documentary

Strawberry Flavored Plastic

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When two aspiring documentarians find a man who they believe is their perfect subject, they begin making their film. Unfortunately, they discover a little too late that his story wasn’t quite true. Instead of committing a single crime that he was imprisoned for, he has committed numerous murders, and he has yet to be caught. The filmmakers find themselves in an interesting position. By continuing to make their documentary they put themselves at risk in many ways, but it may just be worth the infamy.

Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic surprised me in a number of ways. Going into the film I had certain expectations of what I was about to watch, and for the most part the film managed to subvert those expectations. I assumed a large part of the plot was going to be the beginning of filming the documentary and the eventual discovery that Noel, the subject of the documentary, had not been totally honest. Surprisingly, Bemis chooses to only mention this. Instead the film begins after the documentarians decide to continue filming despite their discovery. Initially, this felt like a missed opportunity for some interesting drama in the film, but it actually works better with the documentary style. The film is about Noel. It would be odd for the “documentary” to spend a lot of time on the drama behind the camera instead of Noel. Although part of me still wants to know how Noel’s true nature was discovered when he has never been caught by the police.

The film feels like a true documentary in the filming style and how it spends a majority of the time diving deeper into Noel’s life, who he is as a person, and why he does the things he does. While the behind the scenes drama in the discovery of Noel’s murderous ways was rightly left out to keep the feel of a true documentary, there are other scenes that do the opposite. While some of the scenes make sense for the storytelling of the film, many of them simply add subplots that are unnecessary. Most of these scenes are there to provide more information about the documentarians. Some of these work well because they relate back to the process of making the documentary and become ultimately important to the story.

When you first hear Noel speak it may seem odd. He speaks in a very formal, polite, and old fashioned way that isn’t what you would expect from a killer. It feels out of place until the audience learns that he grew up watching old movies from the 40’s and how those movies influenced him. This minor detail explains an interesting bit of background for the character that makes him even more complex. The film is shot like a classic documentary, relying on “confessional” style interviews, a single camera following the subject, and strategically placed cameras to catch more candid shots. Since Noel is a killer, the filmmakers choose to take an extra step and give him a body cam to use when he gets the “itch.” The first time we see Noel use the body cam is quite jarring because he goes from being a very polite, soft spoken man to a raving maniac who swears and says things like “sugar tits.” At first it seems out of place, but again when paying attention to the details of Noel’s life the puzzle pieces fit together in a way that is logical for the character.

Aidan Bristow (Black Widows, L.A. Macabre) stars as the complex and troubled Noel. Since the film focuses on Noel’s character, it is important to have a strong leading man to drive the film. Luckily for these filmmakers, Bristow delivers a powerful, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing performance. The film often plays with the idea of nature vs. nurture when it comes to why Noel gets the urge to kill, and the way Bristow portrays Noel convinces audiences he isn’t a bad guy, he just commits a brutal murder every now and again. Nicholas Urda (Audition) plays one of the filmmakers, Errol. This documentary is Errol’s passion project, and Urda does a great job of conveying that. Overall Urda performs well, but there are times where is dialogue comes across a bit awkward or overly formal. It is difficult to say if this is due to his performance or because some of the ways in which Noel speaks bleed into Errol’s dialogue. Andres Montejo also does well in his first film acting roll as the second filmmaker, Ellis. He brings a bit more lightheartedness to the otherwise serious film.

Strawberry Flavored Plastic takes a thought provoking and unexpected look into the mind of a killer. While initial reactions may draw comparisons to other recent found footage films, such as Creep, a closer look reveals something all its own. Bemis creates a film that digs at the psychology behind a sociopath, subtly debating nature vs. nurture, and making audiences question what makes a person good or bad. There are certain scenes that take the film out of the documentary style, but for the most part this is a rare “mockumentary” that feels like an authentic documentary. Bemis’ story and direction coupled with Bristow’s fantastic performance makes for a film with a surprising amount of heart that will keep audiences contemplating what they watched long after the film has ended.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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