Friday, April 1, 2016

Review: Rows

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by David W. Warfield
Storysolver Film Lab / Labyrinth 7
Indie Nights Movies / MVD Visual
82 minutes / 2013 / 2016

In this convoluted and revolving story, Rose White (Hannah Schick) is given a task by her dad (Kenneth Hughes) to give eviction papers to a mysterious woman (Nancy Murray) who may be an “enchantress” (aka witch; more on that later). She “bewitches” (drugs) Rose, and the story is on its way. Kinda.

Hannah Schick
Filmed in Delaware, Rose and her questionable friend Greta (Lauren Lakis) – as in Gretel – find  themselves repeating their actions, and nearly always trying to get out of a seemingly never-ending cornfield. Each variation they go through starts similarly, but turns out different once they approach the weird house inhabited (once or still) by the strange woman, with each character playing kind of a different part in the story section, always leading to a result that also changes.

This highly praised film is based on a number of different fairy tales (in case you didn’t recognize the name “Rose White”), such as the Briar (cornfield), Hansel and Gretel being lost in the woods (again, the cornfield), a father that is clueless, a lack of an older positive female/mother figure, a wicked witch (possible step-mother in one variation?) doling out curses, and so on.

Lauren Lakis
There is also a smattering of more modern fictions as well, with influences like Groundhogs Day (1993), Run Lola Run (1998), Thinner (1996), Drag Me to Hell (2009) and The Shining (1980). The circular nature of the story and the “shooting the messenger” (cursing) come together in snippets.

My problem is that, well, rather than being dragged to hell, to me the film just dragged. By about the halfway time, I no longer cared. Watching someone – or sometimes two or more people in some cases – walking through a cornfield really started to wear on me, making me more impatient than filled with dread. As they continued to just walk and walk and walk, my interest began to increasingly decline. But I stuck it through the entire thing, waiting for the end result and explanation.

Considering the opening sequence, I am guessing that the whole thing was a psychotropic-induced nightmare, but it’s not really explained nor resolved. In fact, none of it really makes much sense, other than the most basic premise. There is no feeling of horror, no anticipation, and no angst that reached outside of the characters to me. I was left confused, befuddled, and not sure of what I was seeing, or what it meant to the story.

Nancy Murray
For example, there is a scene where Greta steps out of the cornfield. Shot from the front, she is dressed; shot from the back she is not. Okay, I understand she is supposed to be a seductress at this moment, but the dual shot makes no sense to the story (other than the actress not wanting to be shot topless, I suppose, even though there are many shots of both women being obviously braless, and the camera focusing on them bending over).

Even the direction is pretty solid, with beautiful shots and a languid feel. It’s the story that is the weak point to me. This makes me sad, actually, as there is a lot going for it, and if the plot was stronger, without so many questions that left me scratching my head, it could have been much more powerful to me. Sigh.  

Cinema can be like poetry, with layers (rows?) of symbolism that cloud the context, and often a masturbatory vision for the creators that is deeply meaningful for some, and hard to read for others. It’s not a matter of good or bad, it’s on a different level of abstraction. Perhaps a commentary track could have been used to do some ‘splainin’, as Ricky Ricardo might have said. There are, however, no extras other than the chapters.

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