Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lifeless (Germany, 2011)

The debut film of Ralf Möllenhoff, the man behind Lifeless, was a Super-8 zombie flick entitled Dead Eyes Open (trailer) that Troma picked up and regurgitated upon the world in 2008; when reviewing that flick, DVD Verdict was forced to admit "I was raised to believe that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. The problem here is that, in the case of Dead Eyes Open, I wouldn't be able to write a review."
I was raised the same way, but was also taught to stand up and say it openly and loudly when served shit instead of Shinola – but sometimes I really can't help but wonder if it's worth the time to do so. Hell, I already wasted about 88 minutes of my life watching Lifeless; do I really want to waste more time writing about it? Well, any excuse that keeps me from doing the dishes is a good excuse...
Lifeless is an aptly named "movie", for it is truly lifeless – no tension, no scares, no sense, no anything, other than 88 minutes worth of boredom in the form of eternal close-ups, endlessly repeated shots, IKEA candle chandeliers, meandering dialogue, nonsensical plot, and illogical action development. While in general A Wasted Life admires people that attempt to make something from nothing, the hope is usually that they actually make something; in this case, it is a case of from nothing came nothing.
Lifeless is set in Croatia, and as filmed by "director" Ralf Möllenhoff, it looks very much to be a vacation project shot in part in Croatia and then padded by scenes shot at home later, with Germany standing in for Croatia. And indeed, Lifeless is a vacation project: according to the German website Splash Movies, in an article positive enough to make one think the writer got a hand job from somebody, it is revealed that the "underground filmmaker" Möllenhoff was offered, by his uncle, the free use of the latter's vacation house in Croatia for two weeks; the two weeks turned into three as Möllenhoff filmed the location shots of his extremely underdeveloped screenplay, taking over the lead role himself. (Indeed, he seems to have also been his own cameraman, as most of the endless close-ups shots of his face as he stumbles around relay the feeling of him using one hand to hold the camera in front of him as he is walking.) If Möllenhoff fares better as an actor (than as a director or screenplay author), it is only because all the other hobby thespians that populate the movie are even more guilty than he of giving wood a bad name; he seems better only by comparison.
Möllenhoff wanders through the movie as Allan Poemah – get the reference? – a historical writer who has taken a house in the Croatian mountains with his family so as to work on his new book, but as he sits there reading one sunny day both his wife and child disappear. The police aren't too interested, as they have enough crime to deal with in the city – but they do warn him that them thar hills be dangerous. Möllenhoff sleepwalks around and stumbles upon a wall-up cathedral, secret underground tunnels, an ax-yielding neighbor and stories of blood-drained bodies; the police discover a rotting cadaver with bag full of drugs in its stomach, but that scene is only included so that the film can have some gore – in fact, with exception of the killed cat and a snacked-on arm, little of the gore of the film really seems to belong.
Allan meets an Italian named Joe Amato – get it? – who has left Venice 'cause he thinks all the gondolas are in mourning (an untranslatable in-joke that refers to the German title of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, "Wenn die Gondeln Trauer tragen" [trailer], which translates to "when the gondolas are in mourning"); Joe gets a knife through the head for standing around, but who knows by whom or, really, why. Will Allan find his family? Will he ever get excited about anything? When will filmmakers stop adding dream sequences just to pad the running time? Do all Croatians know how to chop up a body wrapped in bloody white sheets without actually cutting the sheet? Does Sarah Palin swallow or spit? Why does one testicle usually hang lower than the other? Who was the first person to call a dingleberry "dingleberry"? – These and other relevant questions are sure to flit through your mind as you doze off in front of Lifeless.
Nice soundtrack, though.

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