Wednesday, May 25, 2016

THE PLAYGROUND: Odd, Ominous, & Way Over My Head

And now a review of a film that's yet to be released, but should be hitting the festival circuit soon:

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(Dir. Edreace Purmul, 2016) 

Edreace Purmul’s second film, his follow-up to 2008’s MOZLYM, is one of the most thematically ambitious low budget movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s also one of the oddest, most ominous, and way over my head thrillers that I’ve ever encountered especially considering its modest scale.

Described on its production company’s (Splitworld Pictures) website as a “thrilling adaptation of ancient folklore depicted through a modern fable,” THE PLAYGROUND offers up a ensemble of initially unconnected characters facing various life tests and temptations.

Set in San Diego, where it recently won Best Feature at the city’s 2016 Film Awards ceremony, the film depicts the struggles of a former convict (Lawrence R. Kivett) and his unhappy wife (Ghadir Mounib) who are not coincidentally named Jack and Jill; a homeless man (Merrick McCartha), who comes into an unexpected fortune; a young, questioning priest on sabbatical (Christopher Salazar), and a scheming businessman (Shane P. Allen).

Lurking in the background of these problem-plagued people is the fleetingly seen Daniel Armand, credited as “Nameless Man,” who may be a dark power pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Throughout much of its 151 minute running time I was uncertain of the motivations, the meanings of certain actions, and what the dialogue was trying to convey in this collection of intertwined storylines, but the film’s tense tone, aided by its entrancingly disturbing score by Sami Matar, combined with its strange yet natural seeming narrative nuances stayed with me for days. Its deceptively spare imagery, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Sogues, also haunted my movie memory a lot longer than many features I’ve seen lately.

THE PLAYGROUND may come off like a spiritual slog at times, but it’s one worth working one’s way through. Edreace, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ramona Frye and Dean Mounir, have put together a mosaic of morality plays, inspired by timeworn tales, legends, sermons, and fables filtered through a modern sensibility.

It all adds up into an immaculately layered tapestry of story threads that are weaved together in a way that might be baffling but the later unraveling of which can be very rewarding.

But yeah, I’m still a bit baffled as I’m unfamiliar with much of the source material and a lot of the symbology contained within was lost on me. However, in the end I found Edreace’s work here to be much more impressive than impenetrable.

More later...

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