Make-Out with Violence
First screened in April 2009 / Reviewed in August 2010 / Click Here to Comment
Directors: The Deagol Brothers. Cast: Eric Lehning, Cody DeVos, Brett Miller, Leah High, Shellie Marie Shartzer, Jordan Lehning, Tia Shearer, Josh Duensing, Amanda Bailey, Patricia Doyle. Screenplay: The Deagol Brothers, Cody DeVos, and Eric Lehning.
Twitter Capsule: Vivid, unusual indie finally released! Sort of Virgin Suicides with an already-dead girl. Uneven but groovy.

Photo © 2008 Limerent Pictures
Released into a few theaters two years after it began copping prizes on the festival circuit, the Deagol Brothers' Make-Out with Violence is a fond memory I'll eagerly revisit if the Chicago market elects to take a peek. If no, the DVD arrives in October, and I'll be ready for that, too. You won't have trouble pegging Make-Out as the work of young filmmakers collaborating way off the Hollywood grid with a team of their friends, many of whom hold down two or more responsibilities somewhere on the credit roll. What's more surprising is the vivid color, the nervy structure, the unsettling sound design, and the ways the film succeeds with its wall-to-wall song score and its irony-tinged beatification of some young boys' infatuation with a beautiful girl. Those last two elements should have been a Scylla and Charybdis for this movie: many a movie of higher or lower budget has been felled by one or the other. Even when the pacing or the dramatic tension of Make-Out with Violence flags, though—and I must admit, it's a movie that lingers more for its setup and mood than for plot structure or momentum—you shy away from writing it off in the kind of one-line summary that would make it sound imitative or crudely pastiched.

"George Romero does The Virgin Suicides" comes close to the mark without capturing anything of how Make-Out with Violence swerves at very unexpected moments between a funny, pithy, occasionally smug cross-section of suburban layabouts with little more to ponder than their playlists and a creepy central scenario in which the long-haired dreamgirl of the high-school goes missing, only to be discovered in some kind of undead state by some of the local boys who idolized her. As they lash the gray-fleshed, ravenous girl to a tree, and later lock her away in a bathroom in a temporarily unoccupied house, the film lunges neither for overt horror or flippant spoof. It has some of the camp dread and lurking macabre of Bob Balaban's Parents, but what ultimately makes it click has nothing to do with any movie but itself. So much clicks, or gets under the skin: the eerie torpor of the undead girl, struggling with her posture and grip, making herself repellent but maintaining her fascination in complex ways; the way another character's name gets turned into a recurring, phonetic joke that shouldn't work once much less a dozen times, and sometimes as a means to cut considerable tension; the way the super-saturated song score is not only more melodious and variegated than most but, together with the gleaming color-palette and the ripe self-consciousness of the characters, radiates a weird blend of emotional vivacity and emotional avoidance that runs through the whole film. On the one hand, the characters do little but pore over their feelings, earnest and petty, guilty and uncynical. They're hardly holding back from their urges, or the queasy, unsettled, invigorated feelings that are prompted by their secret, and their conspiratorial whispers about it. At the same time, it's clear they aren't getting to the bottom of the mysteries they embody to each other, or to themselves.

Make-Out with Violence has trouble accumulating momentum or breaking out of the familiar indie bonds of male-centeredness. As so often, even self-conscious acknowledgment of Make-Out's boyish bias isn't quite the same thing as getting around it. Still, it's a stylish and sensorily engaging feature made on a mere percentage of a Hollywood tentpole's electricity bill. I not only appreciated but actually admired the devices that the filmmakers employ and which they creatively mix and match in order to evoke adolescent impulses, fantasies, betrayals, and confusions. I'm sure Make-Out with Violence won't be for everybody, but it's one of the few features I've seen by college-age upstarts that really won me over to its cause, and made me actively invested not just in the filmmakers' future prospects but in the visibility and success of this one. So that's where you come in: see it. Delight in its audio and visual panache, or if you find its tones or its conceptions clichéd, at least debate them with a viewing partner. I've seen a lot of movies in the year and a half since I saw this one, and few have emanated such a convincing aura of originality, even when recombining familiar or even hackneyed elements. It refuses to settle lazily into a genre, and nor does it "do" genre in that facetious way by which some movies flatter themselves by straining to look superior and dismissive of their own dubious foundations, not bothering to care that they bring nothing to the table besides the templates they are so busily undermining. Make-Out with Violence isn't sneering at anything. The film is tart and mannered enough not to seem uncritically immersed in the characters' sea of uncomprehending hormones, but it's nonetheless an earnest piece of work, and it builds a real air of mystery around the captive girl, what she is, what she is or isn't capable of doing, and what we're invited to feel about her or her caretaker-captors. With real filmmaking flair to complement their frisky but unjaded creativity, the Deagol brothers have forced me into a phrase I thought was fully lost to banality: they are talents to keep an eye on. Grade: B

VOR: (3)   (What is this?)
You can spot the narrative and stylistic influences, and certain scenes and subplots do get a bit too clever or damp or twee. What's valuable, though, about the movie is how nimbly it keeps shuttling among tones, arcs, sounds, images, and preoccupations. Whatever isn't working perfectly at the moment is bound to change up quickly, and the facets that are most compelling are the ones that stick with you, long after the movie's over. That's an impressive achievement for any film, and an elusive goal for at least half of them. For a film developed, produced, and sold out of the artistically rich but way off-Hollywood hopper of Nashville, TN, that's a real badge of honor, enough for a solid "3" and very nearly a "4."

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