaBute’s execrable output)). I was happy to give Id-iology a fair analysis and critique, and happier still that the writer/director kept me in the loop about his next effort, a psychological thriller called The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman.
Now, over eighteen months after hearing about this artist’s sophomore motion picture, I got a screener from Terran in the mail, and have finally seen it. I’m happy to say that Twisted Death inspires as much thought and reaction as its creator’s first work did. What I was least surprised by is that this filmmaker is still clearly a playwright who’s transitioned into cinematic projects. What’s most surprising is that his visual sensibilities have improved. They display a sense of planning, execution, and verve that bode really well for his future in this storytelling format.
The movie opens simply: a series of black and white street photographs are shown over the credits, driven by an excellent piece of music that’s reminded me why the Theremin is so damn cool. After that, we’re trapped in the decidedly indoor world of Adam (Stewart O’Reilly), a graphic designer in the UK. It’s clear, early on, that Adam’s big problem is that he can’t embrace real life. In fact, the entire story is about Adam’s self-imprisonment, the internet obsessions that take up his time, and how he tries to avoid human contact.
Unlike in the Sandra Bullock film, The Net, this protagonist has many obvious problems that make his self-confinement feel justified. Adam is a decent-looking man, yet it says a lot about someone when they wear a shirt and tie during the workday – without ever leaving their apartment or seeing another person. If he got dressed up for meetings on Skype or to take talk to his neighbors, that would be one thing – but this guy is all dressed up and seems to want nowhere to go.
And that’s before we get to Adam’s obsession with his favorite actress, Starlet Maddinson (Nicola Posener). I guess lots of adult males masturbate to images of their favorite models or performers, yet Adam really takes it to the next level. He splices audio and video clips of her work so that it sounds like they’re talking to each other. He does this kind of thing so well and so often that not only does his actual work suffer, but he can pretend that he’s dining with his dream girl. These big problems are all made plain, even before Adam starts hearing and seeing very strange and impossible things.
My favorite aspect of tTDoaLM is that it does an accurate job of depicting someone who uses the internet too much. The home-delivery shopping, grinning at videos of flubs and successes, feeling vicariously jubilant about some party on YouTube, trolling strangers on web forums… Seeing how it’s blossomed into internet addiction: sleeping or waking at all hours, marathons of work, fixating on and fantasizing about people he’d never meet because he’s wasting away in front of a screen – as an occasional internet geek who worked at several web design and hosting companies, it all feels true.
There’s very little to his life that isn’t kind of passive… Even the way Adam sits by the window, staring out at the world as if he can’t leave, makes it clear that this man has chosen an obsessive, repetitive existence in which “feelings” are never dealt with because (a) there’s no real personal interaction with anyone and (b) the next distraction is just a mouse-click away.
The second thing that I would highlight is the movie’s visuals, because they are uniformly excellent. The footage, all in black and white, looks gorgeous. The composition, framing, and editing are all superb – the camera movements are always as impressive and good-looking as the static shots. Visually, this pic is just inspired…
The lead actor is fine in his role, and that’s truly to his credit as he’s almost never interacting with another performer. Extreme visuals might sell the slow disintegration of a person, and narration might baldly tell the audience what to expect, but tTDoaLM doesn’t rely on either to get the story across – O’Reilly does a fine job of conveying these things on his own. Acting by oneself can be an incredible challenge, but he does it nicely.
Similarly, Posener is impressive. The “dream girl” role is frequently a very hollow cliche, and I’m sure some actresses are conflicted about these characters. Yet she plays the part in Twisted Death quite well. Posener has the good looks to pass as an internet hit, the poise to come off as a successful actress, and the range to do what the film requires from her as the story spins out of control. I only hope that her next job offers a less constricted character so that we can all see what she’s capable of.
I like that the movie eventually runs so far with Adam’s agoraphobia/paranoia/insomnia that everything starts to break down, and the thriller element begins to dominate over the character study. The confusing transitions and splices almost make me want to describe this movie as “like a one-man version of Miike’s <Audition.” (I can’t really make that comparison, though, because (a) Audition is the better movie and (b) I like Audition way less than this) And I was picking my jaw off the floor when I saw what Terran was able to do with CGI here. Little touches like these go a long way to making you appreciate a movie more.
But, like Terran’s first work, this picture won’t be for everyone. For all the visual quality on display, there is a distinct vibe that creeps in that’s kind of a B-movie feeling, although that’s common for films with this kind of topic.
Moreover, the protagonist will be repulsive to some. He’s compulsively fantasizing about an attractive stranger on a level that’s creepy and weird and messed up. He takes in so much, yet gives back little-to-nothing, to anyone. And, while I don’t approve of perving on strangers or acquaintances in that fashion, I think I picked up on the fact that Adam doesn’t seem socially inept or hateful of others – he is clearly hurting. Even his fantasies are very passively experienced, showing how desperate he is for attention and affection. Adam gives off the vibe that he’s neurotic because he’s been hurt so badly that his psyche can’t cope, not that he’s neurotic because he’s misanthropic or has personality flaws that make him incapable of decency.
More importantly, people who are receptive to Twisted Death may have issues with its ending, like I did. I didn’t have a problem with its transition from character study to thriller, or the lack of clarity with what was going on – but when the very end comes, it’s a big batch of info that’s given by narration. While that may fit the movie’s narration-heavy motif, it still feels a bit weak for something that clarifies what’s come before and resolves the entire story.
That said, I can’t be too disappointed if The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman doesn’t seem to stick the landing – which, frankly, is the only reason I prefer Id-iology to this film. The movie is visually excellent, it was genuinely scary and unsettling at times (one of my roommates, a big horror fan, was quite impressed), and I had a good time watching the film. Terran displays a fine grasp of internet abuse and addiction, of paranoia, obsession, and agoraphobia – and he displays fine audio and visual work in telling the tale. I recommend you check this film out when you can.
I’d say that this movie rates 3 & 1/2 out of 5 on the rating score this site wants me to use, but I can’t give half of anything here. As such – and keep in mind that I don’t give ratings on my own site at all – I’m grading downwards and giving this film: