Way Down in Chinatown

Certificate: Unrated
Running time: 82 mins
Director: Eric Michael Kochmer
Starring: Justin Dray, Stephanie Sanditz, Ashli Haynes, Maria Olsen
Genre: Sci-fi, Noir, Thriller, Drama
Country: USA

Last year we publicised the funding campaign on Indiegogo for independent drama/noir/sci-fi Way Down in Chinatown.  Since then we’ve been eagerly awaiting the film driven by theatre all-rounder Eric Michael Kochmer, and it’s finally arrived.

Victor and Jessica Mitchum (Dray & Sanditz) are a theatre couple, but when they set out to fund their apocalyptic musical The Apocalypse, Tomorrow they find themselves in the midst of a world collapsing, a slow assimilation and a hit from the 1920’s that promises to have you working through the semiotic meanings long after the final credits have gone to black.

Way Down in Chinatown has a richness to it’s imagery that hasn’t been seen in cinema since Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German and before that since the glory days of the studio system and Warner Bros’ film noir factory.  Kiko Suura’s cinematography has a depth of history, understanding and shading that can only come from someone with 1. talent and 2. a knowledge and love of cinema.  Both are evident, and the use of chiaroscuro lighting coupled with make-up effects give the film a Weimarian quality.  The film is, also heavily theatrical.  It’s understandable, almost obvious given that Kochmer’s playground has been predominantly theatre.  It’s a Samuel Beckett inspired piece as directed by a David Lynch disciple and as such has an abundance of atmosphere and character.  Several of the scenes, including Ashli Haynes’ performance of Goodbye Irene are rather haunting.  Others involving Sanditz and Knifed in Venice favourite Maria Olsen are disturbing, not just visually but how it lingers afterwards.  But all are rendered wonderfully on screen, if framed somewhat theatrically.

The script is great.  I’m a big fan of the complexity and the metaphorical narratives in the script, I’m a big fan of Beckett, I’m a big fan of Lynch and without giving too much away upfront I think I’m going to be a big fan of Kochmer and look forward to seeing what comes next from him.  There are some great performances in Way Down in Chinatown.  Justin Dray in incredibly believable as Victor, the playwright, he has ‘that’ quality.  The quality that’s required to go that extra mile in Hollywoodland and no doubt there’ll be many more Dray days ahead.  Sanditz is powerful as Jessica.  She has a lot more to do than any of the performers in the film, her emotional range is a lot more complex and diverse and it's wonderful to see her treat the screen like her canvas as she paints her complex emotional self portrait across it.  She’s fantastic.  Her scenes with Dray are some of his best, her scenes with Olsen are dangerous and unnerving.  They seriously altered my mood for hours upon hours post screening.  Olsen (as Bob) and Kochmer (Ken) are fantastically creepy.  They’re Laurel and Hardy consummated on PCP and birthed while watching Eraserhead.  Their chemistry is nothing short of ecstasy on screen and I could quite happily watch them, unblinking, forever.

Way Down in Chinatown is as original a sci-fi thriller as you’re likely to see.  It’s modernist, or maybe reductionist, and highly cerebral.  It involves, connects and interacts with the audience in a way that doesn’t happen that often anymore.  It's hugely evocative of experimental pieces like Man with a Movie Camera or some of Luis Bunuel's early work and awe-inspiring.  There are moments of American noir cinema, German Expressionism and even Soviet Montage in it’s construction topped off with a theatrical finish that somehow manages to keep you at arms length, regardless of the editing.  It's a movie that focuses the audience to interrogate it, and in turn themselves.  It’s a polarising film, it’s one that you will love or hate but whatever your reaction it’ll will get the grey matter working harder than any movie you’ll see this year.


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