Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Shadow World: The Haunting of Mysti Delane

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

Shadow World: The Haunting of Mysti Delane
Written and directed by Daniel E. Falicki
Sector 5 Films / Rotomation Pictures
Chemical Burn Entertainment / WWMM
75 minutes, 2014 / 2015

I believe I said this before, but here I go: the more of Daniel Falicki’s film’s I see, the more I’m impressed. There definitely are themes that seems to run through them, such as a strange, shadowy creature of some sort, some mysterious place (be it in an abandoned building or house, or a dream state) that damaged humans manage to invade and disturb, and a level of artiness that is an addition to the viewer’s reception rather than an annoyance.

Peri Jill Phillips as Mysti
In this film, all of those aspects are present in an absorbing tale that is essentially a two-person piece. Of course there’s the title character of Mysti Delane (Peri Jill Phillips). She is a woman in her late teens or early twenties who is living in an isolated farmhouse. Weak and withdrawn both physically and mentally, she habitually gets some psychotropic ayahuasca vines (also known as yagé) from a cemetery, boils them down, and drinks the potion. This takes her to the mostly peaceful titular place that is a lovely and serene forest which is unfortunately also inhabited by a horned and demonic man-beast that has escaped into the real world. It usually shows up in dreams, causing terror and physical manifestations, such as scratch marks on Mysti’s body. She is aptly named because her psyche is “misty” with both a fear of the shadow world and an ever growing desire to go back to it. Also, Delane means “From the Elder Tree Grove,” which may represent her use of the elder tree vines.

The second main character is Mysti’s aunt, Aurelia (Liz Nolan), who comes to check in on Mysti, only to find her in rough shape. You see, she too has dabbled in the Shadow World, as had other members of the family, but Aurelia put a halt to the practice before it became overpowering. The name Aurelia means “the golden one” in Latin (it was Julius Caesar’s mother’s name), and is associated with leadership, honor and bravery.

The only other two “characters” are a brief but memorable cameo by the director as the cemetery caretaker, and the beastie thingie (Rich Granoble, an acting pseudonym for Falicki), who, as I said, is mostly shadow.

While the pace of the film is pretty slow, it never let me down or bored at all. I was riveted by the building story, and even more so by the acting of the two leads, Phillips and Nolan who carry the film, along with the photography (more on that later). Phillips does well to carry the personal pain of Mysti’s life and need for the Shadow World despite its obvious dangers in her face, though mostly in the hollowness of her eyes. She carries Mysti in the moment, whether it’s fear, being distraught, or just passing on the torment of her views of reality; Mysti writes a manifesto on the ills of the world in her diary, that we hear in an internal monolog full of anger at a world that’s overpopulated and self-destructive (ironic as she lives on a secluded acreage, but I’ll pass on that). Her feverish writing has the uncomfortable feel of a meth-head, driven by something personal that has to get out, much like the shadowy demonic presence.

Liz Nolan, who plays Aurelia
Nolan is much stronger here than in her nearly comic-relief-yet-pivotal role in Falicki’s 3:33: The Witching Hour. She brings Aurelia’s fear and concern into the present, mixing both strength and weaknesses without being awash in being over the top. Aurelia arrives just past when things are getting out of control for Mysti, and she tries to rectify them through use of the craft, but the question is whether it’s even possible by this point. If you haven’t caught it yet (i.e., if I’m being clear or not), there is a strong correlation of the Shadow World and opioids. Both are something that starts out recreational, and becomes addictive, to the point of a “monkey on your back” (i.e., demon in your dreams) that will eventually destroy you in one way or another (a subtle subtheme of another of Falicki’s work, Awaken the Devil aka The Un-American). This is also expressed in Aurelia’s reactions and behaviors as a past user. The analogy of the two themes is a strong indicator for the film, making it that much more interesting to me (no, I’m not a user of opiates nor ayahuasca; I’m happily boring in that way), having been in a punk rock world that included the Ramones and the Heartbreakers (no, not Tom Petty, but the real Heartbreakers), seeing the devastation that addictions can incur (RIP Shandi). But I digress…

Director Daniel Falicki's cameo
The solitary farmhouse life Mysti inhabits in the real world is represented by a run-down house that is a hollow space in a dead homestead, which surrounds the claustrophobic room in which she mostly inhabits. The post-potion Shadow World, on the other hand, is a beautiful forest, shot though an overwashed lens possibly to indicate a nearly unbearable lightness of being (with apology to Kundera), even with its inherent danger. This is a moody piece for certain, that follows the story without the need for gore to keep the viewer’s attention, yet for certain there are some nice jump-scares and digital effects that are – er – effective.

This isn’t a sit in the basement with buds and beer, and point out the silliness kind of film, but rather a slow and building character study about sadness, obsession, and the care of these two women for each other, as well as, if you’ll pardon the expression, the dark side. If you’re in the right frame of mind, and want to see a smart indie micro-budget film that tells a story yet has a heart, as well as a few horrors, yeah, this could be a wise pick.


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