Heretic Films // 2004 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // September 23rd, 2005
Sci-fi with a sickening sexual slant.
It is several years in the future, and incest is an apparently acceptable way for a brother and sister to interrelate. At least, that's what Adam and his mule-faced sibling Lily would have you believe. You see Adam is unlucky in love. Put another way, Adam is the romantic equivalent of leprosy. Even with a perky rich girlfriend and some hidden secret to his sexuality (it's not obvious from his horrid hound dog looks), he still is a libidinous dynamo, pining away for his long dead kinfolk.
When she magically appears one day at the subway station, Adam can hardly believe his eyes. Before you know it, the randy relative is at his door, looking to rent a room. She claims to be French. Adam claims to be aroused. After they nearly make it in a graveyard (Eww!), his gangly gal pal disappears...only to turn up at his mom's house. Calling herself Lily (for that was the name she was given at birth), suffering from amnesia, and explaining away her previous Parisian accent as a minor brain fart, our gloomy girl wants back in everyone's good graces -- and someone's bedding.
Cranial gassiness aside, Adam is thrilled. He can pick up where his pre-pubescent molestation left off. But Lily is filled with secrets (and ketchup -- more on this later) as both try to express their physical desire in an apocalyptic New York City where acid rain falls from the sky, a DNA company offers a second lease on life, and the sewers and subways are filled with Red Cockroaches.
Ugh. There is nothing worse than pretension -- unless, of course, it is unattractive pretension. While writer/ director/editor/cameraman/any-other-job-you-care-to-name Miguel Coyula delivers a visually arresting first film, it is the cast who should be incarcerated for crimes again charisma. Adam Plotch (as Adam) and Talia Rubel (as Lily) take the concept of the human oddity to new heights of nausea. He is a back-hair hampered, balding blemish nebbish who makes DEVO's Boogie Boy look like Brad Pitt. Between his pale, pasty flesh, sunken sullen eyes, and limited acting ability, he gives new meaning to the word doughy. As a matter of fact, he is probably manufacturing his own yeast as we speak.
Talia is a little more tolerable, only because she avoids Adam's desire to show off her entire tanless torso for the camera. Instead, we get jiggly ass fat, industrial-sized shopping mall eye bags, and a demeanor that's one part Goth gal, one part armpit grit. Together, they are our loving relations, a pair so putrid that the typical cinematic members of the Inbred Sons of the Soil -- a.k.a. hillbillies -- are in the process of suing for defamation of character.
This attention on appearance is crucial to understanding (and easily dismissing) Red Cockroaches. He may be a lot of things -- and he sure has the titles and slashes to prove it -- but filmmaker Miguel Coyula is not a screenwriter. His aimless stream of consciousness convolution of a narrative has no discernable characters, and no identifiable individuals to draw our attention and keep it. The best way to describe this film is to call it unattractive people doing vague things for no apparent reason. Maybe a better way to describe it is a novice lensman's repugnant sexual fantasies played out by a group of disinterested and/or unpleasant actors.
However you look at it, Coyula never gives us people we can identify with. As a result, we must rely on other factors to feed our interest. But since Plotch (there's an appropriate moniker) and Rubel are never going to win a beauty contest -- not even the one offered during a Monopoly game -- it is their acting that must draw us in. BZZZZTTT!!! Wrong! As thespians, they are as graceless as they are physically.
At least Coyula is more or less up to the directorial challenge of realizing his future-shock world -- albeit it with CGI that makes your average Sci-Fi Channel film look like Jurassic Park. He readily admits that every edit, every shot, deserves and needs its own angle and set-up. This makes Red Cockroaches a very disorienting and distancing experience. We want to understand the rules of this new frontier, this Big Apple poisoned by bad water, bad people, and bad business practices. But the ever-present force known as DNA 21 is never explained. It's just a Big Brother substitute in what is a half-assed 1984...which would make it 992, actually. When he does deliver the goods (the cemetery scene is fine until Adam and Lily decide to make it their own personal Plato's Retreat), it is usually in service of something so solitary and singular that sore thumbs are instantly jealous.
Let's face it -- any movie that would have characters playing brother and sister using catsup as pre-fornication foreplay is just plain nasty. Yet it's all supposed to be some part of Coyula's planned trilogy. Here's hoping parts one and two never see the light of day. Red Cockroaches is poorly realized, badly cast, and dramatically dull. It's not that Coyula is incompetent as a filmmaker. He has a wonderful visual style, filled with sinister shadow and controlled color. He understands the artistic limits of composition and framing, and he does occasionally spice up his sequences with those idiosyncratic camera angles and kinetic editing. All he needs now is an actual script, not just some incomprehensible scribbling, to guide his ideas. Plodding and impotent, this is one dull, depressing film.
Visually, the 1.33:1 full-frame image from Heretic Films is amazing -- filled with detail, color, and ambience. The contrasts are crystal clear and we get some stunning imagery in the process. For a no-budget, made-on-the-fly digital film with more Atari than Apple computing competence, Red Cockroaches looks very good. Equally expressive is the Dolby Digital Stereo mix. Filled with immersive elements, atmospheric sonics, and a nice amount of spatial gravity, the soundtrack really places us in the perplexing, antiseptic world of the characters.
There are two major bonus features on this DVD, each one far more interesting and appealing than the movie itself. First and foremost, there is a full-length audio commentary with Coyula, and actors Adam Plotch and Jeff Pucillo. Right up front, Coyula admits to not being interested in casting "beautiful" people. He is interested in actors who are more quirky and eccentric than attractive. Plotch tells us how his co-star, Talia Rubel, more or less hated him throughout the entire shoot. Pucillo's involvement is sparse throughout most of the screening, interjecting occasional insights and jokes. Frankly, there is more energy and information in this alternate narrative then in the 82 minutes of the movie itself. The other interesting added element is a short film by Coyula called Valvula de luz (Light Wave). Filmed in black and white, and loaded with pretentious, avant-garde imagery, this weird, warped tale of alienation and madness makes little sense, but does offer some indelible, engaging images.
Together with a six-minute interview on how Red Cockroaches was made, a collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, a text-based director's bio, and a compilation of storyboards and trailers, this is a well fleshed-out DVD presentation. Too bad the film it supports isn't up to the level of attention given to it by the extras. Red Cockroaches is a redolent piece of future feces. Avoid it and its perverted ideals at all costs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Full Length Audio Commentary with Director Miguel Coyula and actors Adam Plotch and Jeff Pucillo.
* Making-Of Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Valvula de luz -- A Short Film by Miguel Coyula
* Official Site