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Monday, 22 October 2012

Whom God Helps (2012)

Director: Louis Mansfield
Stars: Jason Vail, Kate Boyer and Brandon Ruckdashel
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my festival reviews.
Visually striking from the outset, it's not immediately clear where this sixteen minute American short is going to take us. Combining enticing abstracts with shots of privileged young things at a Philadelphia party, it feels like a music video for a percussion heavy jazz improvisation, or even footage to sit under the opening credits of a television legal drama. A couple of minutes in, we switch to an underground parking lot where one tipsy couple is heading back to their car. They aren't named, so are obviously archetypal, but their happy evening gradually descends in tone and action. The only other character is a mysterious stranger who doesn't appear to be entirely human but watches them from the shadows nonetheless, even driving their conversation with commands in an ancient tongue that only the man can hear. They're one word commands that we see translated in subtitles and while the man follows them, it isn't clear if he knows it.

There are no easy answers here, which I'm sure is absolutely deliberate, but the key may be in that 'Whom God Helps' is the translation into English of the Hebrew name Azrael, the name of the angel of death. What doesn't help is that different traditions see Azrael very differently. In Judaism he's the embodiment of evil, while in Islam he's the returner of human souls to God. It isn't often that watching a horror movie can spark a theological debate, but this almost invites that, to help understand what writer/director Louis Mansfield was aiming at. His background is in thoughtful and ambitious experimental film, which adjectives describe this one well. It's entirely clear what's happening, as Azrael manipulates the couple's interaction from fresh desire to the profane and the violent. Jason Vail is strong as Azrael, under four hours a day of make up. Kate Boyer and Brandon Ruckdashel are just as strong as the couple. What it all means is up to you.

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