“Heaven isn’t wide enough for both of us.”
Or, perhaps Hell isn’t wide enough for both of us! Yes, that’s the more likely, ironic thought you (or your other self) will have, after watching A Loving Memory–the first in the Tortured Girl Trilogy by Herbivore Productions.
“What’s it all about?” you ask. I’ll just say that it’s one of the simplest of things turned into what is surely one of the most complicated and mysterious. Do I sound confusing? If so, I’m doing it with intent—intent to match a most effective tone in an unfolding film plot, with complexity and horror that only grows until the credits roll.
Enough with all the confusion! I’m finished with the expository mystery—the intrigue that sucks you in demanding to know more, making you want to watch this film already. Let’s get on with…the details—that is without ruining a short film that leaves a long (if not “loving”) memory in the mind. Yes, in just 19 minutes, finding oneself rarely takes such an unexpected, indelible path.
“The people you meet, the random encounters that don’t seem to mean much on the surface, they can turn and disappear and get swallowed up…and they lie.”
I’ll start by saying that A Loving Memory stars Melissa Malan. Yes, I could just end the review here and advise you to see the movie to see her. Malan is an actress who can carry a movie on her own, whatever the weight may be. I’ve seen her more than once in films before, and she’s done it every time. Once again, she does it here with all the success of the best of actors I’ve seen.
“How does Malan make this movie such a success?” Quite simply (or so she makes it seem), Malan shows us a transformation of character, a dual role of demented diligence, and a force of insanity that convinces us rather than fools us. The unnamed character she plays (anonymously the first in a trilogy of tortured girls) begins the movie with a conversation, on the phone, with someone or possibly no one at all. We hear her talking, through cell phone audio, as if we are on the other end…and maybe we are. Yes, it’s this, among other things in A Loving Memory that makes the experience interactive from the start, whether we like it or not. What begins with a woman in peril, seemingly innocent, possibly a victim of something herself, turns slowly into a story with possibilities that are anything else. Initial distress and insecurity grows into confidence and self-discovery, becoming all the more eerie as we learn the details.
“Some blood got on me. I didn’t care. I wasn’t too concerned.”
As we eavesdrop (if not being the intended listener), we are, at first, sympathetic, almost wishing we could offer consolation, help, or support of some kind. (“After all, shouldn’t it be my nature to do that?” the best of us are reminded?) However, after listening, we are gradually unsettled, and eventually, if we suspend our disbelief enough, even frightened to be a part of the knowledge. Something is not right about this conversation, to say the least, but I’m not about to tell you what it is.
A signature scene in A Loving Memory is one that makes it required viewing for its strength of mayhem alone. The scene to which I am referring (one you will know immediately) is one now on the list of Space Jockey Reviews’ All-Time-Favorite Kill Scenes. (Yes, you read that correctly!) In this scene, Malan gives “overkill” a new meaning, slicing through previous records with style and realism to spare, carried out with rhythm, almost as a dance. Without a word, Malan does more to convey true horror on screen than many actors do with a thousand things said. As for the concept of less shown but more seen, here is as an example to study!
“Why am I talking about Melissa Malan so much?” Simply again, she is the single person, sole actor, and true force behind this highly character-driven tale of terror. Without such a talent, without such personality, without such emotions telegraphed with such expression, A Loving Memory could have been a memory forgotten. Don’t get me wrong. A Loving Memory is a great story on its own, without a doubt; but, on its own, it could not have risen to the level of something to be remembered for all times, to the stars and beyond at Space Jockey Reviews! The looks on Malan’s face during the coup de grâce overkill are nothing short of amazing. No one with every neuron fried, every convolution of the brain withered and numb to reality could have done it better. Yes, facial expressions are gold when it comes to portraying madness, and Malan gives a 24 karat performance again!
“Who is this unnamed tortured girl in the trilogy?” Who knows? But, that’s a big part of what makes it all the more effective and scary. This character could be anyone at all—someone you know right now, your neighbor, your sibling, or perhaps even your best friend. The scariest of monsters are those that are hidden among us, twisted and demented, unknown, beneath a façade of something harmless—and more effectively, something very familiar. Yes, the scariest of all are not the Freddy Kruegers, the Jasons, the Pinheads, or the myriad fictitious, fantastic fiends from imagination; they are, instead, those that are human, waiting to spring forth in an instant, from our worst nightmares, to be real, when we least expect it. A Loving Memory rudely awakens us with just such reminders! Beware!
