Friday, April 21, 2017

Past Misdeeds: The Enchanted (1984)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

After years of rambling (okay, sailing) around the world, Royce Hagan (Will Sennett) returns to his now empty and unused paternal place (not very rural me has a hard time calling a place in the woods "a ranch" as the film does) way out in the backwoods of Florida to make a living raising cattle. Eccentric old family friend Booker T (Julius Harris) welcomes Royce back with open arms. Booker also warns his friend to get too close to the Perdrys, a family that one day just turned up and claimed an empty house as their own, and are now doing day work for anyone around who'd care to have them. According to Booker, they are friendly enough folk, but something the sage of the backwoods isn't allowing himself to go into isn't quite right with them.

As it goes in stories where these sorts of unhelpful warnings are uttered, Royce soon enough gets close to the Perdrys when they help him bring his farm in order, and falls in love with Twyla (Casey Blanton), one of the family's daughters. Twyla returns his feelings with a vengeance, and soon moves in with Royce. But Booker was right - something really isn't quite normal (whatever that means) about Twyla and her family. It's nothing too egregious, really. Twyla just can't cope with the more bloody parts of country life too well, and she has an unhealthy fear of cats, even when they come in the form of an adorable little kitten.

Also, an animal that might or might not be a wolf is preying on Royce's cattle until he can't think of a better way to help himself but to hunt the animal down with some of the locals. The hunt and what surrounds it acts as a catalyst for Twyla's fears and drives her to flight in a way only Booker - surely not Royce - could have expected.

(The impressively named) Carter Lord's The Enchanted is not the sort of film I think about when I hear the - sometimes frightening - phrase "cinema of the 80s". In fact, the film does fit much more neatly into my beloved non-genre of peculiar local film productions from the US that had its high watermark some time in the 70s and had already gone most of its way into oblivion to be replaced by the horrors produced for the SOV market by the time Lord made his film.

The only thing about The Enchanted truly of the 80s is a synth soundtrack made with pre-set sounds that no soundtrack before or after that decade ever dared use, but most films of it were contractually obliged to contain. That isn't to say the movie's music isn't fitting into its basic mood of slight weirdness. In fact, it does its job as well as one could ask for; it only does so using sounds that seem to scream the decade the film was produced in at the viewer, which - depending on one's disposition - might be either a thing of wonder or a distraction.

Mood is not unexpectedly The Enchanted's main virtue. As quite a few directors working locally on a low budget did, Lord bets much of his film's effect on the use of the one thing that doesn't cost him any money - landscape. In this particular case, "landscape" means some very fine backwoods just this side of turning from woods into swamps. Lord does his best to present his film's location as a place where the everyday can quite easily turn into the fantastic, a place where the weird does not look as strange as it would in different surroundings, and although he isn't a flashy or even an obviously artful director, he (and his friend the landscape) manages more than just fine to give his movie just the right folktale/fairy tale mood.

In the tradition of folktales in many times and places, The Enchanted is a simply structured affair, telling an at the surface very simple story that might or might not (depending on one's interpretatory proclivities) hide interesting depths. For the sort of viewer desperately in need of surface excitement beyond slowly measured dialogue scenes and one or two glimpses (and I mean glimpses) of the magical, the film's approach to storytelling as something that is done in a calm, unexcited way befitting the rhythm of the locality it takes place in, will only ever be a test of patience that just can't pay off in the way he'd hope for, so if you're one of those people, this is very definitely not a film for you. If, on the other hand, you are like me willing to just accept the way a film goes about telling a low-key story, and willing to live with the fact that not much actually happens in it, this might be just the thing you were looking for.

Another problem (apart from the film's problematic availability) a viewer will have to cope with is The Enchanted's acting. Although nobody on screen is really bad, or unconvincing enough to pull one out of the cone of the film's effect, there are are more than a few performances that seem to be just slightly off for or a moment or two, as if the respective actor and the director hadn't really agreed on a consistent tone for the role throughout the whole film, leading to a slight feeling of inconsistency from one scene to the next. Fortunately, this - at least when you're used to much larger acting problems - isn't too much of an annoyance and at times even seems to strengthen the folk tale mood of the whole piece. Folktales, after all, aren't usually known for their consistency beside the very basics of their characters.

The film's main actor - the Florida backwoods - doesn't suffer from these minor problems anyway. I know I'm saying this quite a lot about landscape in movies, but if The Enchanted had only consisted of minutes and minutes of nature performing its duty of looking quite astonishingly unreal, and hadn't even bothered with telling its clever folktale full of local colour, I'd still be madly excited about the whole affair. That's just what happens when my eyes and a patch of woods meet, I'm afraid.

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