Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Resonnances (2006)

"Echo" and "resonance" are two different words with two different definitions. Yet, they are similar enough to be linked together in both usage and accepted, general meaning by most folks. "Echo" refers almost exclusively to sounds and their repetition and reflection. Yet the word is often used to describe any type of callback, aural, visual, thematic, and so on. By that same token, "resonance," which is usually understood to have primarily (but not exclusively) to do with amplification of sound, enriching it, elongating it, is often described like an echo. We speak of images, songs, speeches as resonating with people. They stay with us, their impact on us grows. Both, then, can be seen as artifacts of the past, but they still have an effect in the present, even though they're not truly related in a literal sense. Just saying, is all.

Philippe Robert's Resonnances opens in medieval France. A woman (Livane Revel) wanders in the woods when a meteor crashes into the ground, sending her flying. As the smoke clears, the woman is chased by the creature in the meteor (which moves underground) and eventually killed. Cut to present-day France. Yann (Yann Sundberg) is taking Karine (Marjorie Dubesset) to a small barbecue along with his pals, Vincent (Vincent Lecompte) and Thomas (Thomas Vallegeas), and then the group (including the two other women they barbecued with) plan on going out afterward. However, the men and women take off in separate cars, and the guys soon find themselves out of gas. Stopping at a darkened gas station, the trio pick up a mysterious stranger (played by Patrick Mons, who I'm sure couldn't be the serial killer who recently escaped from prison, could he?). Tooling down a dark road, the guys are distracted by what appears to be a ghost, get smacked by what appears to be a tentacle, and soon find themselves careening over a cliff. And if they survive all that, there's a very old monster with an appetite waiting.

As a feature shot on almost no budget, on standard definition video, Resonnances is both ambitious and something for the filmmakers to crow about. Granted, the majority of the special and visual effects are computer-generated, but there also appears to be some miniature work which is by-and-large effective. I've probably said this before, but I feel it bears repeating; just getting a feature completed is a noteworthy accomplishment. When the work in question is as ambitious in scope as this one is, it's even more so. Nevertheless, triumphing over filmmaking adversity is no panacea against the ills that affect novice filmmakers.

As homage to a simpler style of horror film, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Tremors, The Thing, Blood Beach, Evil Dead, Jaws, The Hitcher, and even Day Of The Triffids and some of the teen sex road comedies show their "faces" at various points in this one. There is a very obvious love that the filmmakers have for these films. A good deal of time is taken setting up the characters, and yet none of them is much more than a type. Yann is the young man in love, Thomas is the status-seeker who loves his Volkswagen, and Vincent is the gamer who's more concerned with leveling up than what's going on around him. Antoine is the lip-smacking villain of the piece, complete with buggy eyes (hello, BEM Awards). Karine, then, is the understanding, cool chick who "gets it." None of the characters is all that believable or well-rounded, but none of them is too unlikeable, either, and for a story like this, that goes a long way.

The road the boys slalom off of is called "The Road of the White Lady," and we soon find out the reason why when the "ghost" of the woman in the prologue appears floating off the side of the road. The most intriguing idea the filmmakers had was to connect this spectre with the alien monster. And yet, the concept is frustratingly never fleshed out. The apparition appears twice in the piece, does nothing, and interacts with no one, consequently leaving one wondering why it was included at all. If she (it, whatever) is meant to be an echo/resonance of the creature's first victim, an actual disembodied spirit, or just a lure like on an angler fish, it's not clarified. So why bother with it? This is one of those things where you want to give the filmmakers credit for being clever and for granting the audience a quantum of intelligence, but it feels more accidental than inventive.

As a presence, the monster is mostly shown burrowing after its victims a la the Blair-Alien of John Carpenter's The Thing or the graboids of Tremors. When it is actually shown, it's interesting (resembling a tentacular trilobite) but not overly-impressive. Wisely, Robert keeps it obscured in the dark for the most part. But movies of this nature are never really about the monster. That's just the MacGuffin. The main tension of the story is generated by the tensions between the characters (hence having a serial killer as one of the group). The filmmakers subvert the normal hero dynamic in this type of film, and this helps greatly in distinguishing itself from others of its type. I won't tell you exactly who does what, but I will tell you what the set up is. We expect Yann to be the dashing hero. We expect Karine to be the "Final Girl." We expect Vincent and Thomas to be monster fodder. We expect Antoine to get killed by the alien. We expect there to be some type of disquieting twist in the final shot. Some of these happen, some don't. This undermining of genre expectations is one of the video's stronger attributes.

One the whole, however, Resonnances doesn't feel like a complete piece. Large chunks of exposition are elided completely (perhaps this is better than dropping it into lengthy sections of clunky dialogue, but it does not help the viewer orientate himself). Characters disappear never to be heard from again. Other characters are ignored entirely or dealt with entirely out of hand. Further, the filmmakers want us to believe that this thing has been in this forest for centuries, yet we're never told how it has managed to do so. A reason is neither postulated nor suggested. 

The plain fact of the matter is that, despite the more innovative aspects of the story, the dots are not all connected, and the audience is not given enough evidence to connect them by themselves. And while one can hypothesize and conjecture (given the paucity of information from the movie) for hours on what things mean or how they were accomplished, it is not enough to provide a satisfying cinematic experience (and seeing as this was shot on video, I guess that statement is somewhat ironic). I'll revisit this one as a light diversion and a low budget achievement, and it is enjoyable on some level. But in the end, it just doesn't resonate (sorry) enough.

MVT: Philippe Robert is the one who got this thing made, and for that, he should be applauded for it. Unfortunately, he must also accept the blame for its deficiencies.

Make Or Break: The prologue scene has everything in it you can expect from this movie, good and bad. As such, it does what good prologues do, prepare you for what's ahead, and tease you enough to keep you watching.

Score: 6.75/10

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