PUFF 2018: Butterfly Kisses, The Queen of Hollywood Blvd, and Luciferina
Butterfly Kisses (dir. Erik Kristopher Myers)
One of the questions which sinks so many found footage movies is “WHY THE HELL ARE THEY STILL FILMING THIS?!?!?” There almost always reaches a point during a found footage excursion where the suspension of disbelief reaches critical mass, when anyone with half a brain would drop the camera and get out of dodge. Even The Blair Witch Project, arguably the high water mark for found footage as an artform, barely clears this hurdle. There are only so many times I can hear “we HAVE to keep filming! People NEED to know!” before I am forced to roll my eyes a little. Other times, in cases where the conceit holds up, you will often see a filmmaker betray the framing device in exchange for cinematic flourish (The Sacrament, I’m looking at you), causing me to wonder why it even needed to be found footage in the first place.
Enter Butterfly Kisses, the first found footage movie to not only consider these common failures of the form, but to contend with them - to deconstruct them. And as a big enough fan of the sub-genre to be both vigilant and forgiving when it comes to inconsistencies, I went over Butterfly Kisses with a fine-toothed comb and I am proud to report that in regards to playing by the rules, it is absolutely flawless. Myers remembers what so many purveyors of fiction often forget: the storyteller makes the rules, which is what makes a failure to adhere to them so jarring.
So what do I say about the plot without giving too much away? The device itself is really what makes this film so fun, but I’ll do my best. Butterfly Kisses posits itself as a documentary about a filmmaker who finds a box of old DV tapes containing a young student’s film project. This student aimed to explore the spooky local myth of Peeping Tom, a mysterious entity who appears at the end of a tunnel after a special ritual is performed. Think Bloody Mary, only instead of speaking into a bathroom mirror, those who wish to confront Peeping Tom must look into an empty tunnel for one hour without blinking. But here’s the catch: once you see him, you can’t shake him, and every time you blink he gets closer and closer, until he’s close enough to give you butterfly kisses with his rotten eyelashes.
And then he’ll kill you.
As the documentarian attempts to make his own film out of the footage, things start to get spooky... and then the lens pulls back even further.
Layer upon layer of narrative dexterity is heaped upon the story, and with each new metatextual lens the terror comes closer to the audience, almost to the point of walking into the theater directly (you’ll see what I mean) like some sort of fucked up The Purple Rose of Cairo experience. This alteration of found footage convention defies common cinematic sense, yet somehow emerges with an almost impossible level of clarity. Maybe don’t watch this one alone. Or do.
The Queen of Hollywood Blvd (dir. Orson Oblowitz)
This one had perhaps the most buzz prior to PUFF, and it’s easy to see why. With revenge pictures being all the rage this past decade, it’s a wonder that we really haven’t gotten away from the basics. Typically we have an aging actor punching his way through brown people or a younger actress punching her way through svelte men in suits. Never has a revenge picture followed the path of a 60 year old woman, and for that alone The Queen of Hollywood Blvd is worth seeing. There’s just something about a hardened old club owner speaking violent truth to power that makes for good cinema. There’s also something about a lead character who, despite needing a cane to get around, remains committed to ridiculously high heeled boots. Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of filler on this one.
Certainly not a heavy complaint, as the slow-burn nature of the film becomes an unexpected value, but there is something to be said about a missed opportunity. No, I don’t think it would’ve been fun to watch an older woman do karate (Liam Nelson proved multiple times over that Taken was lightning in a bottle), but there re plenty of sleepy moments which could have been used to ratchet up tension, rather than stylishly pass the time.
The style is where it’s at though. The color scheme feels genuine to the setting (a seedy LA nightclub) - a sort of Michael Mann by way of Anna Biller look. You can feel the dust-thickened grease on every surface. You can smell the baked-in tobacco in every cushion. It makes you wonder why Mary, our hero, is even that upset that she’s having her club taken from her. Well, until you learn how she obtained it in the first place, that is.
When you put the notion that this is a revenge thriller to bed, and think of it more as a character study, or even a commentary on how the Hollywood machine breeds outliers, it becomes something which, despite being built from multiple influences, is a wholly original treat.
Michael Parks, in his final role, delivers a scene worthy of capping his incredible career, and Rosemary Hochschild, our titular queen, steals the movie right back with her hypnotic presence. I would like to watch this again with my preconceptions in check.
Luciferina (dir. Gonzalo Calzada)
I’m gonna be honest with you on this one. This was the very last movie of a long weekend of movies. I was burned out, hungry, and half-asleep, so I must offer my apologies to Luciferina. I remember very little of the film short of the ending in which a demon is exorcised via coitus. You can’t not love that.
I do remember wondering if the film was based on a book, what with it being considerably long, and the plot being so dense. I remember it being populated by so many characters that it felt a bit overstuffed. Most importantly, however, I remember being legitimately spooked by some of the satanic imagery.
That’s really all I’ve got, sadly, but I can attest that it was the perfect movie to end a wonderful weekend at PUFF!