The mysteries of the afterlife have always held a fascination within our psyche. “Despiser” is a timeless retelling of the classic story of how one man was able to enter the afterlife and do battle against the minions of three space dwellers who crashed into the depths of purgatory and had to spend an eternity therein because they have no souls and decide to take out their aggression on the lost travelers of the realm.
Or it is the story of one man’s unhealthy obsession with video software and computer animation.
The biggest distraction in “Despiser”, more so than the isolating storyline, is the unrelenting use of computer graphics in almost all phases of the film. Writer-producer-director-editor-caterer Phillip Cook has some really kick-a*s computers, based on the sheer amount of images generated by his copious hard-drive space. The human players are mostly the only exception throughout this affair with the look and feel of a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.
This over reliance of digital imagery keeps the viewer from becoming absorbed into the story because the actors looked as if they were super-imposed on their environments—I spent much of the time trying to decide if they stood in front of a blue screen or a green. There have been films that successfully melded humans and artificial settings. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Cool World” allowed the audience to believe in the interaction because the animated and human domains were distinct and separate while the occupants of each commingled with plausibility. This faux universe, however, was enough to make you feel wistful for Jar-Jar Binks.
First Cook introduces us to Gordon, a frustrated artist who is biding his life as a graphic artist. On a really bad day he gets fired from his job, comes home to discover he’s been evicted from his home, and his wife is no longer enamored of the bohemian life that once seemed romantic but now has become tiresome, so she runs off to her mother’s house. That same night, while he is driving angry, Gordon has to swerve to avoid hitting the director’s two young children who ran out into the roadway, and crashes his vehicle. This brings him to a bizarre new setting which makes him proclaim, “Everything looks surreal”, and thus gives Cook the chance to legitimize his artificial environments.
As he checks his surroundings a gang of hooded aggressors descends upon him and this computer drone who couldn’t handle an argument with his adolescent boss suddenly finds a way to fend off this horde with valor. As he does battle a car pulls up and a group of strangers calls for him to get in. They are mercenaries who explain that he is now in purgatory and that they are battling against The Despiser for the safety of the lost and confused souls. And who or what is the Despiser? A word of warning: I’m about to explain.
As told by Nimbus, the leaders of these freedom fighters, there were three entities of vague origin, which crashed down from space into purgatory. These beings had no soul and therefore would be able to enter neither Heaven nor Hell, so they ply their trade of collecting the misplaced souls that enter their territory. Nimbus explains that they have killed two of these supernal refugees with bullets made from a metal found in a far off castle that now houses the last of this triad, The Despiser, a towering multi-limbed millipede with the same voice as Dr. Claw from “Inspector Gadget”. This remaining ogre employs shadowmen, a kind of netherworld middle manager who uses those hooded pawns called ragmen to round up individuals who are dead and lost.
There are a select few who die but have an inner strength to survive, so to speak, and do battle with these henchmen from Hades, and Nimbus and his crew see Gordon as nobody else does—a uniquely valiant warrior. Then in the midst of combat Gordon vaporizes and everyone from the fighters to the shadowmen declare this as a sign of remarkable strength.
What actually happened was Gordon was brought back to this plane as he was resuscitated by his friend at the crash scene. Now, either the shadowmen have begun to haunt his dreams, or he is having a bad reaction to cheap beer, but either way Gordon becomes convinced of the reality when his estranged wife is taken for a swan dive off her condo by a shadow man in an attempt to bring Gordon back to the afterlife. Fortunately his best buddy keeps a small arsenal in his closet and Gordon takes the munitions along with his friend’s Ford Bronco for a drive off a bridge in order to reclaim his wife.
One thing we find out about this purgatory is that it is much like a well-appointed urban locale that is free of crowds. Ammunition is readily available and when you need a new vehicle you can go to a car dealer and steal it off the lot. Once Gordon reconnoiters with his band of mercenaries it is decided that they have to attack The Despiser’s castle to get his wife back. Along the way they discover that all this time The Despiser has been stockpiling Patriot missiles around his citadel. I am not sure how military hardware is made accessible in the afterlife, but I have to admit that I feel demoralized to find out that in death we may be met with a lack of nuclear proliferation treaties.
It is believed that once he acquires enough of the missiles The Despiser will use them to enter the Earthly dominion by punching a hole in the dark realm– most probably a larger hole than found in the script. To avoid being too revelatory, Gordo faces off with the segmented scourge and he and the wife reconcile back here on Earth, living the happy kind of life seen in coffee commercials.
I would have to guess with this kind of material Phillip Cook had an uphill battle keeping the audience rapt, but his insistence at manipulating almost all images meant that many times it appeared we are watching a video game, minus the personal involvement. For a feature length movie it is not helpful that I was distracted by the persistent feeling of simulated ambiance that I used to have watching the Saturday morning show “Land of the Lost”.