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Olalla, Part Five: The Portrait

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

This post wraps up a few details about Olalla as I’ve interpreted the film.

Here we consider the portrait’s importance in the story and take a look at some of the cinematography.

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Gothic

OlallaPoster800The central image in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Olalla” is the portrait in the English soldier’s bedroom. It presents “a woman, still young” whose body is “very slim and strong.” Yet, she is “marred by a cruel, sullen and sensual expression,” the Englishman notes, and he fears the lady may still exist “in the body of some descendant.” Nevertheless, he is drawn to her.

In the film, the portrait travels across time. It is in Roberto’s bedroom in the 1885 setting and then in Nathan’s in the modern era.

At one point, Nathan, who is the final incarnation of the house guest, gives credence to the Englishman’s apprehension. He gazes at the woman’s face and it fades into Olalla’s, a bit of blood dripping from her mouth.

Like the English soldier who is “haunted by cries of pain” in the night, Nathan hears Olalla’s whimpering coming from her room. Could it be that Felipe is his sister’s abuser in Stevenson’s mind? Amy Hesketh lets us in on that secret in her updated version of the story.

Later, Nathan wants to photograph Olalla using his tablet. She resists at first, but gives in, and the photo reveals much.

First, her image is there, questioning the traditional (Bram Stoker) interpretation that vampires aren’t reflected in mirrors. Then, there is Olalla’s comment that she appears pale, perhaps denying any self-recognition that she is vampiric. Nathan counters her remark with the word “gothic,” an interesting concession to Stoker.

That strikes a chord with Olalla because she responds with one the film’s major themes. “I want to look normal.”

A test for angle and shadowing.

A test for angle and shadowing.

The portrait and the photo solidify the Olalla story. Both have the same shadowing that mutes the left side of the face. Olalla, like her ancestor, is crushed by a past she cannot escape. It’s the darkness that has engulfed the family for generations.

Coincidentally, there is a portrait of Christ immediately to the left (from the camera’s perspective) of Olalla’s ancestor. This foretells a cinematic ending that magnifies the conflict between suffering for sin and yielding to evil.

The images are together

The images: the soldier, Christ, and the ancestor

To bring all the images together, there is one more picture in the room, a soldier taken in profile. It’s a tribute to Stevenson’s original English officer, though the photo is of Victorian origin that fits with Amy’s interpretation of the Olalla back story.

As an aside, there is one more observation concerning Nathan’s tablet. Like the flat screen TV in the apartment Olalla shared with her boyfriend, the tablet is modern technology. However, the family hacienda lives in another era as we’ve seen. Only when someone from the outside, like the boyfriend or Nathan, appears in the narrative does Olalla experience what she desires, the freedom to break away and be “normal.”

Then, in a never ending cycle of entrapment, she kills off her chances of escape with deadly fits of blood lust.

Feeling Alive?

Throughout the film, the camera captures important details that help us interpret the story. Here are a few examples.

Olalla is frequently barefoot, understandable since uncle Felipe derides her as a “stupid little girl” confined her to adolescence. In the family’s presence, Olalla’s body language assumes the awkward posture of a child. Her hands and her feet are restive in an atmosphere that clearly makes her uneasy . . . as children often are among adults.

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In the living room, a glass curio cabinet is filled with bric-a-brac, much of it religious, such as the porcelain Madonna and angels.

Can we assume the family’s blood-thirst clashes with a faith they’ve long put on the shelf? Or, are the religious relics merely socially acceptable trinkets for display, not to be taken seriously? On the other hand, perhaps their blood cocktails are more sinister . . . a perversion of the blood of Christ celebrated in church ritual.

Taking this into consideration, we are inclined to believe that the crucifixion of Olalla’s mother, who committed no crime, was an act of redemption that gives the family a pass to be their wonderfully deviant selves.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Nathan and Olalla are united in one respect. He tells her that he has seen so much death that he can’t “feel alive anymore.”

The reality of that statement is ready to be tested by the family who is itself a reflection of his thought. Soon the party will begin and a table neatly organized with napkins, glasses, and the like is prepared. The arrangement is a set-up for a violent end: a pistol is centrally positioned among the dinner ware.

