In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
This weekend, we attended the third annual Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival! For those not in the know, PUFF is a showcase for the best in oddball cinema from all around the globe. With over 40 films on display over the course of four days, there’s something for everybody to enjoy (just so long as you enjoy truly weird stuff). Here’s what our colleague Dan Scully was able to catch over the weekend.
Satan’s Slaves (dir. Joko Anwar)
See if you can follow along with this one. Satan’s Slaves (plural) is a remake of Satan’s Slave (singular), which is itself an Indonesian remake of Phantasm. At the same time, Satan’s Slaves (plural) functions as a prequel to Satan’s Slave (singular). Now, you don’t need to know any of this to enjoy the film, which works perfectly in a vacuum, but it’s worth noting that the very end of this movie likely had similar reactions in its home market as Split did here in America, when the final spooky tag reveals the film to be said prequel.
The history of Joko Anwar’s film is convoluted at best, but no more so than if we were to try and track the history of the Italian Dawn of the Dead sequels. Much like those films, Satan’s Slaves needn’t connectivity to be scary. Made as a passion project by Anwar, who was given a blank slate to play loose with the style/mythos of the brand, Satan’s Slaves is a fast-paced pastiche of all the things we’ve loved in American horror (itself now a melting pot of influences) for the past 15 years. Elements of The Conjuring can be found in the fluidity of the way scares are blocked, while the ghosts themselves are ripped directly from The Ring. A final showdown with the evil spirits evokes the battle for Carol Anne’s soul in Poltergeist, and the in-movie mythology is reminiscent of The Omen, and even the later Halloween entries.
Even with such a litany of influences, Satan’s Slaves is still its own thing, which is achieved in the way Anwar draws upon Indonesian spiritualism to produce scares. This is similar to The Exorcist, in that one needn’t be deeply familiar with Catholic mysticism to be affected, while the devout will surely lose their minds.
The rhythm of the more jarring moments is slightly different than what we Americans are trained to expect, which causes more than a few unexpected jump scares, none of which feel cheap or unearned, but the beats of the larger picture feel the same. This is well worn territory seen through an unfamiliar lens, and it was a great way to kick of the festival.
At its center is a handful of fantastic performances, most notably from Tara Basro (Killers), the young woman tasked with keeping her distraught family safe while while evil spirits and financial woes threaten the opposite.
Will Work for Views: The Lo-Fi Life of Weird Paul (dir. Joseph Litzinger & Eric Michael Schrader)
Weird Paul is, well, weird. Currently 45 years of age, he is the self-proclaimed “original vlogger.” In childhood, “Weird” Paul Petroskey spent his time making movies, music videos, and vlogs with the family camcorder. It didn’t matter that the only audience for his content was his parents and a handful of acquaintances (Paul claims that friends were a hard resource to come by in youth), but that’s not why he does anything. It made no difference to him that his stacks and stacks of VHS tapes would likely go unseen – Paul creates because that’s what Paul has to do.
But when a new era of technology dawned in the form of YouTube, things changed for Paul. Now he has a chance to be seen, and finally, all of his old content will have a home… and an audience.
Will Work for Views chronicles a turning point in Paul’s life. According to him, he’s juuuust at the tipping point of his creative career. Enough people know about his channel to consider him a sort of YouTube celebrity, and his obsessive methods of content production are starting, at least to him, to feel worthwhile. He’s about to embark on an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood to perform music at a rock and roll venue, in the hopes that this moment in the heart of the fame factory will be the push his career needs. If it isn’t, he’ll have to continue folding shirts at Spencer’s Gifts and struggling to make ends meet as his home crumbles around him (there’s a scene where, at the request of his insurer, he must demolish his backyard shed, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking).
As the film progresses, we get to know Paul pretty well, and it’s a bittersweet thing to do. On the one hand, his work ethic is admirable; his drive to create unshakeable; his talent undeniable. On the other hand, Paul is his own worst enemy. Such a myopically driven man sees value in eschewing the tasks of day-to-day life in exchange for more creative time – he has embraced the starving artist archetype, almost as if it were a requirement. But who knows? Maybe he’s onto something. There have been two documentaries made about his life, which is more than most can say.
Unfortunately, this documentary, as fun and inspiring as it is, feels incomplete. There’s a darkness in Paul which is hinted at but never explored. While it’s clear that the filmmakers are leaning heavily into the fun aspects of Paul’s existence in the interest of entertainment value, I couldn’t help but feel that a less hagiographic angle would make for a meatier film. Paul references some “bad decisions,” but we go no further than that. We meet his son from a prior marriage, and while it’s clear that his past relationship was strained (his ex-wife does not appear in the film at all), we don’t get any details. Even his son, who clearly loves and respects his father, seems to pity him as well. I’d love to know more about this dynamic. I also wonder if this is Paul’s doing. Maybe this is the one area of his life which he has chosen not to broadcast. Fair enough.
Where the film succeeds most is in the way it turned me into a Weird Paul fan. He’s become a click-hungry vlogger, and I’m more than happy to have given him a few clicks of my own.
Seriously, go listen to “Peanut Butter Recall” or “Pot of Macaroni” and tell me you don’t love it.