Description (from the IMDb):
Luis, a security guard, escapes the city and travels across the desert in search of his wife, Cassandra. He finds her in the care of a makeshift “Family,” all of whom seem to be infected by the disease, but none willing to admit it. Cassandra cryptically says she has been waiting for Luis to arrive, but seems to have no memories of him or the past at all. Luis tries to lead Cassandra out of her fugue, but is his own memory as reliable as he thinks?
Written and Directed by Tim McClelland
For my Halloween Horror review this year I decided to take on Tim McClelland’s FUGUE STATE, a not-your-average zombie movie. The film was made in Albuquerque, where I used to make movies, and was finished back in 2008 and went on to win Best Feature at the 2009 TromaDance New Mexico and T or C film festivals. In case you were wondering, a “fugue” is “a period during which a person suffers from loss of memory, often begins a new life, and, upon recovery, remembers nothing of the amnesic phase” according to Dictionary.com.
In the world of FS, there is a new disease known as the Amnesia Plague that is wreaking havoc. First you are confused and disoriented, and then you slip into hallucinations and delusions, followed by a full psychotic breakdown, and finally collective consciousness, which pretty much looks like hoards of zombies. Luis has escaped the collective hoards in the city of Albuquerque and is wandering the outlying area looking for his lost wife Cassandra, while trying to survive the deserts harshness. He stumbles upon a home that is actually not abandoned, and meets the residents: Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa, and Sister aka Cassandra. To Luis’ disappointment, Cassandra does not remember him. Mommy says that no one in the house is infected, and that Cassandra has “always been that way.” Under the watchful eye and iron fist of Bible-thumping Daddy, the makeshift family welcomes Luis – Brother – and with his search ended, Luis stays.
Of course, things couldn’t be that easy. Daddy is a religious zealot who believes that the Amnesia Plague is the beginning of the End of Days, Mommy is pretty much off her rocker, and Cassandra not only doesn’t remember Luis, she also can seemingly see the future. Grandpa is really the only “normal” person in the family, other than Luis. In a world where there is no civilization, you have to take what you can get, so Luis steps up to help Daddy with the gathering, all the while trying to get his former bride to remember him. Out in the wilds there is the growing fear of Amnesiacs; some just stand and stare off into the nothingness, while others attack the uninfected and attempt to consume them like any other zombie movie. It’s the ones that stare that creep me out the most, and it seems that this is the breakdown before they turn hungry.
So overall it probably sounds a lot like most other zombie movies you’ve seen, I realize. Then there is that notion of Cassandra seeing the future, and therefore being able to change the future that makes this story veer off the standard zombie path. The plot seems pretty straightforward for about the first half of the film, and then things escalate. Daddy gets crazier, Mommy gets crazier, the danger outside grows more ominous, and then FS starts messing with your head. Bits and pieces of the story are out of order – they always have been a little off right from the beginning, but the gaps become wider, the flow of time more convoluted. I don’t want to get too much into how FS plays with plot and its unfolding, because I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just put it this way: if you’re not paying enough attention you’re gonna get lost (and even if you are paying attention you might STILL be a bit confused). I really enjoyed this take on restructuring the zombie film; as a genre, zombie movies are most often a straight line from beginning to end, but FS zigs and zags, twists and turns, and the further on the story gets the harder it is to define the path it has taken to get there. I like a movie that challenges me, and find it refreshing to find this sort of subterfuge in a relatively straightforward genre.
On the production side of FS, it has its ups and downs. The film was shot in 07 or 08 so it is SD on a decent, but not pro, camera and the lighting varies from ok to downright harsh and off-putting. While the video quality itself is so-so, the use of that camera is quite dexterous; the composition of the shots are very nicely planned and executed throughout the film. From visual references to other films/filmmakers – the opening shot is a “trunk shot” which was not originated from but was made famous by Tarantino, and this is soon followed by a “big sky” shot that evokes feelings of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – to interesting little takes on what could otherwise be mundane – a shot with the camera affixed down the barrel of a shotgun, or “first person” shots – FS does a masterful job of making the visuals interesting to watch. The sound quality is pretty decent overall, it seems to be all on-set sound, so there is not much in the way of foley to help build the scenes, but the dialogue is all well-recorded and easy to understand. The music is striking, and does wonders to set the tone for the film and help increase the creepiness factor in some scenes and up the dread level in others. The production design is nothing too special, but it is certainly adequate for the story and better than a lot of low- and no-budget zombie films I’ve seen over the years, and on the occasions when the film gets gory it does so within reason and with some skill.
One of the things McClelland seems to excel at is his skill in directing. I’ve already mentioned the visual acumen displayed in the composition of FS, but McClelland also does a very solid job with the actors. Lucero is very plausible in his portrayal of Luis; from confidence to confusion his representation is true. Spiro as Mommy and Tucker as Cassandra both put in respectable performances, while Dannenbaum’s Grandpa was decent, but not quite up to the bar set by everyone else. It was Tade’s unhinged portrayal of Daddy that really got to me; he is a character that starts off as just a good Christian man, and descends into full on metaphysical madness, in a really scary way.
Overall I found FS to be an interesting entry into the flesh-eater canon of films. It’s not completely different than anything you’ve ever seen, but it is certainly not just your average zombie movie. The twists on time and vision and reality were a really fun way to spin what would otherwise be a pretty average story. The skill with which the film was produced and shot add a lot to the weight the story carries, and overall FS does a really good job at distressing the emotions of the audience without having to pour out buckets of the red stuff. This is one of those movies that lends itself to multiple viewings, and I think the twists in the plotline will become easier to follow once you’ve seen it the first time. And I love movies that I can watch more than once.
Overall 7 / 10
FS on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1339091/
FS for sale: http://amzn.com/B00860B38O (mine came with a FS shot glass!)
FS site: http://www.fuguestatethemovie.com/