Nathan’s arrival is eagerly anticipated as one would the daily farmers’ market where fresh fruits and vegetables tempt the taste buds.

A Few Words about the Production

Olalla is a finely crafted film. Numerous close-ups connect the viewer with the characters. Additionally, Amy favors overhead and high angle shots, putting the family in a metaphorical fishbowl that invites us to watch their goings on with a mixture of macabre humor and pathos. Cinematographer Miguel Inti Canedo’s work is impressive.

A superb example is Olalla’s first appearance in the long hallway. It’s shot in single point perspective from high above with her a small figure at the opposite end moving toward the camera.

Later when Uncle Felipe overpowers Olalla, he binds her in a crucifix posture that references her mother’s death. The overhead shot tells us she may someday suffer a more grisly fate than a few beatings to reestablish her submission.

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Nearing the end of the film, another overhead shot shifts the focus to the pitchfork crowd in the 1880s. Notice that the whip marks on Olalla’s mother replicate the strokes inflicted on a tied down Olalla. Mother and daughter are forever united.

Oh yes, don’t forget that the Englishman’s final memory of Olalla in Stevenson’s story. He sees Olalla “leaning on the crucifix;” Amy puts her put on it.

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Olalla is a horror film, of course, but one that does not rely on special effects. Nonetheless, there is one spectacular moment when Jac Avila’s editing steps forward to show the fires that consume Olalla.

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A note for anyone who doubts the versatility of indie film projects. Everyone does everything. Actors do make-up, take on the jobs of PA’s, build sets, capture the film grabs (production stills) and operate technical equipment when needed.

A director has many jobs!

A director has many jobs . . .

It’s the closest thing we have to neighborhood theater, a truly refreshing experience.

Which includes set construction . . .

Which includes set construction . . .

And speaking of performers, Jac Avila’s and Amy Hesketh’s Pachamama/Decadent Films is also an acting troupe. Revisit the second post in this series for the names of the talented people who do their very best to make every film a first-class production.

A celebratory moment!

A celebratory moment!

The Budget

Finally, indie productions must deal with the bane of budgetary restrictions. Considering that, Olalla is exceptional. Though the outdoor sequences are not elaborate, they more than adequate to supplement the story.

10417775_10153193597846840_8578639109230206091_nOn the other hand, the indoor shots of the family hacienda in modern times are the real driving force of the film.

By comparison, the 1800s flashback scenes emphasize the family’s once wealthy position that Stevenson establishes in the original story.

Their home is well-appointed.

Also, the church that becomes Olalla’s last refuge is visually impressive. Both are awash in color.

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Because I mainly review films in an industry that operates outside mainstream Hollywood, I’m well aware that talented directors rarely have the money to bring their projects to the screen in the fashion they’d like.

Despite whatever financial hurdles they face, Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila create narratives that are intriguing interpretations of timeless stories produced with an innovative modern feel. As a team, they and their troupe deserve the highest accolades.

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There is on more post to come. It centers on Amy Hesketh’s performance in Ollala.

To learn more about Amy and Jac, visit their twitter accounts at @Amy Hesketh and @Jac Avila.

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Olalla, Part One: A Half-Lingering Terror

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Olalla is an erotic horror film from Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema. The movie is written and directed by Amy Hesketh. The dialogue is a combination Spanish and English and comes with the option of closed captioning.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story by the same name,  Amy’s adaptation weaves Stevenson’s tale into a visual narrative so compelling that I believe it is worthy of academic study.

Though I don’t use a rating system for my reviews, I highly recommend Olalla.  The film is available from Vermeerworks and Amazon.

In this first post, we look at Olalla from a back story perspective.

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1991712-gfRobert Louis Stevenson published “Olalla” as a short story in 1885. It’s the first person account of an unnamed English officer wounded in war, most likely Napoleon’s 1807-1814 Peninsular Campaign in Spain. The soldier recuperates at a “residencia” belonging to a once noble family.

Remnants

When he arrives, the officer learns the remnants of the family consist of a mother who is “sunk in sloth and pleasure,” a “very cunning, very loutish” son named Felipe, and a daughter, Olalla, whose presence is felt but not seen.

