Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Commune (2009)

Fear 3/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 3/5

First off, I'd like to thank the wonderful BJ-C over at Day of The Woman for bringing this film to my attention. Muchos kudos to my fellow blogging friends when they spotlight and feature indie filmmakers.

The Commune is a film with a vast array of themes: sexual discovery, what it means to be a woman and, subsequently, come of age. But the film also deals with the loss of innocence and how those in power, namely your parental figures, can abuse it for their own self-serving needs. Despite some flaws in pacing and some rough around the edges editing, the film delivers in a way that recalls the slow burn of films like The Wicker Man and Rosemary's Baby. And along with it, comes a stellar building of tension and atmosphere.

After a shocker of an opener to get things hopping (hey, I have to keep this somewhat spoiler free, right?), our story starts with a young girl named Jennifer. Fresh out of school for the summer break, she's forced to spend time with her fairly non-existent father. You see, her parents divorced when she was little and her dad left and started a new age-y type of commune with a group of followers. Along with re-entering her life, the father is threatening legal action in order to gain custody. In a hopeful act of appeasement, her mother reluctantly gets Jennifer to spend the summer at the commune in the hopes of getting him to drop his legal threats. The mother, suspecting that the father is using his idyllic sanctuary for less than truthful purposes, asks the daughter to keeps eyes wide open in an effort to get some dirt which could in turn, be used against him.

From the moment she arrives and is greeted by a motherly figure who runs the ship at the mystical retreat, an eerie sense of foreboding permeates. From the statues and iconography which adorns the landscape, to the overly creepy and much too 'high on life' and even natured tenants, to her own father who oftentimes channels his inner Lord Summerisle. Not to mention, she's haunted nightly by strange dreams and occurances which aid in blurring the lines of her sense of reality.

When Jennifer gets too creeped out and tires of being cooped up, she heads out into town and runs into a rocker looking guy which she instantly falls for. Much to the dismay and berating of her father, she sneaks away to see him and a summer romance unfolds. This is where the movie's momentum really takes a nosedive. Diverging from the expert pacing and tension built up to this point, we get a Dawson's Creek-ish scene as rocker boy busts out his acoustic guitar and serenades her. It's necessary in the context of the film for sure with the themes of youthful innocence and love. But it really detracts from the effort made. And I felt like the scene dragged on for far longer than it needed to.

Thankfully, the ship rights itself and things slowly devolve into madness as Jennifer discovers that her father has been hiding a lot more than she thought. We are treated to her father's philosophy on the familial unit and his goal of 'redefining what it means to be family' by 'planting a seed'. This coupled with a scene in which the father subtly makes a pass, your are led to believe that he has less than favorable intentions for his daugher. After a few childhood flashbacks and a revelation that the daughter is not as pure as originally thought, we are brought to a shocking and brutal climax to our film.

Despite it's flaws (I also mentioned editing as some of the scene transitions were fairly choppy), The Commune is a fine first effort from filmmaker Elisabeth Fies. And I also have to think that the film hits particularly hard for some female viewers. That's not to say that us duderinos won't find enough within the film to make it a terrifying and thought provoking movie watching experience. But its evident that with a breaking of the father-daughter bond on top of the loss of innocence, that this movie is what the tagline bills: 'Every Girl's Worst Fear.'

Cortez the Killer

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Emily said...

Very intrigued by what I've heard about this one, especially since I have a strange fascination with cults to begin with. Good job of whetting my appetite for The Commune without giving anything away!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Much like Emily, I too am fascinated by films dealing with strange cults. Wicker Man is one of my favorites so you comparing this one to The Wicker Man makes me want to watch it.

Thanks for the review, I dont think I would have heard of this one other wise.

Emily said...

And the weird thing is, there are so few good cult films out there! Aside from the standard satanic circle games, it's hard to find a good fundamental religious commune horror. I was disappointed in The Believers (by one of the Blair Witch guys). I do recommend the 2009 film End of the Line, about Christian-ish killers on a subway. Odd that this is such an underpopulated subgenre.

BJ-C said...

I'm so glad you liked it! I think it does lean to hit a little harder with women, but my boyfriend watched it and was thoroughly creeped out as well. :)

Planet of Terror said...

@Emily, thanks. And agreed, for the most part, this is a largely unexplored sub-genre of horror. The other thing that works in favor of the film is that the commune itself is non-denominational in nature and no one is excluded. They only ask that you buy into their system of beliefs regarding the meaning of family. There is a lot of middle eastern imagery to be sure, but on more than one occasion the commune mother remarks that there are no classifications and that all are welcome. This works really well as you can imagine that anyone with any sort of religious structure, right wing nuts-tastic or just a fervent follower could be wooed by this promise of a better life. Thats another concept which struck a particular nerve for me.

@TFC, definitely check it out. If you like The Wicker Man (not the unintentionally hilarious turdy remake), you'll dig this.

@BJ-C, definitely a lot to be creeped out about this film, regardless of gender. Which speaks to the director's ability to instill true fear and dread within the viewer. Thanks again for making a post about the film.

Kid Sis said...

Thanks mister! Love the tags, by the way. "That's fucked up" is still the number one comment I hear. Would love to make that my new production company name, hahaha.

Emily and Film C, Nice to meet you! I had NO idea I was serving an under-populated subgenre! I wish I were that cagy, but the truth is I grew up in Northern California around some people this extreme and was dying to make a movie about them because their lack of boundaries and ability to justify any of their actions SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME. The whole smorgasbord approach to making their own new age religion is the definition of dangerous narcissism.

Planet of Terror said...

@Elisabeth, thanks for stopping by. I've been to NorCal and it IS freaky. The closer you get to the Oregon border, the weirder. You bring up another good point about the film which I think I alluded to: 'The whole smorgasbord approach to making their own new age religion is the definition of dangerous narcissism.' This statement messed with me last night as I started thinking about the film more. The kind of carte blanche attitude definitely allowed them to mold whatever ideology the had at the time into being real and justifiable behavior and practice. Thanks for messing with my head a little more :)

Emily said...

From what I've read and seen about Jim Jones, the 'inclusiveness' of his church was one of the main reasons he both got members and funding. A lot of people respected how hard he worked at keeping his group interracial and as a result, Jones came off as noble and open-minded to many.

Chris Hallock said...

I'm really drawn to this kind of film. Can't wait to see it! Good to see the director make an appearance here!

Kid Sis said...

Ha! Cortez, my pleasure, Anytime you want your head effed with, send me an email. I'm always scaring myself! And i should really memorize that sentence; i sounded kinda smart.

Emily, that's brilliant. Totally makes sense, as narcissists also crave admiration and desperately want to be seen as the good guy. I'm going to have to go read a biography or something on him now.

Chris, that's awesome! Glad I didn't scare you off. I'm never sure if it's kosher or not for me to show up. I kinda feel like the adult at a slumber party...

Emily said...

There was a lot of news about Jonestown two years ago for the 30th 'anniversary.' Poke around a little and you should find a 2 hour documentary that aired on one of the major networks. Fascinating stuff that includes interviews with some former followers and his own kids.

Bill said...

Just caught this thanks to Cortez's watchful eye. Really impressive film - i thought the production values were great given that it was an indie. Very smooth both in texture and cinematography. Not to mention - that was fucked up!

Really enjoyable movie (and great special features) - looking forward to another one!