Sunday, April 08, 2012

Uneasy Riderless: THE OREGONIAN (2011)

Piece of advice: If you're ever driving west, skip northwestern Oregon. Back in 1989 my girlfriend and I were driving out west, and decided to take a scenic route down through Oregon from Montana, and soon we landed in a horror movie: long twisting crumbling two-lane blacktops snaking around gnarled tree trunks, deserted plows, empty pastures, collapsed barns, boarded-up feed stores and closed motels. We saw caved-in mailboxes that looked like they hadn't seen mail in decades, smoke-blackened trees, unlit neon bar signs, lingering decorations of holidays long past or yet to be --Christmas and Halloween blurred together like a sad K-Mart close-out left to grow mold in a sunless void for 30 post-apocalyptic years. No life --not even a bird. And as the sun set the road seemed to be pulling us forward into the sheer blackness of the next turn like a twisting yellow line jellyfish. Something waited for us in the darkness behind the trees. It was coiled to spring on us like a coiled redneck cottonmouth, to flash its genitals at my traveling companion, or humiliate me in front of her, or abduct her and force me to spend panicky hours asking for help in a high, crackly voice as I navigated The Vanishing or And Soon the Darkness-style scenarios. Never before had a landscape so resembled modern western civilization's rurally twisted nightmares.

Sharing my experience of western Oregon as a Lovecraftian sinkhole, apparently, is Calvin Reeder, who has blown some festival circuit minds recently with The Oregonian (2011). A landmark debut of high 16mm strangeness in the Alice in Wonderland / limbo / post-apocalyptic / dream world / experimental mode, it joins the ranks of works by David Lynch and Herk Harvey in the nightmare logic pantheon, but with the tactile American flannel shirt dread of Coscarelli and Carpenter. With it's droning electric guitar score and refusal to explain itself or offer any stable reality to warp, Reeder's film turns to the groundless ground previously inhabited only by Eraserhead, and then goes deeper down into the mucky muck, attacking along the fault lines between avant garde 'le bad cinema' and psychedelic Xtreme horror, waking reality and nightmares, and a grunge-tinted road movie. Put this on a bill with Dementia AKA Daughter of Horror if it took place in the wilderness of Oregon instead of Los Angeles; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me if it was on a Plan Nine budget, on bad acid; Carnival of Souls put through a Mark Frost psychotronic spice grinder;  Easy Rider if done by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The story progression centers around the experiences of a blonde hippy-ish smoker chilling at an isolated lama ranch; a creepy stalker fuels her boyfriend's jealous insanity, the boyfriend passes out drunk, so she bails; suddenly she's waking up in a car that apparently crashed into a father and son who were having a picnic by the side of the road in the dead of night. Now they're lying dead, and her forehead is covered in blood, but no one is around anywhere to help as she staggers down that lonesome road. There is no phone to call the cops and the desolation stretches for miles; the few folks she meets stare and smile insanely. Her only friend becomes a degenerate in a big frog costume, and later she hooks up with a bunch of weirdo musicians who drink gasoline.... Luckily she finds a shotgun, and a few guides who advise her to just relax and, as Martha advises in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, "sink into it."

I love that Reeder refuses to pick a side, to explain the madness, to have some root answer to whether it's all a nightmare or Phantasm-matic inter-dimensional death drive film school experiment. Unlike few other films, it maintains it's madness with the patience of a gardener. For my money, The Oregonian is way better than a lot of over-praised existential stuff like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (though Refn's awesome Valhalla Rising compares well).

I'd warn that there is a very strange bit of sexual dream violence in case you're squeamish, but if it didn't offend me, it probably won't offend you. It's too far gone to be misogynistic. There is a chance everything our looking glass Alice heroine sees and hears is all just cover memories to mask the trauma of a past rape ala Last Year in Marienbad but it's too surreal, involving way too many abstractions to be traumatized from, any more than you would be if Louise Bourgeois and Edward D. Wood collaborated on a 1972 road movie version of Repulsion.

That sound good? Then you're sick!

1 comment:

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