Beneath the Flesh DVD Review
Written and directed by Randall Kaplan
2009, Region 0 (NTSC), 72 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on May 26th, 2009
Randall Kaplan has been cranking out disturbing short films since 2004. Five of his horror works are presented in this new collection titled Beneath the Flesh. The DVD includes Boxhead (23 minutes), The Basement (5 minutes), The Child (5 minutes), Id (12 minutes) and Insides (28 minutes.)
Ordinarily the details of the plot should follow, except that in Kaplan's films the plot is secondary to the visual style. The titles all share similar themes and are more about atmosphere than events. For example, the protagonist of Boxhead (Steve Arons) is a man facing his golden years and dealing with an antagonistic childhood creation. Id is an exploration into the mind of a madman, and The Basement features two men in a basement, one of which has a knife! Kaplan himself stars in Insides as someone trying to keep his darker desires at bay. Each film takes a different approach in exploring the internal horrors of the mind. The Child is a disturbing animated piece reminiscent of Eraserhead by way of stop-motion.
The heroes of these short films struggle to maintain control of their lives while they are surrounded by the smothering world of shadows. The majority of the episodes are presented with limited dialogue and are punched up with a powerful sound design that pushes the viewer deeper into the director's vision. The images are often surreal and occasionally hypnotic, challenging the viewer to step beyond face value and submerge themselves into the rich symbolism.
Kaplan's influences are legion, yet he manages to make his own voice heard among them. David(s) Lynch and Cronenberg and even the Brothers Quay have all inspired Kaplan's world of Kafka nightmares. The fear of losing control rests at the heart of his works and plays out in a variety of scenarios that leave a wake of emotional destruction in their path. Kaplan uses universal themes, but the portrayal is uniquely his own.
Cinematographer Leo Schott III contributes a gorgeous look to the majority of the films (Insides was shot by Kira Davies and Ari Schaeffer). His masterful working of light and shadow beautifully conveys the landscape of Kaplan's surreal nightmares. The deep pools of blackness hide many elements in these shorts, and together this team creates beauty within the horrors.
Kaplan's sincerity is evident in the interview segment on the disc. It is a nice touch that he sits in an office trying to convey his desire to present the richness of opposing influences, while a Transformers toy rests on a table beneath a poster for Werner Herzog's Nosferatu.
Video and Audio:
The picture quality is not without faults, including some minor macroblockig, but that may be due in part to the source material. Blacks are rock solid and contrast levels are well represented, allowing for some of the other issues to be overlooked.
Audio options are limited to a 2-channel stereo mix that is quite sufficient.
There are some decent special features here, but sadly a director's commentary track is absent. Kaplan gives an eight minute interview that is fairly informative, although a scene-specific track would have been nice. A four minute gallery of stills includes some storyboard art. A trailer is present for this and other fine Pathfinder titles.
Having never heard of Kaplan before this collection, I welcomed his style of horror with each short film. His influences are strong, and I look forward to future offerings that may hopefully include a feature-length film.