Friday, June 1, 2018

Soft Matter

Soft Matter
Jim Hickox

Drs. Kriegspiel (Mary Anzalone) and Grist (Hal Schneider) are researchers conducting secret experiments to find immortality by splicing the genes of sea creatures to human DNA. Haircut (Devyn Placide) is a graffiti artist who is convinced by his friend/manager Kish (Ruby Lee Dove II) to do a last minute installation show about ghosts in a supposedly haunted building. This just happens to be the same building where the experiments are happening… oh, and an angry sea god makes himself known in a mop bucket.

Soft Matter feels in both presentation and content like the love child of Kuso (2017) and Antibirth (2016), it is vibrant, chaotic, absurd, and often gross. It takes the worn SF trope of scientists splicing animal DNA into humans and runs with it, but rarely in a direction you expect.

Street Trash: The Musical
The mutants of the story aren’t especially dangerous, but they are weird and pathetic. The best of these poor creatures is Mr. Sacks (Bradley Creel), a man composed of slime and garbage bags, he also happens to be an avid dancer. While the other mutants in the hospital just have crab arms or are a literal pile of muck in a bed, Mr. Sacks is both unnerving and endearing. The Sea God has an interesting look too and I really enjoyed the physically that Sam Stinson imbued him with. I liked the fact that he seems quite reasonable as an antagonist in the face of the scientists, but when he’s finally unleashed he’s out to kill everyone.

The humans of Soft Matter don’t fare quite as well, the two squabbling scientists begin the movie already stressed and on edge. They have nowhere to go but at each other’s throats. Grist and Kriegspiel don’t like each other and don’t really give the audience much to root for either. I will admit that I found Kriespiel’s attempt to explain to the Sea God why she will never give up the search for immortality showed more depth than I expected. Much more fun is Haircut and Kish, neither of whom seemed terribly phased by the strange things happening around them. Both Ruby Lee Dove II and Devyn Placide give wonderful performances, they had a dissociated laid-back quality and played off each other very well.

"The shape of water is the imprint of my foot in your ass."
Soft Matter is deliberately strange and very happy to revel in it, but I think it was a smart move to not be too self-aware of the fact.  There are lengthy dance numbers, the face of a god speaking from a mop bucket, and lots of off-kilter line deliveries, but it is all presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. I think anything too hyperkinetic or fourth-wall breaking would have turned a quirky story into an irritating one.

Soft Matter is more of an absurdist horror film than it is a straight-up comedy. There are plenty of campy moments and fun gross-out gags. This isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone, but if you like your sea creature based DNA mutant movies nice and weird Soft Matter is a fine choice.

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