2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – WITHOUT NAME
You have to love midnight movie programs at film festivals. They’ll take big swings. Sometimes that results in a home run. Sometimes a strikeout.
Which brings us to WITHOUT NAME, an Irish bit of weird fiction, which is playing at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival as part of the Cinema Hooligante program. It’s an atmospheric slow burn horror film which finds a surveyor set out to work on a forested land in Ireland which has gone through the years without a name. Weird things happen, plumb bobs move in unnatural ways, the light changes suddenly, there are glimpses of something moving in the woods, there are strange sounds around the isolated cottage at night, and perhaps the trees are moving. Folk stories are told about faeries. The movie comes with a warning for those that suffer from light induced epileptic seizures and it’s worth heeding that warning as it gets very trippy at times. Even at its slowest, the film is very well shot and dripping with atmosphere. It seems like a variation on Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows for a good chunk. All of this should be catnip for me.
I kind of hated it by the end.
It really comes down to the central character being completely non-interesting. He’s a jerk to his family and the woman he is having an affair with, combined with no external stakes for much of the movie, there’s no reason to be on his side at all. But, he’s also so banal that there’s no real reason to be rooting for a really nasty comeuppance for him either. Given that the film isn’t interested in exploring some of the ideas that it brings up, like communicating with nature which the main character’s job as a surveyor is to confine and exploit, or the idea that he’s in faerie country, it really is a matter of style over substance. And, while there is indeed something to be said for the style and atmosphere of the film, I’ll cop to getting shivers from time to time, there’s also long stretches where nothing much happens except that we get to hang out with an unpleasant bore. WITHOUT NAME makes HOUSE OF THE DEVIL look like a roller coaster at times, especially as it stalls out during act two. It’s too late for all the trippy visuals in the world to save it at the point when it starts to wrap things up.
Which is too bad, as there’s a lot of promise in the initial idea and it is a very good looking film. And, that may be enough for a lot of people that were interested in it to begin with, even if it didn’t work for me.
WITHOUT NAME is playing once more at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival on Sunday, October 8th at 9:30 pm at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.