She Rises, which had its world premier at the Ireland Horrorthon Film Festival, is a mystery-comedy-horror hybrid of sorts, pulling some impressive, if ridiculously oddball, strings towards potential indie cult status. The opening shots of She Rises, with some disorientating, swaying camera movements, allows director Larry Wade Carrell, editor Vance Crofoot, and director of photography Steve Romano to unite in planting the seed of the intoxication in the audience’s psyche from the get-go.
Moments later we join playfully obnoxious Conor (Angus Macfadyen) and partner in film-making and the bedroom, Kat (Jennifer Blanc) on their secluded drive to a vacation stop. They arrive at their destination in the middle of nowhere, greeted by their somewhat happy-go-lucky, if a little dim, host Rosebud (Daisy McCrackin), one of several Orson Welles references, and the startling appearance of her Daddy Longlegs (Michael Biehn), who looks like he has just returned from a decade living in the wilderness – Beihn’s first mumbling appearance is straight from a David Lynch creative nightmare without any doubt. And not the last hat tip to the Twin Peaks maestro (a vibe that flows with the background hum of eerie jazz music).
The scene is set for an unknowing air of oddness and intrigue, not at all hindered by the mysterious, contrasting behavior of the inhabitants. That said, the visitors are hardly a pillar of normalcy. Burned-out actor Conor is lost in the words of literature and its adaptation to theater and screen, with pretty accurate, appropriate Marlon Brando impressions for starters. Kat, a more level-headed soul, a female film director, name-drops the Sundance Film Festival, and seems to have her head much more firmly screwed on than her companion. Twice early on the insatiable Conor helps himself to Kat’s nether regions, once while she drives, and perhaps not so discretely as they talk to their hosts.
As the foursome break the ice, there’s some groping (in the name of at of course), and an impromptu burst into song, one of the all-time greats Smile, with lyrics that always mean something regardless of its platform. Rosebud declares it beautiful, but then asks if Conor wrote that. She clearly needs to get out more. The conversing has a subtle perversion about it, not only does this demonstrate the mentality of this couple and the occupier Rosebud, it also helps detract from what’s to come. A sense of danger and blatant black humor, highlighted when Daddy responds to Conor’s unfiltered greeting by almost crushing his testicles – there’s definitely a crunching sound.
The haphazard editing, motion and sound speed, in a few later sequences make for compelling unease – costumes and set-ups alter without warning, as they shoot the film we assume was part of this vacation bewilderment. It soon unravels into some form of surreal, Shakespearean, soft-core porn (yey, thoust ist a fair description). Conor’s obsessive channeling of audition monologues and character recitals shows him as a sinking ship of a man, his paranoid “How am I funny?” rant is straight from Goodfellas. As the plot descends into madness itself, it is apt that Kat depicts Jack in the The Shining, and Rosebud is pretty terrifying via The Exorcist devilish spews. Add to that rapid cut-aways to monstrous visions of Rosebud. Is any of this real? Part of their production? There’s even an absurd, but genuinely funny, Psycho reference too, Bernard Hermann’s unforgettable score gets a couple of seconds homage.
The writing (majority of screenplay credit to Macfadyen) is at times refreshing beyond the fusion of famous quotes and character roles. That I’ve never heard Hamlet described as an indecisive prick, or that Rosebud’s most intelligent, self-aware retort, “Look at my life, I have pig shit between my toes already”, provides some enlightening moments of depth. For a clearly low budget effort (shot in less than 7 days!), the ambition is clear to see and admire – whether you get marooned in the final act or not is another matter of the intent versus the irrevocable.