Saturday, May 23, 2009

Movie: Eden Log

Remember that episode of Pokémon that caused kids to have seizures? The first three minutes of Eden Log should probably carry a similar warning. I'm opposed to strobe effects, particularly when they're used well (for instance, the last few minutes of Looking for Mr. Goodbar), but director Franck Vestiel seems insistent to make his audience feel as much physical discomfort as possible. So if this entails inducing epileptic fits, then so be it.

Still, Vestiel tries the best he can with a limited budget and a surfeit of imagination. Eden Log, on some levels, reminds me of Cube, another cerebral sci-fi/horror film that makes the most of its limited set(s). (Primer, however, is the one to beat.) There is, however, only so much creepiness that you can eke out of a mud-covered man looking at plant roots. So Vestiel cleverly incldues some deformed and violent humanoid beings to up the ante.

But, oh, if that were only enough. Instead, Eden Log tries to cram in as many ideas and concepts into its limited space as possible. So rather than offer another siege-and-escape movie, Vestiel attempts to add timeliness. Is the film a Marxist parable? An environmental warning? An uneasy mixture of Soylent Green and The Matrix? At one point, a character threatens to let the world know "what you're doing to all the minorities" -- a post-racial future, my ass -- but is quickly (unsurprisingly) quieted. Somehow, the political points don't mesh with the film's metaphors. They feel sort of tacked on -- the right idea, but the wrong execution.

Mostly, whatever political point Vestiel tries to make also gets lost in the murk. The movie, shot in black-and-white with the occasional splash of color, is so dark that everything seems to get lost. As the movie begins, the main character wakes up at the bottom of a pit covered in muck, and decides that he must trek his way up from Level -4 to the surface, where (theoretically) answers await. But, since our main character conveniently has amnesia, he's as in the dark about his situation as the audience is. Quite literally. Along the way, there's a man covered in tree roots, a botanist who glides in mid-air (thanks to a series of wires and harnasses), and a mysterious woman who is weirdly passive. There's an infection, there's a revolution, and, most of all, there's Eden Log itself: giant tree, scientific facility and overburdened Macguffin all in one.

We get clues to Eden Log's purpose via memory cards -- in a unique touch, the hero must find screen onto which these images, whether it's pieces of scrap metal or a dead person's face. But all the cinematic flourishes don't resolve the issue that it's still terribly unclear what's going on. When we do finally discover the hero's identity, it feels like a big so what. As it turns out, the guy's just another poor sap.

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