Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alyce

Alyce
Directed by: Jay Lee
Horror/Thriller 93 min
USA, 2011

If you had told me beforehand that this was made by the same guy that wrote/directed Zombie Strippers 2008, I’d probably never have slipped the disc into my machine. Zombie Strippers is a movie that I still haven’t seen, and never really been interested in, although find myself curious as of now. Because I would never have thought that the same person who made a spoofy zombie flick could have made a genuinely disturbing and haunting flick as Alyce.

Following a party where a common sleazy trait is exposed by boyfriend Vince [James Duval], Alyce [Jade Dornfeld] and her best friend Carroll [Tamara Feldman] take to partying on their own, so that Carroll can tend to her disappointment. But the girls’ night of bonding and confessions comes to a harrowing end when Alyce accidentally knocks Carroll of a rooftop. The accident becomes a catalyst for the deterioration of Alyce, as she becomes snared in a downward spiral taking her through a maze of drugs, sex and violence finally landing her in a deep dark place.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [1865, Charles Lutwige Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll] may just be one of the most important works ever written. Despite being within the fantasy realm, it’s a story that strongly influences the horror genre, and perhaps it’s something of an underestimated gem if you look at it through the horror goggles. As a child that animated Disney flick used to freak me out, and to some extent still does. So one can easily see how it metaphorically can be applied to movies on the genre scene. But this isn’t something new; as early as 1903, when cinema was in it’s infancy, Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow directed a ten minute short version, and with its stop motion animation and in camera effects, it’s certainly breathes an eerie sensation. Jaromil Jires loosely based his Valerie a týden divu (Valerie and her Week of Wonders), 1970 on Carroll’s novel, Czech stop motion wizard Jan Svankmajer made a bizarre version in 1980, and it comes as no surprise that the subject matter appealed to GothBoy Tim Burton either. Therefor one would think that it would be easy to get lost in Wonderland, stuck in convention and repetition after being such a heavily sourced material, but instead Jay Lee’s Alyce reveals itself to be an intriguing dark gem of modern genre cinema.
The reason Alice in Wonderland appeals to these days, and probably all those genre directors too, is that within that great source material lies a coming of age tale which gives the opportunity to deconstruct the main character, take them from innocence and propel them to adulthood. Alice goes from naïve little girl to powerful woman, hence the adult version directed by Bud Townsend in 1976, and the obvious attraction the original text has on genre directors.
Referents to Alice in Wonderland are riddled throughout the movie, from audio cues – A cover of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit is heard early on. Lines of dialogue, such as the bartender holding up shots in front of Alyce as he in a childish voice says “Drink me, Drink me”, and Alyce at one point says “off with his head”, as anyone familiar with the original text will know to be a frequent line uttered by the Queen of Hearts. Images, set design and scenery refer to the book - several times Alyce is seen with a white rabbit in the foreground of the composition, as she takes different drugs to achieve different “outer body” experiences, metaphorically changing her persona. Names especially reflect the source material; Alyce is the obvious referent, but even her friend Carroll Lewis, which is an obvious one.

But even the villains, the druggies, these characters are obviously reflections of characters in the books. Rex [Eddie Rouse] the drug dealer wears hats, much like The Hatter. He’s the supplier, just like in the books, where he’s the supplier of tea, and just like his metaphorical namesake he’s in trouble with the law. There’s also traits of the Caterpillar found in Rex, as he is the one person who whilst smoking, questions Alyce and her identity crisis… oh, by the way Rex is Latin for King, and in this inversion world, Queen is King. Rex is in other words a composite of several key characters in the books. By his side he has his cohorts, March [Brian McGuire] - a nod to the March Hare and the character is just like his book counterpart, something of an oddball, prankster and when push comes to shove, he’s the sidekick from hell! Finally there’s Mouse [Catero Colbert] – like the mouse that swims in Alice’s tears in the book, Mouse shares the numbing effects of the drugs with Alyce, and spends most of his scenes sleeping. Referents and metaphors like this are found all over the place in Alyce, but I’ll leave some of them for you to discover by yourself.
I’m convinced that this movie would never have had been anything as charismatic and powerful as it is without the outstanding performance given by Jade Dornfeld! She completely mesmerizes me, she has me falling head over heels in love with her, and her transformation from the fragile, delicate character we are first introduced to, to the raw, psychotic death machine in the last scene is truly one of the most spellbinding transformations I’ve seen in ages. And I’ll tell you why it works right now! When we’re first introduced to Alyce, she’s obviously playing second fiddle to Tamara Feldman’s Carroll. Gently we learn more and more about Alyce, and it’s apparent that she’s previously had issues with her own identity. This is hinted at in scene between the two women after the subplot concerning Carroll and Vince is instigated. Scorned, frustrated, angered and seeking ways to scorn Vince, Carroll brings important backstory into the piece. At one point in time, Alyce mimicked Carroll. In such a way that Carroll refers to it as the “Single White Female” incident. This backstory and the restrained reactions Alyce gives when Carroll tries to seduce Alyce, along with the initial distance Alyce keeps between her and drug dealer Rex, all help the audience to empathise with Alyce. Empathy needed before she starts her decent.
We want to help her, we want to comfort her, and we want her to come through the ordeal. This makes us empathise with her. When the envelope is pushed to far, starting with the fucking for drugs, the degradation at the funeral, the obnoxious visit from Vince, the physical and mental taunting, the nightmarish condition, we have an emotional recognition with Alyce. The most of us have done things we regret, been blamed for something outside of our control, treated wrongly, and we have all felt that strong urge to lash out and settle the score. This is exactly what happens in Alyce, and this is why we cheer Alyce on as she goes off that deep dark end… that violent and bloody rampage in the last act.
Seeking the core of Alyce was a fantastic journey. If you are a regular reader, then you know that I have a few corner stones that I rely upon when yapping on about what makes a great genre movie… and the crown jewel of all these traits is GUILT! Alyce is all about guilt. From the inciting incident on the rooftop, Alyce’s guilt drives her deeper and deeper into the abyss, or rather further down the rabbit hole towards her own transformation. Guilt is a magnificent tool, and in Alyce it’s like clockwork, at first it forces her to retrace her steps… i.e. to the club, to relive the moment in a desperate attempt to change reality, which takes her to her to doing more drugs, which in it’s own turn leads to her degrading herself to gain even more drugs (at mid point, the point of no return), which leads to the nightmarish world of abusive sex, necrophilia, violence and death. The fact that the film at times looks and feels like a mix of Dario Argento’s Suspira 1977, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion 1965 and David Lynch’s Lost Highway 1997, with effects in the vain of key splatter films of the eighties – courtesy of Patrick Magee and Josh Russell - makes me bond with the movie even more!
Beautiful death, accompanied by the atmospheric industrial rumblings of Billy White Acre’s sublime soundtrack. The final reel of Alyce is a symphony of destruction leaving no holds barred. From frail delicate and reclusive girl to fucking machine of mayhem, Alyce tears a hole in your soul large enough for your next-door neighbour to peek through, and I loved every warped minute of it!

A somewhat "Spoilerish Trailer..."

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