Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit bostonunderground.org and follow BUFF on Twitter @.
A few years back on a trip to Disney World I remember sitting down for the Michael Jackson 3D film Captain EO. The strange mixture of space opera, muppets, and music all under the confused direction of Francis Ford Coppola reminded me of Jackson’s penchant for lengthy music videos that often tried to be about more than just the music. From Thriller to the extended Bad (seriously, Scorsese?) I remember blocks of time set aside on VH1 just to go through the MJ music video catalogue. I can’t recall any of them actually being any good when the music stopped, but they represented this attempt by a musician to bridge a gap between film and music video. Most of the time, as the music faded away, it took with it the style and the story, leaving stilted dialogue and Jackson’s misplaced thought that he was tough. Magnetic resides in a very similar place, albeit slightly closer to the film side, but with all of the same issues.
The alienating atmosphere of inhuman speech does nothing to disguise the terribly written dialogue…
If you were to remove all of the people, the associated acting and dialogue, and the pretense of story, Magnetic is actually not bad. Writer-directors Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein are steadfastly confident in their visual aesthetic and sonic makeup. While it lacks a polish and refinement of a better film, the images utilized are consistently interesting and deftly combine a grounded sense of real with a larger futuristic absurdity. Long time-lapse shots of Alice do more to communicate the overriding sensation of monotony than a single line of dialogue. The directors’ fascination with Alice’s eye, while flirting with the line of pretension is far too mesmerizing to cross it, and is nearly transcendent in its beauty and contemplation. However, this isn’t just a visual essay, it is attempting to be a fully developed film, an aim it never actually achieves.
Allix Mortis is really the only actor involved and she is far from able to carry something of this artistic magnitude. Her few lines are delivered robotically, removing the possibility of emotional investment. The alienating atmosphere of inhuman speech does nothing to disguise the terribly written dialogue that volleys between leaden exposition and hopelessly convoluted attempts at style and introspection. When Mortis isn’t shackled to the high school theater caliber script, she excels at projecting absolute vacancy. Her thousand yard stare is disarming in its lack of purpose and often just leaves the audience wondering what the hell she could be thinking, cold and lost. Her actions are too blank and empty to allow the audience to utilize her as surrogate, so she ends up being nothing more than this shell that floats through oddity.
It is the film’s final act where the dialogue and story begin to play a large role and this directly relates to its waning strength. For in the beginning, the film is stylish and musical. Admittedly, this front bit is little more than a glorified music video, but it’s at least a competent and self-assured one. The electro soundtrack, primarily of tracks from band Night Kisses (made up of the film’s directors, star, and Catherine Capozzi), is a mixture of new age and 1980s synth-pop that communicates the film’s desired sensibilities beautifully. Often the directors have difficulty determining whether the visual or auditory elements are more important which is no more apparent than in the film’s multiple mismanaged transitions. There is no skill to the editing, often relying on a fade to black that makes no cohesive sense. Likewise, whenever they tire of a certain track it is illogically faded out. It produces a terribly disjointed feel that precludes the audience from getting into the strange groove that the film requires.
The soundtrack is the film’s only true point of full redemption, both catchy and entrancing…
As an album experience, Magnetic is an interesting experiment. However, it falters as it attempts to be anything more. The laughably amateur acting with emotionless line reads and practice of emoting like an over-caffeinated street mime is off putting and undercuts the strength of the film’s visual aesthetic. The story is too complicated to rely on so little structure, bringing in a mishmash of elements that struggle to communicate with one another. As the film begins to fold in on itself, it crumbles under its own complications. Deep down you can begin to see what the film would like to be. Like the strange lovechild of David Lynch and Troma, it adores the weird and contemplative, while not possessing the skill or forethought to actually execute it convincingly. The soundtrack is the film’s only true point of full redemption, both catchy and entrancing, it is what I imagine the directors hoped for the film as a whole. Unfortunately, Magnetic is hopelessly incomplete, a smattering of lovely pieces within a pile of artistic scraps. Its lack of brain and skill are just too much for its music to overcome.
Magnetic is hopelessly incomplete, a smattering of lovely pieces within a pile of artistic scraps. Its lack of brain and skill are just too much for its music to overcome.