Index Pages

Saturday 29 June 2013

Dry Gulch (2013)

Director: Alejandro Alberola
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This was a subtle choice by programmer Mike Stackpole to kick off the first Sci-Fi Shorts set at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. Not only is it an animated film, it's one without a single word of dialogue, the only vocal sound we expect to hear being a scream that escapes its owner's throat in the form of searing guitar. It even starts slowly, but the stunning visual design on display was certain to grab everyone's eyeballs and turn them to the screen. The films that populated two sets of sci-fi shorts this year were of unparalleled quality, perhaps because filmmakers are starting to realise that science fiction doesn't have to equal special effects, and those still playing with CGI are finding it easier to look good. Selections during the past few years have been inconsistent, as the quality of submissions has varied so much, but this year's pleasant surprise of consistency is outweighed perhaps only by the pleasant surprise of variety, this being its epitome.

It's a Mexican film, which is quintessentially science fiction and quintessentially western all at the same time. We're in Chiseler's Burg, which the film's IMDb synopsis calls 'an old town on a dying planet in a long forgotten region of space'. It's quite clearly influenced by the movie Heavy Metal and in turn by the organic work of artists like Jean Giraud aka Mœbius, who had co-created Métal Hurlant, the French comic book whose legacy led to it. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Mœbius, who is still mostly known for fantasy and science fiction work, had started out in westerns with a series called Blueberry. He worked occasionally in film, including concept designs for Alien, which grew out of the legendary failed adaptation of Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky, with whom he'd created comic books in France, such as L'Incal. The reason I mention all this is that Dry Gulch is clearly so influenced by titles like L'Incal that they could almost be seen as part of the same universe.
If you've ever seen anything drawn by Mœbius, you'll be instantly intrigued by that. Dry Gulch was brought to life by six animators, who share twenty names between them, so I'm not going to list them here, but they channel his vision into a striking world. While we follow a silent story from murder and hanging to revenge, we can't help but bathe in the highly organic visuals: a spaceship that reminds of a giant flying centipede, snow that makes it seem like the stars are dancing, huge mushrooms that serve as bridges. While this is clearly a western, it's fully translated to this alien world. In place of horses there are giant spiked warthogs or huge birds. Instead of carriages, there are hovercars with neatly retracting steps. The sniper rifle looks like a dieselpunk antique. Yet the archetypes are still here and eerily familiar: the wanted poster, the windswept duster and the fire to keep people warm out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.

The music is another archetype, but less traditionally American and more like an Italian prog rock improvisation on spaghetti western themes by Ennio Morricone. The choice to to make this rather universal by eschewing spoken words in favour of themes is a good one, the English words on the wanted poster really as much art as the images they accompany. The lack of words highlights the prominence and importance of the music, by Javier and Francisco Diaz Pinelo, and also underlines that connection to Heavy Metal. I really enjoyed the score, which accentuates the visuals but also survives them, as it would be much easier to listen to this outside the framework of the film than most soundtracks. If I'm navigating Spanish websites appropriately, it would seem that both play for a Mexican hard rock band called Ravenscar, who I will now need to explore. Now all these guys need to do is make more films like Dry Gulch and we'll have a Mexican Heavy Metal to enjoy.

Dry Gulch is available to view for free on Vimeo.

No comments:

Post a Comment