Judge Gordon Sullivan says: Let Jimmy Buffett make a song out of this!
Revenge. From the neck up.
No-budget filmmakers have a tough row to hoe, in getting their films noticed. However, they have a couple of advantages that bigger studios lack. One is time. Because they don't have to worry about making a film for an arbitrary release date set by someone in marketing, most indie filmmakers have the luxury of spending a lot of time with their film at two crucial stages: during scripting and in post-production. This gives those filmmakers a slight edge in creating edgier narratives, and gives them an opportunity to fine-tune the film in editing. This is why I wasn't totally surprised when Psychotropica, a rotoscoped film about a mental patient tortured by a sadistic doctor, arrived at my doorstep. Although rotoscoping is usually avoided because it's a time-consuming process, with the right amount of dedication, a committed no-budget filmmaker could make it happen in post, and the bizarre story of a doctor torturing a patient seemed perfect for an indie film. Although I have to give credit to director Damien Sage for having a vision and sticking to it, I can't really recommend the finished product to most viewers.
Pyschotropica is the story of The Patient (director Damien Sage), who is imprisoned in a futuristic mental hospital being interviewed by The Doctor (Maximillian Magick), who probes into the patient's darkest dreams to discover what makes him tick. As the Doctor and Patient dig deeper several nasty secrets are revealed.
Apparently Damien Sage set out to create a unique assault on the eyes and ears with Psychotropica, and on the that score he succeeds admirably. Psychotropica certainly looks and sounds like no other film I am familiar with. The rotoscoping is not the smooth, pleasant tones of the recent A Scanner Darkly but more like a pixelated nightmare out of an early '90s videogame. The animated look of the film helps differentiate Psychotropica from other no-budget films. We don't have to see the spare sets and crappy video quality. Instead we get a slightly futuristic, surreal environment created on screen. This strange environment is aided by the fantastic music used in the film. It's varied, with everything from trippy electronics to industrial metal, and it sounds like the recording had very high production values, much higher than the film itself.
On the story front, Psychotropica goes for psychedelic weirdness over coherent plot. Because much of the story/narration is a dream there isn't always a definite thread and it can sometimes be difficult to follow. It's all obviously leading up to a giant revelation, and it's okay as far as giant revelations go. Any audience for the film will need to be able to stomach a little bit of Freudian weirdness with some incest themes and a rotoscoped sex scene. I don't think it quite hangs together, but it doesn't have to because of the film's ability to create a bizarre environment. I was impressed by Sage's ability to tell his story primarily through visuals. There is some narration, and some dialogue between the Doctor and Patient, but much of the story is told with visuals. Here Sage shows a strong grasp of cinematic grammar and visual storytelling.
On the whole, however, the film is a little hard to recommend for a couple of reasons. First is the fact that it's so weird. The visuals are assaulting, the story is opaque, and the themes a bit out there. This will alienate many viewers, but even those looking for an especially weird movie might not get all they'd like out of it. The main drawback is that the film is a little long. Although each of the dream vignettes is interesting by itself, each of them could use a little trimming to bring the overall length down around 80 minutes. The acting is also occasionally iffy, which might turn some viewers off. It's not bad by no-budget standards, but we're also not looking at Oscar-winning performances either.
As a DVD package, Psychotropica is pretty good for its budget. The video is difficult to judge since the source has been mangled all to heck with special effects and animation, but the anamorphic transfer looks clean of obvious problems. The sound doesn't fare quite so well. Much of the audio sounds like it was recorded a little hot so there's some distortion whenever voices get raised, which is often, although the music sounds less distorted most of the time. Extras include an animation test dubbed "Thunderdork," a strange little featurette which basically follows the director around his house causing noise that he records for use in the film, as well as the film's trailer.
For fans of the bizarre willing to keep a finger on the fast-forward button, Psychotropica will offer a unique viewing experience. Everyone else should probably stay away, lest their minds be blown.
Strange, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Static Omega Films
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