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By Mark Bell | April 8, 2012

Brandon Wane’s Road to Trepanation is a film that is full of interesting ideas that would be better expressed via a written medium than how they are presented in this format. Not to say the pondering of souls and soul mates, God, science and other head-scratchers can’t be conveyed via a visual medium, it’s just that this film’s lo-fi nature makes it difficult to the follow the discussion.

But I’m ahead of myself. Road to Trepanation opens with Percy (Joey Johnson) encountering Lillith (Victoria Swilley) in what appears to be an orchard. Lillith is cutting on herself, and Percy intervenes to protect her from herself, a move that convinces Lillith that Percy is her soul mate. And maybe he is; he can’t say otherwise, because he doesn’t really know who he is or how he got there. But he’s got a scar on his head, similar to one on Lillith’s, a tape recorder with an address to get to and a curious tattoo that he’s using as a map.

From there, Lillith and Percy travel to Percy’s goal destination, encountering a “soul scientist” (Chaz Krivan) interested in merging consciousness, a drug peddler (Brian Joon) selling pills that create specific emotions in those that indulge, gas-mask wearing, car-driving demonic messengers from Hell and another couple (David Stinson and Konstantine Kane) convinced that there is an invisible war of the souls going on (one that oddly can be fought by the males meditating, allowing them to control the females who then can repel the demonic messengers I mentioned in this very same, very long, sentence).

As you can see, quite a bit is going on, and it’s all presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. The problem is that the entire film is full of fantastical ideas that seem to play out in the most pedestrian of locations. Having everyone unable to drive except the evil messengers is a great bit of back story, but when what you’re seeing is a wide shot or two of cars driving at the actors, it doesn’t add up; it feels like someone had some cars and used them. Which, fine, this is indie filmmaking and you should work with the resources you’ve got, but this lo-fi approach, whereupon normal locations and objects are given importance solely via wordy exposition, makes it feel like you’re watching a couple people just playing pretend and making s**t up as they go along. It feels like the reality they’re imagining or seeing is not the one I’m watching.

And much of this disconnect can be put at the feet of the visual composition. I get that the budget was probably not there for too much in the way of art direction (except, perhaps, one sequence at the end), but perhaps more creativity in the way the images were set up or shot could’ve allowed for one to ignore much of what is missing. But when you’ve got a bunch of wide angles, or just too-wide-for-the-scene compositions, you get a good idea of how open and empty everything around the actors is, and that lends to a realization that there’s really nothing there and, again, now I’m just listening to people tell me what’s going on. Thematically, that could work, but it doesn’t play like a conscious compositional choice, and more feels like a not-so-good camera, aimed in the right direction, hoping to catch everything in focus.

Again, there are some really cool ideas going on in this film, and they’re interesting enough that they can keep you questioning and engaged with the “what” of it all until the end, but the conversation this causes is not one that needed to be seen on-screen, or at least not like this. I honestly would like to read a short story, or even a comic book series, that expressed and then expanded upon the themes found in this film. As a film, though, Road to Trepanation just didn’t cut it for me.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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