Arcanum Entertainment // 2004 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // July 27th, 2007
I see high people.
Shortly before he overdoses on heroin, Jane's boyfriend, Dax, starts seeing old friends. Unfortunately, those old friends are dead, also OD victims. To help Jane (Eleanor Whitledge) get past her grief, Dax's half-sister, Mila (Jennifer Ciesar), sets up a meeting between her and Rick (Joshua Cox, Babylon 5), whose girlfriend Azami also recently OD'd. Soon, Jane and Rick are shooting up together, and Jane starts seeing Dax, Azami, and other dead junkie apparitions. They only appear when she is high. Are they hallucinations? Ghouls? Vampires? Why are they here? What do they want?
While writer/Director Chris D offers up some answers to these questions, the story is really about addiction (primarily, Jane's addiction), and how easy it is to get sucked into the lifestyle. In some ways, I Pass for Human seems to fancy itself a vampire or zombie film, but it's really not. The nature of identity is an underlying theme in the film: how addiction robs the addicts of their selves, how it turns them into creatures neither fully alive nor fully dead.
What's interesting is the perspective. Chris D could have made this movie 20 or 30 years ago; with a soundtrack that includes protopunk icons such as Lydia Lunch and his own band, The Flesh Eaters, as well as the film's low-tech values, this could easily have been an underground indie circa 1982. But his perspective would have been that of a person actually in the thick of it. Instead, we get a more clear-eyed view, that of an older person who has been there. The actors are not kids; for the most part, they are at least in their 30s, yet, like so many boomers and Gen Xers, are still doing things that they did as kids. The characters seem marginally middle class in that they have homes and cars (and in some cases, guns), and there never seems to be a problem getting money to get high. We have no idea how these people subsist. Trust funds? SSI? Music? Bits of work here and there? The film doesn't address it, and while it doesn't impact the story, it's interesting to see a film about aging fringe-dwellers who are not portrayed as either lunatics or prophets.
Chris D gives us lots of atmosphere, but not in the traditional way. Dark streets and alleys are always menacing, but they are so well-traveled by the characters that they take on a different kind of menace; a low-level punk club is portrayed without flashing lights and pulsating crowds, looking more like the dungeon from a Hostel movie than a head-bangers theme park; apartments are big but disheveled, with aesthetically dubious color schemes and bathrooms in need of renovations (perfect for surprise visitors showing up in the tub). He works well with his clearly limited budget. Rather than giving us laughable special effects, he gives us no f/x at all; "ghosts" don't pass through walls or float through the air. In one scene, a character gets shot in the head. We don't see the shot; instead, we see the blood spatter onto the face of another character. This is far more effective than the typical low-budget entry, wherein characters either drop from unseen wounds or blood squibs go off in any old direction. We are also treated to a trio of solid, unflashy cameos by veteran character actor John Diehl (Nixon); exploitation auteur Jack Hill (The Big Doll House, Foxy Brown); and card-carrying cult goddess Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul, Rock and Roll High School), who helps keep the film grounded as a junkie-turned-doctor.
The film looks very good, given its low-budged, digital-video origins. The sound is OK, with both music and dialogue coming through clear. For extras, we are offered a commentary by Chris D and producer Lynne Margulies, some deleted scenes with optional commentary (the scenes are so short that two of them should have stayed in the film, I believe), a short super-8 film Chris D made as a teenager, a trailer, and stills. The little syringe that acts as a pointer on the menu is a nice touch.
I was hoping for more from the commentary track; much of it is the standard for indie films (how hard it was to get certain shots, whose apartments were used for locations, and so on). Chris D mentions that scenes that were based on dreams, and at around the 50-minute mark, references his own past experiences with drugs. He speaks a little more about this at 80 minutes in. Not that I think the commentary track should have been a full-blown confessional, but this seems to be a "personal" film, not the standard low-budget horror flick, and I think it would have been interesting to have heard more about what informed Chris D as writer and director.
I Pass for Human is a worthwhile first effort. Its horror elements are more creepy than scary and barely make sense, despite the occasional helpful explanations, but that lack of tidiness is part of what makes the movie effective. As a paranoid junkie fever dream, it works quite nicely. Definitely worth a look.
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Arcanum Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary by Chris D and Lynne Margulies
* Deleted Scenes
* Le Ciel de Sang, a short film by Chris D
* Photo Gallery