The Suffered DVD Review
Written by ZigZag
Written and directed by Andrew Bliss
2007, Region 0 (NTSC), 85 minutes, Not rated
Stephano Moffa as Regen
Samantha Cook as Monica
Jeffrey Sinor as Baxter
Cassi Nelson as Kit
Yvonne Jones as Death
The road of low budget, shot-on-video films leads to a very familiar neighborhood. Like many contemporary subdivisions, all of the houses look alike. The Suffered attempts to bring something new to the 'hood in the form of an existential horror film… except that this is NOT a horror film.
A prologue sets up a nice scenario where a man is tied to a chair and appears bloodied and disheveled. He is told to identify a man in a photo or risk losing his fingers. While it is nice to see the interrogation play out, we are never told any character names, nor shown the photograph. The setup feels tacked on to pad the running time since this sequence is never fully realized and we never return to the scene.
Instead, we are immediately introduced to Regen (Stephano Moffa), where he reunites with Molly (Samantha Cook) after an undetermined time apart and they live happily ever after… until something happens and Regen is left alone to commit suicide. Inciting incidents are the first casualty in this film. The cause for Regen's desperate choice is never revealed and instead we find a Netherworld where cloaked figures (Gatekeepers) beat him physically in order to open him to Enlightenment.
Next we meet the "Death Eater" jackalope man, who cannibalizes his victims to gain their wisdom. Finally the journey leads him to a cave where a Crypt Keeper provides the answers Regen seeks.
A pair of subplots plague this film, one in each dimension. Within the mundane world we meet Baxter (Jeffrey Sinor) and Kit (Cassie Nelson); a relationship that was at once fresh and exciting is suddenly (the next scene) tired and stale. There is no timeline provided to give a point of reference. A teenage boy named Tripp (Dylan Pfaff) somehow figures into the scenario, but the character is never fully realized and the storyline culminates in a confusing twist of inexplicable violence.
Within the Netherworld, Regen meets Death (Yvonne Jones) who whispers a lot of deep and meaningful things. Dialogue between a whispering woman and a heavily accented Italian man could be enlightening, but instead is swallowed within the audio mix. It would be nice if the disc had come with subtitles.
Shot in Naples, Italy, the filmmakers had access to some great locations, but many were underutilized or poorly presented. Lighting levels are low and many shots are awkwardly framed, often neglecting establishing shots that allow a frame of reference for the actions on screen. This lack of coverage results in further confusion to an already complex subject.
Meant as a philosophical discussion on the idea of Death as a passageway unto new life, budget limitations often leave the film flat and melodramatic. Plot and character development take a backseat to a barrage of philosophical conceits. The overall themes of the piece are strong and some moments truly shine, but the effectiveness of the film as a whole is undercut by some basic technical rookie mistakes.
The Suffered is an ambitious project and the script owes as much to the self-awareness of Descartes as the presentation does to more competent filmmakers, including David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman. This is not a bad thing, just a high bar to reach for on a first film that struggles with self-importance and plays at times like a piece of avant garde dinner theatre.
Writer/director Andrew Bliss is a Jack-of-all-trades and he competently tackles each position in bringing the film to fruition, but the film would have been stronger had he focused all of his talent and energy in one direction. The film advice most fitting: "Just because you can do everything, doesn't mean you should."
Video and Audio:
The 1:85:1 picture is presented with a series of filters that add a distinct quality to each sequence. One plays with "old film scratches" and another provides a "dreamy-blurry" style. Both are distracting and the latter makes things hard to discern what is happening on screen. Focus is often soft, but may be deliberate.
The two channel stereo audio levels are uneven and make it difficult to hear key passages of dialogue.
- Audio Commentary by Writer/Director
Bliss brings an excitement to his commentary track that gives off a sense of cautious pride. He is also responsible for the cinematography and editing, and he co-wrote the score. Bliss is instantly likeable and eager to share his thoughts on enlightenment
The trailer can be seen on the company website, WuFilmWorks.
Existential death is a tricky balancing act, leaving The Suffered overstuffed with significance. I appreciate that the filmmakers are trying to present a message film that has actual themes, and while the finished product is not very strong, I encourage Andrew Bliss to keep making films and I look forward to seeing his future endeavors.