Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Sunless Remembered – review

Director: Scout Tafoya

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

The Sunless Remembered is a New York City vampire film, but more so it is an arthouse film. It comes in at over 2 hours and takes a journey through the life of a vampire, credited as She (Lindsey Nakatani), though that journey is best described as languid. It was, according to IMDb, created on a budget of just $200.

It starts with blood on the snow, She holding her bleeding neck but she is blurred, out of focus. Then She is on a train. A male narrator describes that she was attacked, there was an attempted rape and, when she resisted, she was bitten. The male voice tells us that he will tell her story as no-one listens to a woman. It struck me for a moment that the insight was inciteful but then, momentarily, it also struck me that a male narrator of a woman’s story might also be read as cinematic mansplaining. I doubt it was meant as that – but it could be interpreted so. Be that as it may, the tone of voice fit the movie well.

Lindsey Nakatani as She
She walks down the street; a camera follows a man walking behind her. The film goes in and out of focus, the camera’s point of focus shifting almost randomly, the camera shaking erratically. There is no soundtrack, just the sound of feet and the sound of the city. It might have worked (baring the shaking camera, which regular readers know I hate generally) but it just went on and on – this became a theme. Eventually (after much walking) She enters a building and he tailgates and gets in also. He walks down the corridor and she leaps out at him.

The film changes mood as the images of attack strobe, the soundtrack bursts into life with a heavy soundtrack and She feeds. The film then lingers on her, sat, bloodied, unmoving for the longest time. There is a soundtrack sudden stop. We see her portrait, as she sits in the bath and then, again, the film lingers on her face. Eventually we hear her singing – and through the film she sings. We discover that 105-years old She was, before the attack on her, set for a career as an opera singer and there are moments of her life as a vocal trainer and moments of her performing aria – Lindsey Nakatani is a professional singer.

Kaitlyn Acosta as the lover
We see her defend a woman (Jenni Wales) in her stairwell who is being attacked. When the woman wakes, in her flat, She confesses what she is, admitting killing the violent date and the film, very much, is an expression of the reminiscences that the conversation causes. She is a killer, but only killed a woman once (after turning and that was her landlady). Since then she has only killed violent, bad men – but describes all men as monsters at one point so her victim choice may not have been as nuanced as She claims. She leaves the city occasionally but always gravitates back to the place where she can kill and no one seems to notice that the victims are missing. We later get the story of her discovering a sexual awakening with women and her great doomed love, another vampire (Kaitlyn Acosta).

contemplating its cinematic navel
The issue is that the film spends a lot of time contemplating its cinematic navel. The camera stares at her and, sometimes, she does nothing (or perhaps eats fast food, or empties a dishwasher). It isn’t that it is bad, per se, it is clearly with purpose (and Nakatani will often fill the most static moments with micro-gestures and micro-expressions) but for a large part of the potential audience it will be a turn off. It is arthouse and wallows in it, narrative is for the mainstream (and yet, by titling chapters, narrating, and having a 'diary on intertitle' moment, the film does actually offer narrative). It is languid, as I said, there is no better word.

another attack
I do want to mention the soundtrack though. It is well picked, sometimes jarring but jarringly good and the aria moments both fit and are gloriously sung. It is the strongest aspect of the film by far. The film often uses obfuscating close-ups, blurring, focus fluctuations and other idiosyncratic photography moments and you can tell they are deliberate but sometimes they just don’t work and start looking amateurish when they are meant to be auteurish. It is an experiment and not all of it works but, if you can stand the pace (or lack thereof) bits definitely do work too. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here and the film is available on Vimeo.

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