A surreal, effective, and deeply experimental horror film which manages to get under one's skin.
Flowers (Another Hole in the Head Review)
Phil Stevens is the kind of underground, extreme horror filmmaker that we need more of—the kind of filmmaker who places great emphasis on establishing a haunting and memorable atmosphere, and not relying on an overabundance of jump scares. His debut feature film, Flowers isn’t something that I’d classify as being for the faint of heart. Not even remotely. However, there’s a surreal beauty to its grotesqueness that, along with the absence of dialogue, almost forces it into the sub-genre of meditative cinema (which is something scarcely stated about extreme horror films). Though it’s loose in narrative, the general plot of the film focuses on six female spirits (played by Colette Kenny McKenna, Krystle Fitch, Anastasia Blue, Tanya Paoli, Kara A. Christiansen and Makaria Tsapatoris), all recently murdered by the same serial killer (Bryant W. Lohr Sr.), seemingly stuck on the threshold of reality and the afterlife, confined to the labyrinth passageways of a sort of purgatory-esque edifice.
One thing about Flowers on an aesthetic level, is that the location itself is just as much of a character as the six trapped spirits. Stevens seemed intent on building an entire world within one singular structure, and succeeded in doing so by placing great detail in the crafting of a maze-like setting, in which horrifying images are built upon horrifying images, revealing layer after layer of an impenetrable darkness and culminating in a harrowing, cathartic and deeply inspired final sequence. The aforementioned darkness is perpetual, not just in subject matter but in the lighting (or lack thereof) of the intricate production design; even the few scenes that contain ample light are glimpsed only briefly through holes in shadowed walls so that the illuminated visuals are surrounded by black. The claustrophobia felt by the spirits is felt just as powerfully by the viewer.
The complex soundscape is what carries the film, and is restrained not in the sense that it’s seldom utilized but in the sense that it’s composed of fluid, quiet and melancholic waves of subtly disturbing audio (juxtaposing the tragic world that has been created), rather than loud and abrasive noises designed simply to shock the ears. Sometimes certain sounds can produce subjective images in the mind’s visuospatial sketchpad. It’s almost as if Stevens and his crew purposefully fused some of the more dimly lit sequences—in which only outlines of strange and broken shapes can be discerned—with some of the more abstract sounds so that the viewer is free to fill in the blanks of these ambiguous visuals with whatever materializes in their psyche.
There’s no doubt that Flowers exists within its own universe, one in which time is not the same and spirits are able to coexist with their previous physical form during the final moments of their earthly existence. But this is only the case due to the fact that nostalgia and memories are represented as material, whether the women are reflecting back on their past (by conjuring up toy trains and exploring polaroid photographs), their demons (by looking back at sorrowful lives of chemical dependence and issues with body image), or the very moment of their murders. In effect, they become the voyeurs to their own demise.
Ultimately, Flowers is both gorgeous and repulsive, beautiful yet sickening; it’s aptly titled, as flowers can be both lovely, or they can be the pattern of the mattress on which a woman is being disemboweled by a psychotic necrophiliac (as seen in the film). The viewer is dropped into a world that they know they shouldn’t be in, seeing things that they know they shouldn’t be seeing. It’s made all the more painful by the fact that the viewer is aware of what the women in the film aren’t: that they’re desperately attempting to escape a fate that has already befallen them. At one point in the film, the word “defect” can be seen in the background, as in the defect in the machine, the fault in the plan, the fact that no matter how hard they try, there’s no escaping what’s been done.
Very few films out there, both inside and outside the genre of horror, are more effective in making the viewer so hyper-aware of the delicate, organic nature and fragility of the human body.