Upon first encountering Felipe, the soldier finds him to be “a child in intellect [and] stunted in development.” He also describes him as secretive, perhaps being more than he seems. All the while, the daughter remains a mystery.

During his stay, the Englishman notices a portrait of a woman in his bedroom. She appears, by way of her antiquated dress, to be “long since dead.” Nevertheless, she is striking in an ominous way, causing the soldier to remark that “to love such a woman were to seal one’s own sentence of degeneration.”

As time passes, the portrait begins to “cast a dark shadow” on him. He is thankful the woman is “safe in the grave,” then comments, “And yet I had a half-lingering terror that she might not be dead after all, but re-risen in the body of some descendant.”

Reacting to his uneasy feelings, the officer concludes the ‘family blood’ seemed to be “impoverished,” probably from inbreeding, and accounted for the strangeness of Felipe and his mother.

How they are connected to the portrait remains vague, but the soldier’s lengthening stay at the residencia reinforces his growing anxieties.

Bestial Cries

The Englishman eventually meets Olalla and they develop a rudimentary friendship.

The story’s turning point occurs when the soldier cuts his hand opening a casement window. Seeking help he approaches the mother only to have her fall upon him and bite his hand “to the bone.” He fights her off but she pounces again “with bestial cries” similar to those that had previously awakened him in the night. Felipe and Olalla appear and rescue him.

With the Felipe’s assistance, the soldier departs the home to find shelter in a local village. While there, he engages the old padre and asks about Olalla and her family. Not a good idea, apparently, because the village atmosphere becomes toxic for the Englishman. The residents avoid his presence which he attributes to their superstitions. Eventually, he strikes up a conversation with a “gaunt peasant” and learns that a villager died at that “house of Satan” where the family lives, though how and why is unknown. The soldier dismisses the story as more superstition.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

The officer and Olalla meet a final time on a pathway that has a crucifix at its summit. Olalla has stopped to pray.

She thought he had gone, she says, and urges him to do so because the longer he stays the closer death stalks him and her family. Olalla knows the locals are aware of his love for her and that is dangerous.

When her prayers are finished, Olalla implores the Englishman to look up at the “Man of Sorrows.” She mentions the “inheritors of sin” and how everyone must endure a past “which is not ours.”

Though he is no Christian, the soldier is struck by her message. All sacrifice is “voluntary,” he laments, and “pain is the choice of the magnanimous,” so it’s “best to suffer all things and do well.”

Moving on, the Englishman heads “down the mountain in silence.” He turns to look back and sees Olalla “still leaning on the crucifix.”

Is this a Vampire Tale?

Victorians loved enigmatic storytelling because it protected sensibilities and forced uncertainty upon the reader. For example, there’s Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Is it a ghost story about possessed children or just the fertile imagination of a young governess who is a psychological wreck?

On the other hand, when Bram Stoker’s Dracula is published about the same time as James’ work (1897-98) subtleties are put aside. The vague becomes obvious.

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We know Dracula’s bites are metaphors for the erotic and necessary to accommodate Victorian temperament, but the rest is pretty straightforward, a fantasy complete with fangs, a sun phobia, no reflections in mirrors, and on and on.

Hollywood has made a fortune on the Stoker model.

With Stevenson’s “Olalla,” we are left with a burning question? Is this a vampire tale or just a story about a deviant family of blood fetishists mixed with religious overtones and village superstition? Challenging, of course, because none of the standard Stoker’s mechanisms are in place and rightly so since Stevenson’s narrative predates Stoker by over a decade.

My inclination is go with the fetish explanation because everybody’s got one of some sort or another. But, of course, that won’t keep you up all night ready to cringe at the least gust of cold wind or that strange creature crawling up the wall of your bedroom.

The Grand-Guignolth

As for Amy Hesketh’s adaptation of Stevenson’s Victorian imagination, well, it’s pure Amy which means it’s innovative and terrific.

One more thought, I’m guessing Amy is a fan of Paris’ Theater of Horror, the Grand-Guignol (1897-1962), where amorality, brutality, sex, and insanity crept onto the French stage with just the right infusion of gore.  No supernatural here, it’s all realism at work.

