Bad Dream in Super 16
The Oregonian will give you the creeps
by Rick Levin
THE OREGONIAN: Written and directed by Calvin Reeder. Cinematography, Ryan Adams. Music, Scott Honea, Jed Maheu and Reeder. Editor, Buzz Pierce. Starring Lindsay Pulsipher, Robert Longstreet, Roger M. Mayer, Matt Olsen and Barlow Jacobs. 81 minutes. Three and a half stars.
|Lindsay Pulsipher in The Oregonian|
You might ask: Why would director Calvin Reeder title his debut full-length feature The Oregonian? Contrary to first impressions, the movie was not shot in Oregon, nor was it adapted from one of Louis L’Amour’s pulp Westerns or shot in the dust-and-dungaree tradition of a John Ford cowboy flick. Reeder’s low-budget film has nothing to do with Portland’s daily newspaper.
No — asking why Reeder named his exceedingly strange and disturbing movie after our statehood is about as fruitful as asking why The Oregonian includes among its many satanic splendors the surgical insertion of an omelet into a gaping abdominal cavity, a big red gas can full of white Russians and a furry green giant that looks like Kermit the Frog with a nasty case of hyperthyroidism. Better instead to leave such questions at the box office and tell yourself, repeatedly, that it’s only a dream.
From opening shot to rolling credits, The Oregonian is, by all practical parameters, a nearly plotless kaleidoscope of images held together by a dream logic that is by turns hellish, hallucinatory and completely wonky-doodle. Breadcrumbs of information are scattered here and there: A woman (True Blood’s Lindsay Pulsipher) crashes her car in the middle of nowhere; bleeding, she wanders around the forest and down a highway and through an empty town; she encounters a series of grotesque characters who scream and/or make inscrutable oracular pronouncements; she flashes back to domestic scenes of sadism and abuse; she either goes crazy or falls asleep or dies.
As with dreams, the film’s narrative — or lack thereof — is relatively unimportant; what holds you is the aura, that id-driven collage of images and the way they conflate and collide to create an atmosphere. The atmosphere of The Oregonian is distinctly freaky and unnerving, like Oz on Old Crow and strychnine: an elderly woman with a wicked clown smile appears and disappears; a grunting van driver pulls over to piss in rainbow colors; a specter levitates above a roof. Such jarring, disconnected images pile one atop the next, creating context by virtue of their very relentlessness. Nothing makes sense, yet it’s hard to look away. It’s scary.
Reeder, working with shoestring resources, ingeniously turns his low-budget limitations into a sort of aesthetic. Shooting with a Bolex on Super 16 stock, he taps all the tricks of grindhouse and B-movies (especially those of Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper): Sudden zooms, blurry focus, startling edits, weird white noise and a hand-held tremor that makes The Blair Witch Project look downright serene. At times the movie relies on visual cliché — yes, we know, slow-zoom-into-noisy-rotary-fan symbolizes impending-psychosis — but, overall, the director’s use of old, pre-digital tricks of the trade is surprisingly effective.
The Oregonian does have something of a Northwest feel, if by Northwest you mean the mossy malignancy and sinister psychosexuality of David Lynch’s brilliant late-‘80s TV series Twin Peaks. Reeder in fact draws heavily on Lynch’s style, which author David Foster Wallace described as “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Toss into this recipe a splash of John Waters disgusting and a pinch of Stanley Kubrick surreal, and you’ve got a creepy little movie that traipses a fine line separating parody and homage.
Several audience members have walked out of festival screenings of The Oregonian, including a sizable exodus at this year’s Sundance. Others, however, have found the film’s under-the-skin spookiness quite to their liking. If your tastes in cinema run toward the perverse, the forbidden and the oblique — if you happen to be fascinated by that phantasmal hinterland where hilarity bleeds into terror — take a gander at The Oregonian. It’s a scream.
The Oregonian opens Friday, Oct. 21, at the Bijou; info at bijou-cinemas.com