It’s first date time for Rae (Mattea Benz) and Ian (Douglas Reese)! Rae meets Ian at his apartment, where Ian has been hitting the wine a little too hard, and the two begin what will become a series of conversational stops and starts as they go through that first stage of getting to know each other. The camera seldom blinks, and we get to see and experience every uncomfortable moment.
Douglas Reese’s Pazuzu is an endurance challenge with a powerful nugget of humanity hidden within it. Which is to say, there’s a message to be found, but it’s a long, exhausting slog to get to it. Short attention spans definitely need not apply for this one.
And that’s because it plays out practically in real time, with nothing to save the audience from the banality of the conversations. Ian is very obviously full of s**t in everything he says about anything, and Rae, somehow, doesn’t bolt right off the bat. So we have to sit with them, watching a slow motion train wreck as it happens.
If this is a film looking to play festivals, it’s going to be most hindered by its running time. Coming in well over your average short film running time and still much shorter than a feature, it’s the type of film that resides in programming limbo. Unless the film is spectacular, nine times out of ten a festival will try to get more short films in a block than play just one that is long for the form. I do not think that this is the type of spectacular film that will often transcend these programming limitations.
Now, if the filmmakers don’t care too much about that, then fine. Obviously we live in a day and age where films can get out there to a sizable audience without the need of fests, and thus this could still do pretty good for itself. That said, however, while I understand the laborious pacing to draw you into suffering through a horrible date experience with our two characters… it’s still a horrible date experience. No one likes to go through that in real life, so why would you want to go through it with a film?
Maybe there’s catharsis there for some, and I see a value in the end message and get what it’s going for, but the execution and the whole exposure therapy trappings of it all… it works too well. It winds up not being entertaining and interesting but, like if you were on a date that awkward and uncomfortable, something that you really want to end as soon as possible.
And maybe that could’ve been mitigated a bit by giving the characters more to work with than repeating the same ideas over and over. I get that Ian is nervous, and later you understand even more why he’s bullshitting all the time, but even his bullshit is the same thing again and again. He likes wine, expensive wine, he has an important job, on Wall Street, he’s important, blah blah blah. There’s no mystery that it’s all an annoying act.
It’s one thing if he were to drop it once and then move on to something else, then you might get caught up in the character’s creativity in inventing nonsense over the course of the film. But when it’s the same comments again and again, it feels like an improvised film where the improvisation just isn’t very good. And considering the deliberate pacing and delivery of many a line, not only does it seem like bad improvisation, it seems like there was a lot of thought put into a tremendously bad performance. Then again, he’s supposed to be drunk so…
Visually the film is about as lo-fi an aesthetic as they come, which is something that works in that it accentuates the raw nature of the film. However, considering the rest of the elements are not that intriguing, it doesn’t make the experience better so much as underscore its discomfiting tone. So the elements pile up to deliver something truthful… that was also horrible.
So I’m of multiple minds on Pazuzu. I think the message is a strong one, and I think the film accurately delivers an awkward, painful experience. At the same time, I was not entertained, and I more endured than enjoyed. So, credit for making something so on-the-nose, even if the end result wasn’t actually fun to watch.
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