“I blew a Nobel Prize winner. Freaky!” – Candy
In his first film in years, pioneer Canadian filmmaker Larry Kent (known for being the first indie filmmaker in Canada and generally one of the parents of Canadian independent film, and the poster boy of many film censorship boards across Canada) has created dysfunction that you’ve never seen before and will not likely see again. Where many filmmakers are content just to show the threat of a razor—that is to say the sniping between family members, various problems, easily wrapped up by the end of a movie—Kent takes the razor and drags it slowly across many veins.
There’s Uncle Stanley (Scott Hylands) nearly felled by Lucy (Jillian Fargey) after she gives him plenty of what-for with a toilet plunger, bringing it down hard on him again and again. You see, Stanley molested Lucy when she was young and as we find out later through the gifts that Stanley has brought for the family, it goes back farther in the family.
There are two sides to this family, easily noticeable before Stanley arrives with his 22-year-old girlfriend Candy (Carly Pope). Lucy is the favorite of Phil (Alan Scarfe, who looks like a cross between Brian Cox and Orson Welles). She and he are both scientific-minded, with Phil having received a Nobel Prize for his physics work, between 22 years old and 28. Meanwhile, downstairs, Jenn (Patricia Dahlquist), barely the matriarch of the family (Phil dominates most everyone, at least until Stanley brings those presents), wants everything to be perfect, and her son Paul (Tom Scholte) is an artist, which pleases her, but not Phil who believes he surely didn’t grow up the right way. It’s clear that Phil doesn’t have much use for him since he’s not at all involved in the ways of science, in the methods, in the discoveries, in the theories and the experiments.
And then after all the introductions and all the scenes to set everyone up (including Candy who’s turned on by smart men and gives Phil a b*****b), just wait and watch. You’ll either laugh at this most unusual family reunion in British Columbia, or recoil in bona fide horror, or do both, as Stanley’s body is dragged through the forest toward a burial site where many hamsters are already buried, while malevolent words and feelings fly to and fro back at the house. I’ll admit readily that I laughed sometimes because filmmaker Larry Kent shows why David Cronenberg, among others, watched his films in wonder. He keeps his camera as close as possible to the faces of his actors and never lets up on any situation going on. He enjoys emotionally heightened sound so that plunger being thwacked over and over again to Stanley’s disadvantage makes it known that something’s happening, you’d better watch, and it’s not meant to be pleasant, at least in that moment. The body dragging goes on for such a time that it becomes absurd and even funny as both Lucy and Paul, brother and sister, treat it all so nonchalantly. Lucy even rushes Paul into the bathroom after the deed is done, as she’s overjoyed at what’s happened. Truly, “The Hamster Cage” makes “American Beauty” look like “The Cosby Show.” Never before have any set of gifts been used so perversely, as Stanley means well in some respect, but in his own twisted logic, which he presents to Lucy when he explains why he molested her, while she’s sitting on the toilet, and it’s enough to leave you white-faced in that one moment. What the hell kind of house have we entered?
There’s an Oedipal complex in here as well, while Candy takes it all in with the hopes that she’ll find some real-life material to use in her creative writing class. What she finds, and what we find at the same time, is a stunning, funny, unsettling, and mesmerizing, though certainly not in a magic or fairy tale way. Watch that first minute and you’re in it ‘till the very shocking finale which just happens. There’s nothing leading up to it, nothing to prepare you for it, and that’s how it fortunately remains. It also begs the question about where America’s Larry Kents are. Do we have them as insightfully as him? Wherever they are, they ought to come soon because compared to what Kent has made with “The Hamster Cage”, we are way behind.