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Sunday 20 October 2013

Her Special Day (2009)

Director: Casey Moore
Stars: Patti Tindall, Chris Hays, Charlie Steak and Deena Trudy
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon IV in Tempe in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I've lost count of how many times I've seen Her Special Day but I still haven't quite figured out if I like it or not. Certainly I wasn't sold on my first viewing, as a festival screener. Remembering back, I liked the aging effects work (colour bleeding, frame skips, blurring, crackle, artifacts and oversaturation) that succeeded in making the piece feel like it had been shot in the seventies. It was far from a new approach at the time but the quality of the work was notably high and, unlike most pictures that do the same thing, it actually made sense in this instance. What I didn't like was how empty the picture felt and how obviously the story played out. It appears to be about a young girl celebrating her birthday. After all, its Her Special Day, right, and it's a lovely one that sees her out in the country having a picnic, frolicking in the fields and watching the ducks. Everything ought to be great but it feels utterly wrong. There are no other kids around; all the picnic guests are mummy and daddy's friends who wear strange medallions and talk about how awesome the dark is.

Perhaps I've seen too many Satan worshipping movies from the seventies, but I figured this out in no time flat and found no surprises waiting in the wings. Even the presence of Patti Tindall didn't save the film for me, though she had the lead role and did as solid a job as I'm used to seeing from her, in movies as varied as Death of a Ghost Hunter, Cloud 9 and There's Something Out There. She's the only cast member really called upon to do anything here, the rest simply hanging around and looking sinister, which Charlie Steak and Deena Trudy do well. In comparison, Tindall has to work her way through a set of competing emotions as she suffers her way through her daughter's special day. She also gets the best lines, but then this isn't a dialogue movie, it's a feel movie. It plays for that off kilter atmosphere that I remember well from Satanic and haunting movies of the seventies and gets pretty close, then adds in all those aging effects to really fill us with nostalgia. What we see even has curved corners, as if the picture is being projected in 8mm.

So I let the film go, but it kept showing back up again. It played better when I watched it as a Fear Fest 4 submission and then better still on the big screen at the event itself. By this point I realised that the piece had an ethereal quality that meant that it didn't want to be forgotten. The choice of shots does help it feel like a memory, one that Tindall and her screen husband Chris Hays might have played over and over again in the years that followed. There isn't enough internal consistency for that to be literally true, for it to be a home video, but there is a dreamlike quality that would ring true as a remembrance within a nightmare. I realised too that I was remembering it far more clearly than other Synthetic Human films, such as Pattern: Response, which I still saw as a better movie. Then Bill Pierce, local film critic for the Examiner, chose it for his superb AZ Forbidden Films shorts selection at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival, where he talked it up effusively. He clearly likes it more than I do, not to mention more than the folk who made it.

Now I'm watching afresh, so I can write this long overdue review, and realising that I don't need to, as it's stuck in my subconscious like a catchy tune. It's easier to take a clinical approach, to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. As loose and improvisational as it feels, it's carefully constructed, with a Frankenstein homage early on and a clear lifeblood reference in the red balloon. What I believe I've figured out now is that the film works best in a communal setting. At home, it's a personal piece, not one that I identify with but one I can sympathise with. It isn't about the child, it's about her mother. Tindall is good at playing torn and her solitary dramatic performance makes her stand out from her infuriatingly calm cohorts, every one soulless and unemotional for a reason. I feel for her, though I'm not sure I should. Watching in a crowd, it feels less inevitable, more about the child, and it calls in a protective way, prompting a mob response. Bill may carry a torch for the film, but I want to light a torch, grab a pitchfork and go save a child.

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