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April 5, 2010

The Commune

2009, Dir. by Elisabeth Fies.

Back in 1996, I was a teenager obsessed with learning everything I could about cinema. It was the year when The Mike, though he wouldn't be named such until his college days, was truly born. It was also billed as the year of independent cinema, when 4 of the 5 Oscar best picture nominees were "independent" films. Those independent films were made by directors named Coen, Leigh, Minghella, and Hicks. In the meantime, directors named Wachowski, Liman, Boyle, and Anderson (times two) were making indie flicks that were putting their names on the map. With all due respect to those filmmakers, each of whom have gone on to bigger things, the definition of "independent" when it comes to cinema has changed dramatically since then.

Nowadays, thanks to factors varying from our hallowed internet movie news sources to the Netflix craze and the invent of streaming video, it's become a thrill to find truly independent films. These are the films that wouldn't have found their way to viewers years ago, even in the "indie" friendly scene of 1996. One such film is Elisabeth Fies' self-proclaimed "New Cult Classic" The Commune, which has recently taken the horror blog world by storm - forcing The Mike to investigate.

For starters, the psycho-spiritual brand of horror from the late '60s and early '70s has always been my personal favorite brand of horror, so I was more than pleased to find that The Commune offers an inspired variation of the paranoia that I'd expect from a horror classic. The film follows Jenny (Chauntal Lewis), the 16-year-old child of divorced parents, who's forced to join her father for some time at his creepy naturalist commune. Once she arrives she immediately begins to have psychotropic dreams and acquires weird gifts while she sleeps, which doesn't seem to concern her father or the matriarch of this autumnal community, Rhea, who's played with vigor by veteran actress Adrian Lee.

In the meantime, Jenny does what most girls her age do in horror movies - looks for ways to establish her independence and for boys who catch her fancy. She finds the latter in small-town bad boy Puck, an aspiring musician with a mini goatee and a guitar who just happens to have a song on tap that he can make about a girl named Jenny. (Hey Pucker, Tommy Tutone beat you to the punch.) Like any good survivor girl, Jenny works hard to maintain her purity - both from the adolescent rocker and from her father's overbearing expectations. (No fries? REALLY?)

The Commune does a good job of establishing both Jenny and the environment she's trapped in during its first hour, with plenty of hints like little-girls drawing phallic objects or defaced photos in convenient file cabinets that remind horror fans of films gone by and keep the tension rising. But the fear of the unknown peaks in both Jenny and the viewer as we reach the final 30 minutes, when sexual and religious tensions finally hit their peak.

In its final reel, The Commune cements itself as a fanatical tale of horror that reminds of The Wicker Man or Rosemary's Baby. Fies' camera provides a point blank look at the shocking events of the final scenes, and by framing the events in this manner the viewer is forced to gaze directly into the film's terrifying reality. After being shown part of Jenny's fate in the opening moments of the film, seeing the events that led to her condition made me sick to my stomach as I struggled to wrap my head around the magnitude of the characters' evil actions.

The Commune took its time in grabbing my attention, and I almost gave up the hope that I'd found the effective "cult" flick I'd been primed for via the reviews I'd found. Unlike last year's The House of the Devil (which the DVD case compares this film to), the buildup didn't grip me entirely, and a few moments seemed to drag - particularly those involving the young lover, Puck. That character, played by David Lago, was an enigma to me throughout the film, but I think the fault there lies more in my attempts to "read" the film with my horror fan eyes before i would let it unfold. The character serves as a parallel to the communal group Jenny is trapped with, but his intentions became a point of contention in my mind throughout the film.

Disregarding a few quibbles with pacing, I've got nothing but respect for the work done on The Commune. The film honestly feels like it belongs on a drive-in double-bill with The Wicker Man or The Mephisto Waltz, and I'm not gonna complain about anything I can place alongside the 1970s' religion-based horrors. I wish the best to everyone involved with The Commune, as they've produced a mind-bending exploration of the horrors associated with alternate lifestyles and beliefs. I've little doubt Ms. Fies' film will inflict welcome discomfort on any viewer looking for a practical chiller.

If you'd like to view (or visit, muahahahaha!) The Commune, check out the official site for a trailer and viewing links!

2 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

Awesome review El Mike! I loved it. Some amazing indie horror films coming out recently. This film definitely deserves as much recognition as possible.

R.D. Penning said...

Elisabeth Fies is one of my facebook friends. I have been planning on seeing The Commune for a while. I'm glad you liked it. Hopefully I can watch it soon. Thanks for the review Mike.