What do you get when you blend a goth metal aesthetic, hand puppets, and a surreal comedic science fiction premise? You get writer-director Vera Vanguard’s first feature film, Apocalypse Love. The movie is absolutely bananas, and I mean that in the best way possible; think Guy Fieri stating a thing is “bananas” on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives sort of compliment.
Tom (Voice: Brian Manowitz, Hand: Vera Vanguard) is having a terrible time. First, his girlfriend, Bebe, dies after their prom. Then, aliens attack Earth and, in so doing, level human civilization. But the aftereffect of their murderous mayhem is that the laser beams also reanimate the dead into an army of zombies for the aliens to control. Determined not to die alone, the doom-prepping Tom has resolved to unearth his deceased girlfriend before the alien lasers can zombify her.
If Apocalypse Love was just a motion picture that relied on humans to do all the performances, it might have been a pedestrian affair. However, Vanguard’s choice to use hand-held goth dolls with big Anime eyes as puppets is genius in the most gloriously demented of ways. However, I was torn while watching the movie, wondering if the action would work better if Vanguard and her team had masked the hands via After Effects, so all you saw was the hand puppets with enormous anime eyes. I’m still not sure. However, as the genre hybrid progressed, I bought into the puppet conceit, so I expect it won’t be a deal breaker for anyone else who watches this either.
“…the laser beams also reanimate the dead into an army of zombies for the aliens to control.”
Vera Vanguard is a talent to watch. She has a very smooth and subtle approach to direction. Also, she is wise not to actually serve as the voice of the puppet she’s performing. Having Manowitz portray the down in the dumps hero frees the filmmaker to direct the production very effectively. I sense a budding auteur who will work in the liminal space between Todd Haynes, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Roger Corman. Truly, the screenplay sparkles with campy humor. It is so oddball any of the filmmakers mentioned earlier could have directed it.
Vanguard’s writing is fast, fun, and quippy as well. She possesses a savage sense of humor and has much to say about the narcissistic self-loathing pretty boys who occupy the goth and black metal spaces. Tom, in many ways, is the butt of the joke, and it’s the growth as a person he experiences along this deranged quest that causes him to earn his b-movie hero status.
The camera is clear and static, which is a relief given the wondrous insanity unfolding on the screen. The production design both for the big eye dolls and their surroundings is delightful. While this is not perfect, it demonstrates soo much promise on behalf of Vera Vanguard as a writer-director, I’m anticipating her next film. Seek this out if you love midnight specials like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, El Topo, or Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"…absolutely bananas, and I mean that in the best way possible..."