Anne Sorce, artists, cinema, Deep Dark, Denise Poirier, feature-film debut, film reviews, films, horror, horror films, John Nielsen, Monica Graves, Movies, Sean McGrath, Tabor Helton, tortured artists, writer-director
Inspiration is a funny thing. A great idea can strike at any time, as sudden and organic as a rain storm, as torrential and disruptive as a tornado. One can be doing nothing more intensive than walking across the street when…bam! A random passerby sparks an idea, someone drops their handbag and the next Catcher in the Rye is born.
The ancient Greeks and Romans viewed inspiration as coming at the hands of some sort of external “muse,” the physical manifestation of that wholly inexplicable genesis of a genuinely great idea. With the proper muse, any poet, sculptor or painter of ancient renown could produce works that would impress not only their current generation but last the test of time. Every artist needs their muse.
Writer-director Michael Medaglia’s exceptionally disturbing Deep Dark (2015) examines this notion of the creative muse from a view slightly askew, resulting in one of the more interesting, dark and illuminative films I screened this year. If anything, Deep Dark established itself as the more grounded, (slightly) respectable version of another of my favorite films of the year, Motivational Behavior (2015). To coin a new phrase: Approximating greatness can, in its own way, become a sort of greatness.
Our guide through this particular patch of strange ground is Hermann Haig (Sean McGrath), the sad-sack mobile-artist who serves as our source of identification and empathy (what little there is). Hermann is, for lack of a better word, kind of a loser: he still lives at home with his mother, produces increasingly shabby installations to an increasingly uncaring public and seems one certain decision away from blowing his brains all over the back wall. In other words, Hermann is the epitome of the misunderstood artiste.
After hitting rock bottom when a planned installation sprays arterial blood all over the glitterati, Hermann finds himself in the rare position of approaching his “sell-out” artist uncle, Felix (John Nielsen), and asking for whatever manner of assistance he might provide. Uncle Felix offers to rent Hermann the apartment (shabby though it might be) that provided him the inspiration to become a self-sustaining artist. Hermann might consider himself the ultimate outsider artist but the desire to provide a roof over his head proves too much and he ends up relenting.
This, of course, leads us to the film’s central conceit, as Hermann discovers a hole behind an excessively strange painting of a peacock in the dreary, run-down apartment. This hole, as you might surmise, isn’t the usual kind of hole one might find in a wall. For one thing, it has a voice: an alluring female voice, as it turns out. For another thing, the hole appears to lead into some sort of strange, fleshy organic material: certainly not the sort of thing one usually finds insulating walls in older residences. Finally, the hole promises to turn Hermann into the buzz-bin artist that he’s always assumed he would be…no mean feat, if you think about it.
In no time, Hermann has used the mysterious hole to get a head-up on his competition, creating mobiles that seem to drive viewers absolutely mad with admiration. All he needed, as it turns out, is the strange, fleshy material that the hole produces after…well…let’s just say, after being “stimulated” and leave it at that. When gallery owner/failed artist Devora Klein (Anne Sorce) gets wind of Hermann’s “assistance,” however, she becomes determined to use the strange hole to further her own frustrated art career. Will Hermann be able to remain true to his (decidely strange) muse or is inspiration more a question of proximity than need?
As any long-time readers of The VHS Graveyard will note, your humble host prizes strange, difficult and outre cinema beyond all else. As especially astute viewers might recall, we previously visited an exceptional little film called Motivational Growth (2015) earlier in the year and were completely blown away. If it helps, consider Deep Dark to be “Motivational Growth: Take Two.” While nowhere near as strange and wonderful as that prior film, Deep Dark dives deep enough into the deep end to satisfy our weird itch and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, right off the bat: Deep Dark is a fundamentally strange film and that’s definitely part of the appeal. Whether we’re witnessing Hermann’s failed attempts at “art” (hope you like spraying blood) or an unbelievably disturbing human/wall sex scene (yeah, it goes there), this is a film that revels in throwing strange and disturbing shit at the wall. Luckily (?) for us, most us it sticks.
Whether Hermann’s ultra-disturbing dream where he pulls a chain from his navel (spoiler: there will be blood) or pretty much any of the scenes involving the wall (I don’t know about you but “fingering” a wall to ecstacy is just weird, no matter how you look at it), Deep Dark is absolutely genius at burrowing under your skin and staying there. Like the best (?) fever dreams, Deep Dark has an insane logic all its own, a logic that’s genuinely painful to minds more accustomed to a straight-forward A-to-Z narrative.
Here, gentle readers, is where we get into the trust portion of this particular exercise. As with Motivational Growth, nothing about this general description of this film should inspire any assurance of quality: after all, this is a film where a highly disturbed artist fucks a wall in order to receive the ickily organic “flesh balls” that he needs to complete his mobile installations. If you just backed-up your breakfast, I’m gonna go ahead and assume that this isn’t for you.
If, however, you can get on the right wavelength…if you can choke back your gag reflex and just go with it…Deep Dark is one helluva film. Really. From the all-in performances to the genuinely disturbing effects (the stuff involving the wall is, to use a scientific term, “way gross”) to the mind-blowing ultimate revelation (you’ll never think about “true love” in the same way), this is one impressive film.
With a visual aesthetic that splits the difference between “grimy” and “whimsical,” a score that accentuates the above and performances that ride the line between “realistic” and “way out there,” it’s easy to view Deep Dark as a particularly twisted fairy tale and that’s not far off the actual mark. Like the best films, Deep Dark asks you to take a pretty big leap of faith and then pays off the sacrifice ten-fold: love it or hate it, it’s impossible to have anything approaching a “whatever” attitude regarding this strange little film.
Ultimately, Motivational Growth is going to be my go-to, totally inappropriate source of personal advice for calendar year 2015. If that little gem didn’t exist, however, I have a feeling that Deep Dark would easily take its place. If nothing else, this prove the time-old adage: Believe half of what the hole shows you and none of what it says. Keep this is mind, friends and neighbors, and I think you’re gonna do just fine.