North-Of-The-Border Horrors : “Aegri Somnia”

Posted: January 30, 2013 in movies
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AegriSomniaDVD

Subtitled A Sick Man’s Dreams, writer-director James Rewucki’s 2008 Winnipeg-filmed Aegri Somnia is one of those indie horrors that wears its influences so conspicuously on its sleeve that you can’t help but compare it to what’s come before. Obviously, you can’t even think about making a movie in Winnipeg without having a little bit of Guy Maddin rub off on you almost by default, but it’s David Lynch’s Eraserhead that Rewucki is so clearly drawing most of his inspiration from here.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose — both Screamplay and Combat Shock owe a pretty heavy debt to Eraserhead, and both end up being even better than Eraserhead, so hell, maybe this one will be too, right?

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Well — not so fast. To be sure, Aegri Somnia is a feast for the eyes from start to finish. Each frame is worthy of slow, careful study and appreciation for its inventive visual flair alone. That’s pretty commendable in and of itself, and Rewucki should be damn proud of what he’s done with his $130,000 budget. But a movie’s gotta do more than just look good to be considered anything other than a qualified success in my book, and unfortunately, that’s where this one comes up a bit short.

The premise is intriguing enough, I suppose —a go-nowhere schmuck named Edgar (a nod to Screamplay‘s Edgar Allenpoe, perhaps?), portrayed rather convincingly throughout by Tyhr Trubiak, lives in a shit town, has a shit job, a shit marriage, and generally a shit time of things across the board. One day, his wife suddenly decides to top herself, and Edgar’s feelings of guilt and shame, combined with the oppressive monotony of his daily existence, start causing him to have ever-more- vivid hallucinatory dreams that threaten to consume him soul — and, it would seem, his body. What’s real and what’s unreal becomes increasingly blurred as the film progresses, and Edgar’s ultimately left with the age-old existential dilemma of whether or not to set himself free from his own internal demons or get swallowed up by them forever. The “feel-good” movie of the year has arrived!

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The main problem, of course, is that after awhile the whole thing becomes as plodding and pretentious as it sounds. Self-conscious stylistic touches like alternating between black-and-white and color for each scene don’t help matters much, either, and end up reinforcing the feeling that Rewucki’s main goal here is just to shout out “look at this movie I made!” at the top of his lungs. To his credit, what he’s created here is most certainly worth looking at, but the “mind-fuck” angle he’s playing with the script falls pretty flat and the story is completely subsumed underneath the film’s (admittedly, again, stunning) visuals. Looking at something interesting is great, but actually caring about the interesting thing you’re looking at is even better.

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To be honest, I think Rewucki’s main problem  is one that plenty of young filmmakers have — he’s more concerned with making something memorable than just making something good. I can’t say as I really blame him for that — toiling away in obscurity on solid-but-unspectacular low-budget independent pictures in the vain hope that someday somebody might notice sounds to me like a tedious fucking grind that promises little or no payoff at the end. But make a film that people are sure to find spectacular, even if it’s not all that solid, well — somebody’s gotta notice that, right?

Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder mined pretty similar thematic territory a lot more successfully than this, but it’s probably (okay, certainly) not fair to expect a guy from Winnipeg with just over one hundred grand to play around with to match the quality of a film like that, so let’s just give Rewucki credit for what he has managed to accomplish here, which is to deliver an hour and half of haunting and indelible images tethered to a story that you pretty quickly stop giving a damn about. That might sound like guarded praise at best, but hell — it’s a more significant artistic achievement than you and I will ever produce, and it’s definitely worth watching at least once.

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As with the recently-reviewed-on-this-blog Long PigsAbolition, and Werewolf FeverAegri Somnia is available on DVD as part of R-Squared Films’ five-movie set floating around  under the titles of either “Extreme Canadian Horror” or “Pure Canadian Horror” (same disc, two different labels — don’t ask me what’s up with that because I don’t know). The fifth film included is something called I Heart Doomsday that I haven’t watched yet, but will probably get around to reviewing once I do. They all feature nicely-done widescreen picture transfers and more-or-less flawless 5.1 sound, and at under ten bucks the disc is certainly a terrific value. All the films have their flaws, sure, but all provide a good example of the imagination and creativity currently gathering steam on the Canadian independent fringe. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear a lot more from every one of these filmmakers in one capacity or another in the years to come, but if Aegri Somnia is any indication, my best guess for James Rewucki is that his talents might possibly be better suited to a visual medium where adherence to narrative is of less, or even no, importance — music videos, perhaps?

Comments
  1. The majority of the movies you have mentioned never had so many words written about them upon their initial release. You’ve gone above and beyond in your effort to detail every bit of repulsion, on both sides of the camera. Based on that I think you have produced a pretty significant artistic achievement.

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