As Amy Hesketh fans know well, she relishes whippings, crucifixions, rack torture, and burnings too much to rely exclusively on the supernatural as her literary modus operandi. Realism is her performance art and what stands her tall in the crowd of horror directors and storytellers.

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Having introduced Robert Louis Stevenson, we’re now ready for the next post on this marvelous film. We’ll take a look at the vampire question a little further.

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 3: Ordeal

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

The iconic scenes in Dead But Dreaming focus on the ordeal of the Irish traveler.

Kudos are extended to Amy Hesketh for her expression of Moire’s suffering.

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Public Humiliation

The Irish traveler is arrested and sentenced, though we see no trial. She will be scourged and garrotted, the Spanish practice of death by strangulation.

Before her punishment, Moire is brutally raped by the guards in an intense scene played beautifully by Amy Hesketh.

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To intensify her humiliation, Moire will be chained to a whipping post in a pre-death ritual carried out on a public stage. The scene is political, of course, Moire is sentenced for crimes against the state and the authorities are present. More important, however, is the sadomasochism that reinforces the prevailing vampirism of the film.

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Moire is brought out in flimsy white cloth that is stripped away once she is secured to the post. During the punishment, the executioner takes a break for water and offers some to the prisoner, a show of compassion in a macabre setting. It’s a precursor for her next drink after nightfall.

Incidentally, BDSMers will love the real marks on the victim’s body. In fact, the fake blood is unnecessary.

Real marks and a salute to Amy Hesketh's courage in the pursuit of her art.

Real marks and a salute to Amy Hesketh’s courage in the pursuit of her art.

Among the onlookers are Ferenc and Varna, who weeps at the scene. Nahara in her familiar cloak and hood, drifts about, setting her sights on another vampire lover once the state’s duties are completed.

Moire notices Varna and in the crowd.

Moire looks painfully at Varna and Ferenc in the crowd.

The Irish traveler is left suspended at the post until dusk, reminding the viewer of Aphrodisia’s abandonment when the onlookers at her punishment drift away.DBD00564600

During the course of the narrative, both women are similarly brutalized, establishing parallels that are vital to the story.

Most importantly, each lives on in an alternative universe, telling Varna that superstition is its own reality.

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Inside You

Slipping by the guard after dark, Nahara visits Moire in her cell. She is there to help but not in the way the Irish traveler expects.

nahara and the guardCaressing a beaten and weak Moire, Nahara persuades her to relax whereupon she bites Moire’s shoulder just behind her neck. Apologizing, the vampire says, “I need your blood.”

As a parallel to Moire, Aphrodisia also provides nourishment for Asa after his staff gouges the holes in her chest. These vampires consume the sexual power of their kin.

Nahara explains she can’t stop the execution and in a moment of dark humor a smiling Moire thanks Nahara for keeping her company, “even if I was only your dinner . . . Or, am I breakfast?”

Nahara keeps the wit going with, “You have an odd sense of humor.”

She’s Irish, Moire jokes, and wants to know if Nahara is French, a clever reference to 1803 when the Irish planned to assist the French against the English during the Napoleonic Wars.

Enough of the smiles, it’s back to work.

Moire licks Nahara's blood from her hands as the feeding ritual is completed.

Moire licks Nahara’s blood from her fingers as the feeding ritual is completed.

Encouraging Moire to feed, Nahara rips open her own wrist with her teeth. “Drink as much as you can,” Nahara says.

Moire’s first drink of the day was a brief glimpse at survival that gets her to this moment. Now her second drink begins the transformation. Reborn a vampire, Moire can now face death without fear.

“You have me inside you,” Nahara assures her.

This line is steeped in meaning. Will there be a sadomasochistic sexual relationship between Moire and Nahara like Asa’s has with Aphrodisia? Does the statement imply that all vampires are bisexual?

Does it mean that Nahara now controls Moire?

Or, is it a satirical reference to the Christian belief in the living God?

Crimes Against the State

The next day the crowd returns and a naked Moire is paraded out once again. Her arms are extended and tied to posts on the raised platform where she was punished the day before. Her ankles are chained together to create a visual crucifixion.

The death sentence is read. The Viceroy of Peru has sanctioned the execution.

