Harry has seen how the world ends according to Richard Kelly's finished version of SOUTHLAND TALES at Fantastic Fest
I’ve been wanting to see the second film by Richard Kelly for far too long now. And tonight at Fantastic Fest – with the first of the AICN SECRET SCREENINGS we had the World Premiere of Richard’s sophomore film in its final form.
Richard has a habit of transforming premieres. DONNIE DARKO debuted to oddly lackluster reviews at Sundance – only for a different finished film to be welcomed with open arms worldwide as a cult hit.
With SOUTHLAND TALES, the unfinished film played at Cannes to disastrous reviews and now… a year and a half later – the finished version of SOUTHLAND TALES played to a beyond capacity, added folding seats screening at FANTASTIC FEST.
The film is a Science Fiction Religious Film Noir Satire of a post-9/11 future that we pray never comes to be. It is an imaginable alternate future where the energy crisis is solved by a gigantic odd Octopussy-esque looking machine that transmits energy directly to the objects needing it. However, this strange device has also created a strange rift in the space-time continuum. Which also is possibly responsible for the birthing the second coming of Christ signaling the end of days for mankind. Basically.
The film is a lot to consume on an initial viewing, but imagine it like this. Richard Kelly has set out to create a film of the same ilk as CANDY or SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 or the original CASINO ROYALE. These have always been controversial films for a very niche crowd. Films so packed with detail and nuance that to the average viewer it becomes simply a mess, but upon further inspection, you can find a method to the madness.
The first question that I had for Richard Kelly after the screening involved the insane casting of this film which was some of the most daunting against type-casting that I’ve ever seen in a film.
You start with Duane Johnson channeling Ralph Meeker re-envisioned as a lantern jawed tattooed Hollywood Superstar come political tool for the right, that through amnesia ends up as a pawn of the liberal Marxist movement of Venice Beach through whom they hope to embarrass the Republican Presidential Candidate, whose daughter he is married to, by his affair with a porn star Oprah and his ties to a racist cop double homicide. Duane is perfection in this role. His panic mode is hysterical – but he seems to be operating on about half cylinders – which is explained later in the film.
Next you have Seann William Scott aka Stifler – who is playing twins, one of which is a cop – the other is the twin that is in cahoots with the Marxist movement to mess with the Republican election. His characters are again – slightly off. At no point in the film does he do that goofy stupid grin that he’s famous four. However, Kelly does use the actor’s natural confusion to enhance his doubt about what he’s doing. He has a dark history, having injured his best friend in Iraq…
Who, btw is played by Justine Timberlake, who had his film career ruined by a terrible mis-thrown grenade by his best friend. He’s our narrator for the film, as well as being placed on a high powered gun tower mounted atop a restaurant along Venice Beach.
Now the Porn Star, Krista Now is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar – who has all the best lines in the movie. You see, Krista Now is a prophetic porn blonde Barbie version of Oprah. She and Duane Johnson’s character have written a script titled THE POWER – which is about how the world ends… and as the film plays out – what they’ve written is coming to pass.
That’s the main characters – but throughout you have others like Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, John Larroquette, the amazing Wallace Shawn and his mother played by Beth Grant (SparkleMotion’s Coach). Then there’s Jon Lovitz as a racist homicidal cop, Kevin Smith buried in make-up, the brilliant Miranda Richardson, Donnie Darko’s dad as the would-be President (Holmes Osborne) – and there’s Mandy Moore and Cheri Oteri and even Eli Roth taking a shit.
And absolutely no way could I not mention the brilliantly creepy Zelda Rubinstein – in full on creepy scary mode.
The film’s design and conception is so tightly packed with a billion details that there are moments and sequences where you’re left wondering – “WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS MEAN?” – but then the film is about the world coming to pieces – and when the world ends, does anyone really know that that is what is happening. The ending is particularly cryptic and bizarre – but left me not so much scratching my head in confusion – as much as thinking… damn, I’m going to have to watch this a few more times.
If you want a simple tale, look elsewhere. This is the type of end of the world conspiracy that you’d expect to come out of Terry Southern or Hunter S Thompson or Kurt Vonnegut. It concerns alternate realities, subversive sub-cultures, neo-politic-paranoia and religious doomsday soothsaying.
You may not get what it all means, but it is about asking what it means and laughing at the absurdist fever dream that you just watched. It’s a Basquiat at 24 frames a second – if that makes any sense to you – then perhaps this film is for you.