A man awakens in what appears to be a closed storage shed, full of objects befitting a makeshift classroom. On a table is a small Uncle Sam statuette, and also in the room are two other people. As the man soon learns, the colored armband they each wear denotes their identities. The woman is Red (Maureen O’Malley), the other man is White (Terry McNavage) and our new recruit is Blue (Eric Paul Chapman).
Shortly thereafter, an odd routine starts, where the Uncle Sam statuette begins speaking, with a German accent, to the three captives. He appears to be teaching Red and White how to speak German, and is tasking them with finishing a puzzle, or playing a game of bingo. Strange sounds come from outside the walls of the room, as something evil is supposedly seeking entry. Blue is dubious and defiant, an attitude that slowly begins to infect his complacent counterparts as they attempt to decipher who they are, why they’re there, where there is and ultimately what is going on.
For a film that takes place predominantly with three people in a small space, Todd Osleger’s Kultur Shock! walks that fine line of staying mysterious without becoming frustrating. You can guess things here or there, but the film never tips its hat too much. Just as the characters are kept off balance, so too is the audience.
The film does start to feel repetitive, but that’s the nature of the routine the characters are suffering through, and they need time for Blue’s defiance to grow and wear off on the other occupants. It could be argued that this doesn’t need to be a feature film; I think the eventual twist, and other developments, could be done in a short film and carry the same impact. The duration doesn’t heighten the suspense so much as offer an opportunity for the audience to get lulled into the experience (which the acting, in its weaker moments, pulls you out of). That said, I also didn’t find the film boring, though it is slow-paced; I just could see it working both ways.
As far as technical criticisms go, the audio isn’t always the best. The mix reveals a slight buzz from time to time that sounds like what happens when you raise the volume on something that might’ve been recorded too softly. Visually, however, the film somehow manages to stay interesting despite the limitations of such a small space.
I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the film’s final resolution, though I appreciate the ambition of the attempt. Since the film keeps you on shaky ground regarding so many aspects, even though you can probably predict certain elements, the final reveal isn’t entirely hinted at and still manages to be a surprise. That said, it works in a sort of reverse Blair Witch Project sense. In that film, the impact of the film’s ending, and other moments, are more powerful because we never see the witch; here, the film explains, and shows, too much. The final scenes are the few moments in the entire endeavor where the film’s ambitions are undone by the film’s resources, which had been so wonderfully handled throughout the rest of the piece. Then again, had it stayed too ambiguous, folks would just be annoyed by its lack of resolution.
Overall, I enjoyed Kultur Shock! for the mystery, and applaud the filmmakers for keeping me engaged throughout, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
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