Color, 2018, 122 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Eric Stanze
Starring Jackie Kelly, Jason Christ, Adam Ahlbrandt, Emily Haack, D.J. Vivona, Jim Ousely, Gus Stevenson
Wicked Pixel (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
After a seven-year hiatus following his film Ratline, director Eric Stanze and the usual gang at Wicked Pixel return with another dose of mind-twisting experimental horror with In Memory Of. Mixing in elements of sci-fi and dreamy art house sensibilities, it's a welcome return that manages to evoke what makes the company's films so distinctive while pushing forward into new territory.
When we first meet the fragile and jittery Amber (Kelly), she's fleeing in a car and, via voice over, longing for her peaceful childhood being raised by her aunt after the death of her mother. She starts being given cryptic messages from a man named Simon (Christ) who shows her a gold pocket watch and urges her to go to a motel near the airport, barely pausing to take note of another guy who attacked her and ended up being stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors. From there she flashes back to life with her unfaithful husband, Darren (Ahlbrandt), who goads her into a stint as a prostitute with the help of their friend, Jennifer (Madison). On her cross-country car trip through America's heartland to get away from people who are pursuing her and and unlock the mystery presented by Simon, she encounters other enigmatic people including a former client named Barry (Vivona) and a jaded hitchhiker (Haack) while she suffers from flashes of a research program involving a brain condition she inherited from her mother and a nightmarish medical lab filled with bandaged case studies.
It's clear from the outset that this film will have some twists and turns along the way so it's best to go in knowing as little as possible, but the real rewards here lie in the audio-visual execution with Stanze and company pulling out all the stops with dynamic editing, lensing, and sound design creating an intense and unnerving atmosphere. The actors are called upon to bare themselves emotionally and physically in ways you definitely wouldn't see in mainstream American films, and they prove up to the task with Kelly in particular going through some intense shifts over the course of her trek.
For its inaugural Blu-ray release, Wicked Pixel has given this film the deluxe treatment with a double-disc set including the expected array of extras. The feature itself (shot digitally in HD) is given a generous 35.6 GB of space on the first dual-layered disc and looks great; the decision to go with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track is less demo worthy but sounds fine given the fairly straightforward nature of the mix itself. The film can also be played with two audio commentaries, the first featuring Stanze solo and the second with him joined by Kelly and Christ, who co-wrote the script with Stanze in addition to playing leading roles. There's virtually no overlap between the two as they fill you in on the frequently cold shooting conditions, the location scouting (including a rare peek at downtown St. Louis), the demands of getting drenched in stage blood, the writing process, and the unorthodox nature of the film's structure reflecting some very personal fears and experiences on the part of the co-writers. A trio of brief deleted scenes (4m11s) can be viewed with or without commentary by Stanze, with the more interesting one being the first scene Kelly wrote on the film but removed at her request, while "Gray Matter" (5m13s) features Stanze actor/composer Gus Stevenson explaining how the music score was created with Evanescence's Rocky Gray. A trailer is also included. The second Blu-ray is devoted entirely to "Thought Process" (93m32s), a feature-length documentary about the creation of the film with nearly every major participant speaking on-camera about how the film was cast (with almost everyone pulling double or triple duty of some sort), the evolution of Kelley's involvement stemming from an intern proposal, a two-week road trip to prep the shoot, the joy of being slaughtered on camera, and much more. There's a fair amount of production footage as well and a really touching finale at the wrap party, putting this up there with the high standard of other past Wicked Pixel docs. Highly recommended.
Reviewed on June 24, 2018.