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31 Nightmares

31 Nightmares

Friday, March 16, 2018

Elliot


Elliot
2017
Craig Jacobsen

Elliot (Joshua Coffey) is a disheveled technician who works in the bowels of a strange power plant. A creepy face (Robert Pristine Condition Gammel) appears on a screen ordering him to do his job, while a calm voice echoes throughout the complex about numerous malfunctions developing in the system. Elliot would much rather spend his time jacked-in to a fantasy world where he is clean and handsome, waited on by a Butler (Jay Sosnicki) and drawn to a mysterious dancer (Anna Muravitskaya). Elliot’s dream life begins to infect his waking life and it pushes him towards a search for what is real.

It is pretty fascinating that in an age when technology companies are pushing large format 4k screens and 3D sound design there has been an equally strong push by creators to embrace older analog video formats.  Analog video provides an immediacy and an almost impressionistic quality to a story. This format has found its most use in horror, where it is what you can’t see or at least can’t quite make out that can provide the fright. Couple this effect with the natural glitchiness of videotape and older equipment and you have an engine for creating unsettling images.

"Something has gone seriously wrong with my Viewmaster™. "
If Elliot is anything it is unsettling. The viewer is thrown into Elliot’s murky claustrophobic world with no guide or time to acclimate. The only character we are given is a person who is isolated, frightened and seeks only escape. It is not a user-friendly environment, but I think people attracted to a film like Elliot will count that as a plus. To punctuate the anxiety-inducing location, Elliot’s moments of rest are short. Just as he settles into his fantasy world or seems to be on the verge of uncovering the mystery of his identity, his disembodied boss begins barking orders at him or a Sentinel appears to give him a disapproving shake of the head.

Elliot is filled with a mixture of color and gloom. Shot on VHS the smear of color and shadow can often make it difficult to discern exactly what you are looking at, but at other times it coalesces into some wonderfully beautiful looking scenes. The costuming and technology of Elliot consist of lumpy techno-organic stuff that feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989). The scenes set in Elliot’s dream world are the opposite, they contain a simple sort of retro-elegance.

A screencap from Elliot or 1970s era Doctor Who? You decide.
The sound design and music of Elliot are raw sounding electronics and processing that create an atmosphere that feels as alienating as the world. Once again there are brief respites from the alarms and buzzing of the compound but these more serve to heighten the contrast when we are shoved back into Elliot’s post-industrial hellscape than to give Elliot (or the viewer an escape).

Elliot is barely over an hour long and that’s probably for the best; it is an alarming and exhausting film but is also a compelling and at times a touching one. Elliot isn’t the easiest character empathize with but he’s our only guide in this nightmare we share with him.

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