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The executioner puts the noose around Moire’s throat and slowly ends her life with one brutal twist following another. In a nice touch, blood spurts from Moire’s mouth. Vampire’s morning after, anyone?

In this emotionally draining scene, Ferenc consoles his niece. His words are futile, deadbutdreaming-amyof course, because Varna will take up Moire’s struggle, just as the next feminist generation replaces the former. However, she will fall under suspicion. Once a woman leaves the convent and acts on her own, she is marked. Varna has yet to suffer the lash’s retribution, but the feeling is she will someday.

Say Good-bye

Later Varna visits her uncle who is studying a book about vampires. He asks about Moire’s execution because he has no memory of it which he blames on the presence of a Lamia.

His niece relates that Nahara came up to her while she prayed before Moire’s corpse, still bound in its death climax.

DBDTeaseVidCaps03161312“I have a pact with your friend,” Nahara says. “Now say good-bye and go.”

Ferenc suspects Nahara is a Lamia and translates her name into “light.” It’s Christianity turned on its head.

Varna dismisses his superstitions.

A scene shift to Asa’s lair informs the viewer the battle over Moire is underway. Nahara made the Irish traveler into “one of us . . . a little sister,” Asa tells Aphrodisia. “It will be easy to make her come to us.” A new pawn in a vampire world of adversaries is ready for use.

Aphrodisia once a little sister herself

Asa gently touches Aphrodisia, once a little sister herself

In a quick shift back to the execution site, Varna informs Nahara she is leaving because she knows Moire can’t hear her.

In a pivotal moment, Nahara drops her guard. Preparing Varna for what may become her own fate, the Lamia whispers, Moire “can hear you.”

The Irish traveler is “dead but dreaming,” suspended in a vampire purgatory.

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The scourging and execution segments of Dead But Dreaming may be over-the-top for some viewers, but this is Amy Hesketh’s artistic style, her performance art.

We may want to turn away, but when Amy offers herself as the vicitm of a sexualized brutality, we can’t deny our urge to look. Gazing into our own soul, we are forced to revisit our personal perspectives on good and evil. Is that not what film is about?

A reminder for those who willfully suspend their disbelief in this intense moment, it's just a movie and a good one at that!

A reminder for those who are swept up in the realism of Moire’s fate, it’s a movie of course, and that requires several days and many takes, as we see here.

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For more reviews of Dead But Dreaming and to learn more about Amy Hesketh, visit her website and her blog.

 

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 2: Lamia

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

Joining Amy Hesketh in Dead But Dreaming is Bolivian Veronica Paintoux who began her career with Pachamama Films in the early 1990s and La Paz native Mila Joya is who has shot for the studio since 2010. She stars with Amy in Maleficarum, a film directed by Jac Avila.

These three provocative women, along with Claudia Moscoso as Varna, infuse feminism into the vampire landscape, giving Dead But Dreaming an empowered pro-woman statement.

Claudio Moscoso

Claudio Moscoso

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Throughout recorded history, women have been captured, fought over, enslaved, and seduced for reproductive purposes. The result? Sexual commodification has always been at the core of being female.

Patriarchal attitudes have dominated all cultures with the Church in the Middle Ages western civilization’s strongest example. But women have fought back and in modern times this struggle has given rise to feminism.

In Dead But Dreaming, writer/director Jac Avila explores the feminist image as it is shaped through the recalcitrant female. She may appear submissive and trapped by her circumstances, but she is of her own mind.

Womanly Condition

Until the viewer meets Varna, the feminist tone of the narrative floats along under the radar. There are hints, of course, but the novice nun brings the issue front and center. Her uncle, Ferenc, is the local priest and when they meet in the church courtyard he mentions his suspicions.

There is a female vampire, a lamia, loose in the community. “The demon takes a beautiful shape to seduce young men,” he says.

Uncle and niece

Uncle and niece

The attempted sacrifice of a young virgin centuries ago visually intercuts their conversation because it reflects Varna’s circumstances. She is a modern sacrifice because her “womanly condition” demands that she choose between being a bride of Christ or man. To her, they are “sad choices.” The doubting nun-in-waiting wants a third option, to pursue her studies and write.

