To insanity and back again. Hopefully. That is the objective of “The Yellow Sign”, and to a great extent, they achieve much of that goal. Through the story of Tess Reardon, a young art gallery employee suffering from vivid but disturbing dreams, we are bought into an eerie setting reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone”. Tess’s dreams lead her to a reclusive artist whose frenetic paintings she saw while dreaming. Now, few people hate modern art more than I, but honestly it doesn’t get in the way here. What is more at stake is the classic discussion of altered states of consciousness or alternative states of reality. Confucius best encapsulates this debate with his quandary, “Am I a man dreaming that I’m a butterfly or am I a butterfly dreaming that I’m a man?” Though this subject has been done a number of times before, it is always welcome so long as it is carried over well. “The Yellow Sign” does do justice to this theme.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this movie is its production values. Though made with very low budget equipment, highlighted by a digital camcorder and a Macintosh computer, “The Yellow Sign” actually looks and sounds pretty good. I’ve seen some movies shot on film that looked worse. The significance of this fact is probably lost on most people, but the impact upon filmmaking in general is profound. What this means is that the cost of making a decent movie has shrunk to 1/10 or more of its previous amount. So now anyone with a little motivation and wherewithal can make a movie with digital technology. Whether or not this is a good thing is a whole mess that some other people so inclined can debate. But, in the case of “The Yellow Sign”, it is clearly a good thing.
Whether through necessity or the filmmakers’ original intent, having such a small budget works here. It achieves, through its meager means, a fine gothic thriller. Gothic, in the traditional sense of the word, is not about blood and guts spilling all over the place. Instead, it focuses on psychological fears and scaring the audience with hints and suggestions rather than axe swings. Sorry, Troma film fans, this is not your kind of movie. The philosophy of gothic material is that not knowing what awaits you around the corner is more frightening than any Freddy Krueger or likewise manifestation of fears. This is the same technique that “The Blair Witch Project” employed; only “The Yellow Sign” accomplishes it much better.
The 45 minutes running time of this movie put it into the feature short category. This is not an especially great place to be. Most film festivals would rather show several seven-minute shorts than one feature short. Also, distribution companies rarely purchase anything other than material of full feature length- at least 90 minutes. So, good luck trying to see it.
Despite its hiccups, the occasional poor timing and odd instances of overly dramatic acting, this movie’s assets far outweigh its flaws. What would be of greatest benefit would be adapting and expanding the story into a feature length piece. But, the way it stands now, “The Yellow Sign” is an excellent film that few of you will ever get to see.