Writer/Director Kristian A. Söderström delivers as much a love letter to the VHS video nasty era as he does a cult film in its own right. As endearing as the film is, it’s a tough one to categorise as the film’s obsession with Giallo videos, including several well executed ‘homage’ scenes executed in that style, are contrasted with a dominating story line more akin to a tragic drama.
An odd mix for sure, but it works, and in many ways, I feel the film, despite its character driven style, concerns itself equally with its analysis of our obsessions with extreme art as a form of escapism, as it does its own narrative.
The films plot follows Ennio Midena (Stefan Sauk), once a successful video shop owner, he struggles to accept his fall into obscurity, residing now in the basement of an apartment block, entombed by his huge collection of original and rare ‘cult’ VHS tapes. Once in national demand, his debts begin to mount up, stifling his ambitions to recapture his former glory. One fateful day, he sees his luck change, a collector known as ‘The Faceless’ calls him up offering a generous sum for Fulci’s ‘Zombie’ which would clear his debts and then some.
This good fortune doesn’t last, and a mere 48hours before he is due to make the sale his tape disappears. We follow his tragically humorous exploits as he desperately tries to track down anyone who might have taken it.
The bulk of the film follows Ennio through his search, in an almost ‘reality TV’ style, we just follow him as he visits friends, collapses into despair and forms a disparate yet necessary relationship with another character struggling with obsession with both drink and nostalgia (in her case its with the 1980s and Egypt).
As you might expect from the plot, this film is carried by its colourful and varied characters. All of them outcasts of some sorts, yet an interesting, eclectic mix of people who on the surface look like deadbeats and losers, but ultimately are as driven as the bestof people. Their culmination of film trivia and knowledge, physical collections and meticulous cataloguing making them revered by their peers; it begs the question, even literally to an extent in a small subtext offering a cynical critique of social media, whether the concept of success is measure extrinsically as opposed to intrinsic achievement is a just one.
Indeed, the film throws up quite a few other ‘big’ social questions through its runtime, and in all honesty what I respected the most about the films writing, is that it doesn’t preach a particular message or opinion, it just offers an honest and authentic insight into what life is no doubt like for those struggling with vices.
Whilst the bulk of the film deals with its characters, the film is able to effortlessly able to shift gears back into more typical genre territory when its plot allows. Like the films the characters of ‘Videoman’ obsess over, Söderström shows he knows the genres inside out with some tense and often detached-from-reality set pieces. Drawing influence from the genre greats, the lighting and camera work, complimented by a pulsing synth-score are worthy homage to those they hope to emulate as Ennio is thrown into a celluloid parody of his own plight. Stalked from the shadows by a gloved assailant, held captive by a drug fuelled psychopath, and drawn into a surrealist world when he views his life from within a film all offer up a refreshing break from the ‘real-life’ drama which makes up the rest of the film’s runtime
Overall, ‘Videoman’ is exactly the sort of film you would hope you would see at a festival, and its great that a film which breaks conventional genre moulds is getting a release beyond the summer’s gatherings. Its odd-beat themes won’t likely appeal to everyone (hence why I didn’t give it a 5 star rating), but if you’ve grown up through the 80s and 90s as I have, you will no doubt enjoy immersing yourself in the films nostalgic ambiance, and dare I say it, relate in someway to the films film obsessed characters.
What is it about horror that endures and consumes in equal measures?