Ferenc admits with some pride that Varna has a “talent for deep thought,” not something the sexist church attitude concedes lightly. He does, however, want her to know about the tale of Lilith. This is the root of the female vampire and a lesson in obedience for all women.

Later when Varna meets the Irish traveler, another element is added to the feminist theme: rebellion against authority, something that Church and society believes should never clutter the female mind.

The replacement sacrifice

The replacement sacrifice

Time Portal

The scene shifts back to the virgin sacrifice. Suddenly her place is taken by a mysterious woman who materializes out of a stone portal.

After a stake is driven through the victim’s heart, the chieftain (Jac Avila) drinks her blood. When he extracts the stake, the fiend rises and returns the favor. Thus the tribal leader is reborn as Asa who will become part of the vampire family feud that infuses the narrative.

The undead victim, now known as Nahara, flees to the time portal only to find there is no escape. Once clad in white, the seminude and bloodied Nahara has gone from purity to evil. Like Eve driven from the Garden, she must wander.

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To underscore the pre-Christian birth of vampires, Nahara later appears before Ferenc standing in front of a stone cross. It has no adverse effect on her, Bram Stoker notwithstanding. In Dead But Dreaming, vampires sweep away the oppressive church dogma.  Through asserting the female voice, today’s modern feminists do likewise in a male-dominated world that still minimizes women.

Breaking the Rules too Easily

Another scene shift takes the viewer to La Paz and Asa’s underground lair.

He stays away from the sun (a concession to Stoker) and carries a staff with a large tooth-like object on its end.

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The back story of this segment moves to Antioch in 57 BC where the slave Aphrodisia is blamed for a lost mirror. In the presence of a congenial group of her mistress’s friends, she is flogged and then crucified.

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As mentioned  previously, Asa is present and turns her into a vampire as she dies on the cross.

In his lair, Asa suggests to Aphrodisia (who is now his personal aphrodisiac) that she still holds a grudge from centuries ago. She retorts that no one helped her, but the vampire lord is disinterested in her complaining. Traveling is on his agenda, he says, which means she’ll have to be put to sleep.

467198_332799253445452_1618416711_oAhprodisia pleads, “I don’t want to be dead but dreaming so long again.”

It’s an angry comment on the condition of women through the ages. Asa’s patriarchal response is unsympathetic. It’s time for a lesson in obedience.

Pushing her away with his staff, Asa chains Aphrodisia to the wall and flogs her in a scene that BDSMers will love. She breaks the rules too easily, he shouts. Aphrodisia writhes; her raging eyes glare at him with desire. Quick sharp breaths intensify her lust, underscoring that sadomasochism ignites vampire love.

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When Asa plunges his pointed staff into the flesh above both of her breasts, their sexual playtime begins. Burning with fury, Aphrodisia’s eyes turn red and bleed as a woman might under those circumstances.

The scene is female rage at oppression and parallels Moire’s jail cell rape we’ll discuss in the next post.

To Be on Top, at least Once

Asa releases Aphrodisia and lays her on the floor then moves on top of her to suck the blood from the piercings he made. In an act of rebellion, Aphrodisia suddenly reverses positions and straddles him by sitting on his chest.

This is one of Dead’s pivotal moments because it was Lilith who demanded to be on top in an assertion of her feminism. Aphrodisia’s statement of sexual control yields a concession. Asa will not put her to sleep and mute her again.

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Next we’ll look at the sad fate of Moire and another of the film’s defining moments, her scourging, execution, and rebirth.

Amy Hesketh in a calm moment before Moire's public humiliation

Still dressed, Amy Hesketh is calm and collected as the set is ready for Moire’s public humiliation. It will be Amy at her most intense in a moving performance.

 

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 1: Blood and Desire

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

This is my first attempt to deconstruct a film outside the adult genre. I happened across producer/director/actress Amy Hesketh’s work and decided to give one of her recent films, Dead But Dreaming, a go.

Amy is a ground breaker, portraying the archetypal innocent victim with an honest, understated talent for eroticizing her peril.

I don’t use a rating system for the films I review, but if I did this movie would be a five-star winner. It’s that good.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’d rather not know what happens in this film, stop now and go play on twitter!

