sociopath

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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The Boy (2015)

A 9-year-old boy named Ted (Jared Breeze) lives in a remote mountain motel with his father, John (David Morse). Together they own and run the failing motel. Ted generally lives in isolation, with no one but his father and the rare motel guest to interact with. As a chain of events gets in the way of Ted’s goals, his sociopathic tendencies bubble to the surface.

This film definitely has a slow burn. For some, it might be slow to the point of being boring. Personally I thought the pace was just slightly above the boring line, but I can see that many people will not like it. The first half of the film is really just character development for Ted. They do an excellent job of showing that he has some qualities that could make him a potential sociopath, and he is fascinated by death. Ted’s ultimate goal is to find a way to to go live with his mom in Florida. This is entirely an understandable wish. He lives in the middle of nowhere, only has his dad to talk to, and doesn’t interact with any kids his own age. I would want to leave too! It isn’t until his plans to leave get ruined that he becomes fully psychotic. This makes the last 15 or so minutes of the film very tense and at times a bit shocking.

The acting in this film is excellent. I was so impressed by Jared Breeze (Cooties) and his performance as Ted. Kids in horror movies tend to either be terrifying or simply annoying. Breeze did a great job of acting like a relatively normal boy in the beginning, only showing glimpses of his insanity here and there, to then becoming a full blown sociopath. The most impressive part of his performance was all in his eyes. While Breeze’s character was carrying out unspeakable acts of violence, his eyes remind dead and soulless. The only emotion that I would say you can really see in those eyes is just a touch of curiosity. Rainn Wilson (The Office) was also amazing as the mysterious drifter who is staying at the motel. I am so used to seeing him in more comedic roles. While the role is a smaller one, Wilson does an excellent job of portraying this darker character with quite a few secrets of his own.

One of my favorite parts about this film is that it brings up the question of nature vs. nurture. Is Ted psychotic because he was born that way? Or is it because of the environment that he grew up in? It is clear to me fairly early in the film that Ted has some of the qualities of a sociopath. These qualities begin very small, and are almost unnoticeable. At one point when a boy his age is staying at the motel Ted learns fairly quickly that some of his actions are not socially acceptable, so he changes those behaviors. This makes me wonder if Ted had been raised in an environment where he was around other children his age, and had a better idea of the social norms, would those sociopathic tendencies have been put in check before they got out of hand.

When deciding if you want to watch this film, keep in mind that it isn’t a scary movie and it moves at a slower pace. It is definitely more of a suspenseful film that relies on the building of tension in order to keep you at the edge of your seat. With how slow the film is, and the fact that all the action only really occurs within the last 15 minutes of the film (and even then it isn’t that action packed), I would say this film is definitely not for everyone. Overall I enjoyed the acting, the story line, and the way they portrayed a kind of coming-of-age story about a child sociopath. It isn’t a “must see” movie, but if the general themes are what you look for in a film then I would recommend this one.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10