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Sometimes, a film can be so confused, so completely and totally lost, that you almost want to put it out of its misery. There might be intriguing concepts rattling around or a talented cast or even just a really cool location. Ultimately, however, these are all for naught, propping up an empty shell, like the Western facades in old TV shows. A car with a shiny, new coat of paint and four flat tires is just as useful as a junker with four flat tires: neither of ’em are going anywhere. In the case of Anna Campion’s directorial debut, Loaded, this particular vehicle is sidelined by a pretentious, confusing and fairly dumb narrative. The film may be technically proficient but it’s a nonsensical nightmare and, perhaps, a clue as to why Campion took 12 years to follow it up (with a short, one might add). Sister Jane had The Piano (1993) and Anna got Loaded…talk about awkward family get-togethers!

The biggest issue with Loaded (among many, many issues) is the simple fact that the film is needlessly confusing and hopelessly fractured. At first, this would seem to be the natural default for a film about young people tripping on drugs: after all, drug trips tend to be highly disorienting and confusing (so I’ve been told), so why shouldn’t depictions of said trips be just as confusing? This argument holds water right up until the point where you realize that the actual drug trip doesn’t come until the final 30 minutes of the film. Essentially, there’s over an hour of film before the actual drug trip that is just as fractured and nonsensical: in fact, it’s actually more disjointed, just without the interesting visual quirks from the trip sequence (an animated bird was, without a doubt, the highlight of the film…which says a lot, I fear).

I’ll fully admit that I didn’t understand much of the actual plot logistics, so my “synopsis” might not even be correct: I honestly don’t know. Here’s what I got out of it, though: a group of friends head to an isolated cabin in the woods to film some sort of “indie horror film”, take drugs and “accidentally” kill one of their own. I say “indie horror film” since they describe it that way but the footage we see doesn’t look like a horror film at all: it pretty much features them wearing odd costumes and floating around in a swimming pool. Seriously. This is made even more befuddling because we actually hear the “director,” Lance (Danny Cunningham) describe the project in some detail. When he describes it, it sounds like a pretty by-the-book slasher film. When they start shooting it, however, it becomes some sort of pseudo-baroque costume mess that bears no resemblance to what they described. So…what gives?

You’ll notice that I also say “accidentally” kill one of their own: that’s because it doesn’t look much like an accident. In fact, it looks just like a suicide, since the soon-to-be-dead guy, Lionel (Mathew Eggleton), rides his motorcycle right into the car that hits him. Witnessing the mishap, I don’t think that there’s a jury on Earth that would’ve convicted the driver, Neil (Oliver Milburn). No need, however, since Neil later says that he did kill Lionel on purpose because…well…ah, who cares. Campion’s screenplay is full of so many holes that picking out individual issues seems kinda mean, since the whole thing is problematic.

What are we to make of a film that begins with one of our characters (Neil, as it turns out) bringing a camcorder into his therapy session so that he can record his shrink (veteran Irish actress Dearbhla Molloy), while they discuss the sadomasochistic letters that he’s has been sending her? Probably the same thing that we’re to make of dinner at the cabin consisting of some sort of bizarre ambrosia salad: who in the Sam Hell serves nothing but ambrosia salad for dinner? My favorite revelation in the film? I’m almost  positive that the bizarre orgy-like, drug-trip dance sequence is scored by the funky wah-wah breakdown from U2’s “Mysterious Ways.” Least favorite revelation? After being batshit incomprehensible for most of its running time, the film was going to settle into that tired old warhorse of “We gotta call the cops/we can’t call the cops cuz we’ve been gettin’ crazy.” It still didn’t make any sense but at least I could guess the ending now. Success…I guess.

If Loaded (alternate title: Bloody Weekend, neither of which are very accurate) is remembered for anything at all (besides a supporting role from a young Thandie Newton), it will probably be remembered for being a harbinger, of sorts, for The Blair Witch Project (1999). While Loaded certainly wasn’t the first “found-footage” film (I’m calling Cannibal Holocaust for that one, folks), it preceded Blair Witch by a good five years and there are some undeniable similarities, mostly with the setting and use of the camera. The Blair Witch Project, despite its faults, is a much, much better film than Loaded, however, making me appreciate it even more.

I’ll be honest: there was a brief window where this film could’ve got back in my good graces. Right before the “traumatic” “accident,” Lance and Neil head out (with Lionel following on his motorcycle), to get some cigarettes or something. On their way home from the store, Lance and Neil pull their car over so they can enjoy a Cadbury Creme Egg. That’s right, folks: rather than put anyone’s lives in harm’s way, our intrepid duo pulls over so that they can enjoy their Easter-themed candy. If only the entire film had displayed that forethought and concern for humanity, we might be having a much different conversation right now. As it stands, I’m just gonna go eat my Cadbury Egg in the corner and pout.

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