Cult Cinema: Vanishing Waves

The Movie Sleuth plays catch up with a review of the excellent science fiction film, Vanishing Waves.

Sensory deprivation in film remains a curiously underexplored subgenre in science fiction.  From Ken Russell’s Altered States in 1980, Tarsem’s The Cell in 2000 and debatably The Jacket in 2005, there haven’t been many movies about the labyrinthine depths of inner space inside the human mind.  For what they’re worth those films tried to convey a hallucinatory experience of the mind in another dimension and were about one mind attempting to rescue another in distress.  Ostensibly forming the third entry in this criminally neglected subgenre is the multilingual Lithuanian erotic science fiction thriller Vanishing Waves.  The story of Lukas (Marius Jampolskis), a sensory deprivation researcher who attempts to communicate with a young comatose woman named Aurora (Jurga Jutaite) via isolation tank.  During the experiment, Lukas finds himself invariably sexually drawn to Aurora and her increasingly surreal mindscape, ready to lose his own mind if it means remaining with her.

Clearly informed by Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void with a heavy dose of Chris Cunningham’s Flex and a hint of Brian Yuzna’s Society in one of the film’s more disturbing episodes, Vanishing Waves is an entrancing audiovisual experience full of startling set pieces, visually stunning vistas and a dreamily haunting score by Peter Von Poehl.  While director Kristina Buozyte wears her influences on her sleeve, they’re so breathtakingly executed we hardly mind as we’re watching.  Among the more aesthetically striking odes to thoughtful science fiction in recent memory, you really could take a snapshot from virtually any scene in the film and frame it.  One unforgettable image involved a house in the middle of a forest resembling the unused wood planetoid concept art for Alien 3.  As the camera dives into the bizarre construct and moves through panes of wood linked together like an extraterrestrial spider web, I was reminded of the vortex transitions in Enter the Void.  Soundwise, Vanishing Waves will absolutely make you think of Noe with its intentionally foggy soundscape with low bass rumbling and disembodied sounds fading in and out of audibility.   

Part of the film’s appeal is how swiftly it leaps from light and playful romance to terrifying outbursts of surreal violence, leaving the viewer on fertile ground never sure how to feel.  It really goes from one extreme to another in one breath, leaving you scared but strangely wanting more.  It’s worth noting director Kristina Buozyte contributed K is for Knell to The ABCs of Death 2, displaying a clear understanding of the balance between beauty and horror.  Contributing to the uncertainty is the film protagonist Lukas, which like Aurora seems to bond with the man before moving away from him again.  Let it be said there would be no Vanishing Waves without the fearless and dedicated performances of its two leads, with Jampolskis giving Lukas a dark undercurrent and Jutaite imbuing Aurora with life and love.  One of my favorite scenes in the film involves Lukas in real time watching nurses clean the comatose Aurora, her legs adorned with scabs and sores.  Clearly the possibility of a real romantic relationship with Aurora seems remote, but Lukas’ lust for her mind is so strong he doesn’t seem to care.

All in all, I was blown away by Vanishing Waves!  Visually it was a jewel with the score achieving a wide range of emotions tapping into everything from bittersweet romance to fear of the unknown augmented by stellar performances across the board!  For those who prefer their science fiction to be as provocative as they are perceptive and intelligent, Vanishing Waves will not disappoint as it challenges our definitions of fear and love both in this world and perhaps even that beyond our own.  It’s a shame more science fiction thrillers in this day and age aren’t quite this thought provoking.

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- Andrew Kotwicki