Saturday 9 May 2015

Fish Hook (2014)

Director: Nickolas Duarte
Stars: Ryan DeLuca and Paul Hickert
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2015. Here's an index to my reviews of 2015 films.
I'd seen many of the Home Grown Shorts at this year's Phoenix Film Festival before, but Fish Hook was a new one on me and it was the one that I knew I needed to see again. It's a real oddity: a picture that's all about impact, which we feel in our gut far more than we see on the screen because this is as ephemeral as anything I've seen. If you scribble down every fact presented, it'll be a very short list indeed. We only meet two of the three characters in the story; beyond names, we're never told who anyone is or how they connect to anyone else. What happened in the past is skirted around with practised skill; what happens in the present is brutal. None of this really tells us anything at all. Yet, at the same time, we're given such impressions that we believe that we know a whole heck of a lot. We know who all these people are, what they did in the past and why they do what they do in the present. We look at all the things on screen but effectively see the unseen hanging in the air between them and watch it manifest in our minds.

That's clever filmmaking, but we have to wonder if we got the right picture. Perhaps that's the point. The director and co-writer, Nickolas Duarte, may have had a completely different vision of the story than I do or you do. He could make three more films about the same subject from different perspectives, then tie them together into an episodic feature and call it Rashomon. When the credits rolled on the big screen, I had a good idea what was going on but wanted the film to start afresh and let me check my theory. After a second viewing, I'm relatively sure that I have a crystal clear vision of the big picture, but I'm also well aware that it's entirely fashioned from my personal interpretations which could be completely off base. I would recommend this to any university film class as it really ends with an unspoken suggestion that the entire audience should immediately form groups and dissect the film frame by frame to check their own interpretations and figure out what it's really saying.
This makes a synopsis very difficult. The film opens with sinister imagery: drills, saws, blood spurting into a sink. Davey texts Brandon, but Brandon doesn't respond. We watch him not respond, instead taking a glass and balancing it on the edge of a table, playing with it until it inevitably falls. This abstraction sets the stage admirably for the personal conflict to follow. The text was about Mr Mike and Brandon's reaction is to eventually go to see him in his workshop. They talk banalities. Well, Mr Mike does; Brandon keeps his mouth mostly shut, letting the heavy air in between them speak for him. There's more hanging in this air than exists otherwise in the workshop, a sword of Damocles with a fraying thread, a vast shared McGuffin as hard to remove as a fish hook. I know what Mr Mike says to Brandon but I also read its meaning, which is another thing entirely. I don't know if Mr Mike tries to hug him, wrestle him or protect him. There's just so much history here that it's threatening to erupt from Brandon's body and leave him a shell.

And when it does erupt, the sound kicks in beyond the ambience that's been droning quietly behind it all. 'My body is a cage,' sings Daniel Vildosola, who composed the wonderful music that is so relevant that it always had to be original. The cinematography of John Sears keeps the violence as impressionistic as the script, shooting so closely that we see blurs that only occasionally manifest themselves into recognisable clarity. You know, like a fight really is. Ryan DeLuca does a magnificent job as Brandon, screaming at us in silence until Duarte ramps up the volume to eleven. Paul Hickert is almost as good, a sort of Willem Dafoe next door who seems to be one thing but might just be another; even though he has more dialogue, he's still acting mostly with body language, which tells its own story. Once I post this review, I'm going to ping Nickolas Duarte, who wrote the script with Drew Grubich, and ask him what he believes he said. I wonder if it will match what I heard him say.

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