Strawberry Flavored Plastic (2018) REVIEW
An aesthetically uneven commentary on visual media culture.
Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a strange sort of horror-thriller, in ways both intentional and (seemingly) unintentional. Writer/director Colin Bemis’s film is a mess, though it does have an interesting premise and a surreal charm.
The setup is relatively simple: Noel (Adian Bristow) is a serial killer and documentary filmmakers Franklin (Steve Boghossain) and Ellis (Andres Montejo) plan to make him the subject (the “star” as it were) of their first feature. Noel begins by telling the pair that he’s a murderer who’s recently been released from prison, but when the guys do a little research, they find out that Noel is indeed a killer, though he’s never been caught. This is, of course, the point where any reasonable person would have stopped the production and called the police, but the two filmmakers see this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves. They will be the first documentary team to make a movie about an active serial killer. But their decision not to turn Noel in means that he’s free to kill again, which of course he does.
The foundation is definitely solid. There’s a lot being said about our visual-media saturated society, and the urge to make yourself famous no matter the cost, or whether this fame is going to affect others negatively. This brings to mind the recent Logan Paul controversy wherein he went to the suicide forest in Japan wearing a stupid hat and filmed himself with a corpse hanging from a tree. But, I guess, at least Paul didn’t try to justify what he did by calling it art, like these guys do. It becomes clear early on that Noel isn’t the only sociopath in the film.
A cool idea, but the movie is (generously) fifteen minutes too long, and the dialogue is written as if it was transcribed from a college freshman’s attempt at poetry. Poetry is great, but the problem is that people just don’t talk that way. Archaic words and phraseology are used in combination with overly-ornate speech patterns that really take you out of the movie. I started to wonder after a while whether this was done intentionally, to give the movie more of a surreal tone, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Bemis is just trying too hard, and tripping his characters (and the actors) up in the process. However, whether intended or not, the effect is quite surreal, otherworldly. Especially so because it’s a found footage film, and therefore uses the most bluntly realistic filmmaking tools: dashcam, webcam, and GoPro footage to name a few. It’s quite disconcerting, and even though it’s probably not what Bemis intended, provides an interesting juxtaposition nonetheless.
The performances are okay, for the most part, though nobody can quite make it through the dialogue, at least not all the time. Aidan Bristow comes somewhere near mesmerizing in his portrayal of Noel, and as a working class character trying to impress his more formally educated filmmaker friends, the more ornate dialogue works best when it’s coming from him.
I think Strawberry Flavored Plastic could easily have been trimmed to an hour and the pacing would be perfect. I realize this creates practical problems for a filmmaker, namely with securing distribution, but the movie is too loosely structured for its intended effect. There’s not enough tension for the movie to be a thriller, and not enough scares to be a horror film. This isn’t because the tension and violence don’t work, they definitely do, but there’s so much between the scenes that feel like filler and really put the brakes on the movie, ruining whatever momentum it had going for it.
Still, if you can get through the long moments of Noel talking (there are several scenes where he’s sitting in a bookstore, taking precious minutes of runtime bloviating to a static camera) and other elements that stilt the film’s pacing, there are some real viceral moments. The first time we see Noel kill is a genuinely harrowing experience. Nail-biting, to be sure, and it really illustrates the damage that the filmmakers have done by not turning the guy in. Noel is charming, sure, but he’s also a ruthless killer.
The movie does a nice job of exploring the meanings behind the visually-saturated world that we live in, and have lived in for quite some time. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, when I was a kid and our parents told us to play outside, that meant that visual media was completely out of the question. Nature was our playground and the primary stimulation for our imagination. Now, any kid with a phone can bring all sorts of media with them wherever they go.
Being outside while staring at a screen catching Pokemon is a far cry from a Walkman being your only distraction. And the dangerous part about all this is that so many people aren’t satisfied with simply consuming visual media. They want badly to be a part of it, to insert themselves into it. This is how so many of us hope to live on after death, forgetting the utter disposability of most visual media. I think this was a worthy idea to explore, and I hope Bemis can flesh these ideas out further, with better attention to pacing and dialogue on the next go-around. He’s got a lot to say, but I’m just not sure he knows exactly how to articulate it.
Strawberry Flavored Plastic will be available on January 23rd on Amazon.