Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review: Flowers

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written, shot and directed by Phil Stevens
Borderline Cinema / Frog Militia
Unearthed Films / MVD Visual

Philadelphia, where this story takes place and was mostly shot, is known as “the City of Brotherly Love.” Well, for Flowers, it is certainly not the city of Sisterly Love. The reason is that there is a serial killer on the loose who targets women in their twenties who have been “naughty,” by various means. But when most films of this type start with the women being captured, this one goes for their souls after they are already dead. This is not the first film to use this premise (Carnival of Souls [1962] and the recent Normal [2013] are but a couple of examples), but director Phil Stevens manages to take a pretty unique perspective.

Bryant W. Lohr, Sr. as killer The Exile
Over ambient sounds and music, and a lack of dialog throughout, we follow six women who have been mutilated for sexual pleasure by an older, overweight man known only as The Exile (Bryant W. Lohr, Sr.). His countenance is stoic and unemotional, his body sometimes bare (i.e., nekkid), and judging by the number of bodies his killing spree is huuuuuuge (sorry, was watching idiot Trump recently, but I digress…). But he is only the catalyst here, and not the focus. Most of the story takes place after his actions.

Of the multitude of deaths, the film focuses on six of his “flowers,” most of who disappear from their everyday lives without notice due to their marginalized status, such as sex workers or substance abusers. Each come to their after-consciousness confused, silent, and with an autopsy “Y” crudely stitched across their chests.

Each of these women ends up in a dilapidated part of a house that looks like it has been deserted since the ‘30s. There seems like there is some playing with time, such as a rotary phone and old photographs, but the hair styles and colors, tattoos and piercings tell you it’s in the present time; it’s the purgatory that is timeless.

Anastasia Blue as Flower #3
One ends up in a crawlspace under a porch full of bodies in and out of garbage bags, one in a bathroom that would make the one in Saw (2004) look appetizing, another in a kitchen, and so on. There are some consistent themes across the stories, though, such as a dead pig (especially the head), old photographs, and lots and lots of decay in the form of muck, mire, decay, and worms.

Most of the cast have no previous credits before this release, but every single one holds up fine under what appears to be quite the arduous filming conditions, such as crawling through the substances mentioned above, being nearly constantly in filthy clothes and schmutz on their bodies, and in some cases in very confined spaces. In that way, it’s a pretty disgusting and gross picture.

Being director Phil Stevens’ first IMDB indication of helming a picture, he certainly had nothing to lose by experimentation, and in this case, most of it works really well. The film is presented in a world that is drained of most color, seeped in sepia tones, to represent a different worldliness of being lost. It’s a really nice touch. The lack of sound – I’m guessing in part so he could give directions throughout – also works, as he manages to still get the story across.

This is a very slow paced film. You definitely need some patience with it, but if you do, you will find it’s worth it. Many of the shots are longer, and you stick with each of the stories for a length that you would not expect in quite a few cases. I’m not sure how much of the lack of speed has to do with Stevens or his editor, Ronnie Sorter (who directed some of his own genre films back in the VHS days), but in either case, it works for rather than against this film.

The women who are the victims here certainly are not girl next door types, and there is very little character background if at all, and yet Stevens still makes you feel for these people. Their acting also does as much in that direction, which is all the more impressive considering for most this is their first (credited) roles. The characters are put into situations where they supposed choose their actions, seemingly a few on the line with some of the “7 Deadly Sins” such as gluttony, vanity, and lust.

The film has a great look. The make-up, the way Stevens sets up the shots (all by him on a relatively steady hand-held camera), the gore and disgusting room set-ups, it all works to gnaw on the viewers uncomfortablility level (for me, it was the close-up on a real injection). My favorite shot was one of the final flower reaching into her own body cavity, as seen from the inside (a very manga idea).

There are some questions I have about the film that were not really answered in the story, such as the reason for the pig and pics (other than availability), or who goes to heaven and who ends up in hell. Also, why is Defect written on the wall in one scene (and is it read as DEE-fect, as in something wrong, or De-FECT, as in give up). Unfortunately, these questions are not answered in the two commentaries, one by director Stevens, and the other with editor and sound designer Sorter. Their talks are totally from the technical end of writing, building the sets (actually quite interesting the way they do it) and getting funding, or sound and editing (duh). Neither barely touches the storyline at all. There is a third extra track that isolates the ambient soundscape, which has a cool, only wind-through-tunnels feel.

Other extras, which are worth the time, are a 10-minute interview with our killer, Lohr, the full 14-minuite audition tape of Flower 6, Makaria Tsapotoris (who also was a major part of the production crew and Stevens’ “right-hand person,” as he describes in the commentary), 15 minutes of really interesting behind-the-scene stills, and a bunch of Unearthed trailers (including this one).

During his rambling-but-enjoyable discussion, Stevens mentions the Deleted Scenes reel…which is not included here, but in another triple-disc released version (one is the soundtrack CD) that is also available. Would have liked to have seen that, but I’m happy to have had the opportunity to see this film.

I don’t know if I would use the word masterpiece, but a successful project? Yes, without a doubt. For a debut feature, Stevens, cast, and crew did a remarkable job. There is sort of an indication of a possible sequel – and just to show you how off the wall this film is – in the opening sequence. I would look forward to seeing where they go next.

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