Those of you keeping up with recent activity will recall my morbid fascination with those overbloated, needlessly long shot-on-video shit-storms that've stumbled across my radar (I don't know if "fascination" is the proper word, since it implies even a base interest). Fans of this protracted brand of amateur cinema--surely there's a few somewhere--will have hit the mother lode with today's entry: the 2005 camcorder epic THE VEIL, which clocks in at an unimaginable two-and-a-half hours. Oh, and did I mention it's in black-and-white, too?
Just gets the ol' salivary glands a' churnin', doesn't it?
Now, a lot of these movies suffer from an inordinate amount of self-assurance on the filmmakers' part, but it's quite a conspicuous act of hubris to ask an audience for a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN-size investment of time, knowing it's unable to provide a suitable return. (Don't get me wrong, I don't think a long movie must be all eye candy and explosions to be worthwhile, but in a genre like horror that requires a certain amount of stimulus, I have little faith that an untested crew can deliver the goods.) And speaking of chutzpah, check out the below trailer, wherein the filmmakers have the stones to compare themselves to John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, and Peter Jackson (note to director Richard Chance--these guys aren't horror legends because they toiled for years with no money, but because they each broke some sort of ground).
Watching THE VEIL, I couldn't help but wonder if Chance was deliberately trying to challenge audiences to sit through his film. I can appreciate a filmmaker asking his audience to work for their art, but why ask when the dividends are so minute?
The length alone would be enough to turn off most viewers (special thanks go to Mill Creek Entertainment, who slapped this onto DVD without a single chapter break--somewhere around the halfway point I feared it would somehow stop playing, forcing me to go through it all over again), but the film begins with a longer-than-necessary prologue that suggests a preference for style over story, shifting between rapid-fire, incomprehensible editing, blurry photography, and cold-molasses slow motion, before switching from color to black-and-white (for what artistic purpose, I don't know)--a sequence that'll have you begging for the mercy of a brain aneurysm or some other sort of divine interruption.
Chance makes other dubious narrative choices, such as keeping his three leads underneath hazmat suits for almost the entire picture (which muffles the dialogue more often than not), making them more ciphers than characters. It's as if Chance was making an anti-film, reversing all the techniques that draw viewers in and connect to a movie. Again, if there were some greater reward for this, great, I'd be hailing these guys as the daring iconoclasts they think they are, but it's really all just for show.
For a movie that takes great pains in breaking the visual mold, THE VEIL's story is astonishingly routine. Ostensibly about yet another ragtag bunch of military commandos--a deconstruction of the indistinguishable nature of so many of these characters? I doubt it--investigating yet another plague that produced yet another zombie outbreak, Chance stops the ubiquitous head-shooting at every opportunity to focus on characters playing cards, or bouncing a ball to relieve boredom (theirs, not ours), or reading comics--all trapped behind those damned gas masks. I'm not quite sure what higher purpose all these breaks in the story serve, but if Chance wanted to illustrate the monotony and ennui of military service, then mission fucking accomplished. Even the zombie action is the same tried-and-true gut munching we're well familiar with (not only does the monochrome film fail to establish mood, but it blunts the bloodletting's visceral impact). And after making us endure all 150 butt-numbing minutes, Chance dares to repay us with an ending we've seen a million times already.
I could go on about the grainy black-and-white photography that often looks like 7-11 surveillance footage (but not as visually stimulating), or the score that's slightly less harmonious than a mouthful of tinfoil, but that'd just be kicking someone when they're down. THE VEIL is an audacious film, but it's the wrong kind of audacity, the kind of film that thumps its chest and bleats for us to notice, proclaiming to be the Next Great Thing. However, it never realizes that once it's got our attention it has to be the Next Great Thing.