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Succubi

Dead But Dreaming is a vampire tale. It has a feminist underpinning that slashes religious and political conservatism while skewering the belief that a woman’s place is under the male thumb.

The back story begins with Lilith, Adam’s first wife. A priest named Ferenc explains to his niece, convent novice Varna, that Lilith refused to submit to Adam and was replaced by the more docile Eve.

The Priest

Jorge Ortiz as The Priest

Actually, the Lilith myth originated in pre-Christian Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) and entered Hebrew text in the sixth century BCE.

In Greek mythology, Lilith becomes the Lamia, eater of children and concubine of Zeus. Later she appears in European folklore as the succubi, the seducer of men. Thus we see female vampires in nineteenth century La Paz feasting on the city’s young lads which is Ferenc’s explanation for the mysterious murders that have come to town.

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Incidentally, Bram Stoker’s 1898 novel Dracula weaves into vampire lore the blood, sex, and death theme we see in Dead. The Irish author’s Victorian rendition establishes the vampire tropes we’ve grown accustomed to, such as recoiling from daylight and crucifixes. For its part, Dead gives a subtle nod to Stoker Moire, who is also Irish.

Considering that the Lamia pre-date Christianity, director Jac Avila scraps some of the typical expectations. For example, Nahara can flit around in sunlight and travel as she pleases. What’s more, the vampires of Dead skirt any retribution from Christianity, though Ferenc does manage to impale Nahara with a crucifix to slow her down.

By the way, producer Amy Hesketh pays tribute to Stoker with “blood is about life force and desire.” Her words underscore the erotic theme of Dead played out magnificently with nudity and sadism. Best of all, the film is a collective love affair for the viewer. Actresses Veronica Paintoux, Mila Joya, and especially Amy Hesketh, are irresistible. As simultaneous victims and empowered women, they exude a delicious sexuality that becomes the narrative.

Veronica Paintoux as Nahara

Veronica Paintoux as Nahara

Faraway Lands

Writer/director Jac Avila wraps Dead around the mystical archetype of three. There are a trio of female vampires: Nahara (Paintoux), Aphrodisia (Joya), and Moire (Hesketh) and three historical settings to weave the story.

Each time period is a part of the puzzle the viewer assembles along the way.

The tribal chieftain (Jac Avila) embraces Nahara

The tribal chieftain (Jac Avila) embraces Nahara

The first deals with the tribal “birth” of Nahara, a visitor from a “faraway land” who finds passage through a time portal. Moire will metaphorically do the same in 1805, the far off land being Catholic Ireland.

The second is Antioch in 57 BCE. The characters in this setting are Greek, though the power of the coming Roman Empire is on their doorstep. The second vampire, Aphrodisia, is born out of the Roman tradition of slave crucifixion.

In Antioch

The slave Aphrodisia offers fruit to visitors

When we arrive at the film’s present time, La Paz is a part of Upper Peru. The Bolivian War of Independence is a few years away but the rebels are organizing. The Irish traveler, Moire O’Higgins, who plans to help the freedom fighters build their arsenal, will suffer a scourging and death that links her to Aphrodisia’s Roman punishment.

Amy Hesketh is the Irish Traveler

Amy Hesketh is the Irish Traveler

Speaking of crucifixion, there are three, one for each female vampire.

Finally, the central male vampire, Asa (played by Avila) encompasses three distinct roles. He is the tribal leader in prehistoric times and the visitor who will suck the blood of the slave Aphrodisia while she is on the cross.

Waiting for Asa

Waiting for Asa

Most important, however, is 1805 La Paz where Asa is a vampire lord in pursuit of, and being pursued by, Nahara in what looks like a family feud. Their maneuverings become the central theme of the story.

Finally, as referenced above, the past and present in Dead are interspersed with scenes from the various time periods. As the film moves forward, the intercutting can appear befuddling, but with close attention the sub-narratives skillfully come together.

Mila Joya as Aphrodisia

Mila Joya as Aphrodisia

The next post explores the film’s feminism theme.

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Dead But Dreaming is an indie production from Pachamama Films and distributed through Vermeerworks. It is available for online streaming or DVD purchase.

Producer Amy Hesketh with script in hand

Producer Amy Hesketh with script in hand and cast member close by

 

 

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