“I guess I was in shock. I’d never seen anybody die before.”
Due credit should also be given to writer and director Rick Gawel. Gawel has again crafted a tale that makes viewers think of things more often avoided and shoved to the subconscious–to hopefully remain latent forever. He has penned and directed a narrative that begins alarming and ends at the extreme of disturbing—just what we like at Space Jockey Reviews! Yes, thresholds, boundaries, and limits of sanity are boldly crossed—just when we least expect it, just when we thought there was still hope for the human condition.
Oh, and the soundtrack by Marvin Schaefer, Devin Urban, and again, Rick Gawel is something that adds just the right tone of discomfort to match all that we see and feel. What we get is an audible unraveling, a downward spiral of spirit that, in its climax, grates, tears, and vibrates on the nerves. If that’s not enough, it gets better! An ominous drone of doom pulses, weighing on the viewer to create a burden of dread, even when things look, deceptively, bright and cheerful. The whole current of the movie’s soundtrack is unsettling (as it should be), pulling us back, like waves, repeatedly from where our minds want to go—to happier, more hopeful places. At times, it’s actually so assaulting that we want to mute it, or turn it off…completely; and, therein lies its success! Yes, congratulations to Schaefer, Urban, and Gawel are surely in order here! Normally, lauding such a thing as disturbing music (if you can call it that) would be bizarre; but here, it is just what’s needed. Here, the music is, indeed, just as uncomfortable as what we sense beneath the facade! Every time we try to forget, the music reminds us again.
In harmony with the music, A Loving Memory never seeks to fool us with false leads, tricks, and unexpected turns that come from nowhere. It takes us where we’re going with efficiency, directness, and yes, torture; much like a memory making up for lost time, it brings its troubled past ever closer, closing the gap between order and chaos, leaving in its wake one very tortured girl indeed! Just how is she tortured, and why? I’ll never tell. Go ahead and watch the nightmare for yourself.
Speaking of contrast, in A Loving Memory reality is in color and nightmares (even those experienced awake) are in black and white—or so it seems. Or, perhaps it’s the other way around in this twisted tale of madness and normalcy turned upside down. Perhaps nothing is what it seems at all. Perhaps, as Poe himself wrote, “All we see or seem. Is but a dream within a dream.” Images of postcard smiles and happiness are juxtaposed with scenes of despair turned desperate for blood. The brightest of ways to highlight the darkest events in the film are fondly remembered, haunting us long after the movie is over. Yes, “fondly haunting” is indeed an oxymoron in true spirit here!
By now, you may be wanting more details about such a complex movie that vibrates and, literally, flashes with force. I don’t blame you. The complexities in this short but powerful film are in the mind—in the mind of every viewer as well as in that of the character–a woman who finds redemption, herself, and peace in a most chaotic and violent way. While interpretations may be varied, subjective, and esoteric, they are in all ways disturbing; to say, imply, or suggest more about this gem of a movie memory not yet experienced would be, quite simply, far too much—a crime against the psyche; a great injustice well worth going crazy over, perhaps! Yes, it’s best to let A Loving Memory settle on its own, into a special place, buried in the minds of all who see it. There, may the memory remain!
“Nothing was real. I was watching a human being get torn apart.”
Also, look for Gless, the second film in The Tortured Girl Trilogy, soon to be reviewed on SJR!
A Loving Memory is a Herbivore Productions Presentation, starring Melissa Malan, Written and Directed by Rick Gawel, Edited by Chris Tyre and Rick Gawel, with Cinematography by Chris Tyre, Production Assistant Brenda Arsenault, Technical Advisors Ted Weiner Jr., Dan Swartz, and Napalm Eberlein, Soundtrack by Marvin Schaefer, Devin Urban, and Rick Gawel with “Heaven’s Not Wide Enough” by Melissa Malan, Chris Tyre, and Rick Gawel
For a description of Rocket Rating 9, click on the Rocket Meter above!