Cinematic Releases: Elliot

Identity and reality are two malleable concepts that continually define one another.  Cinema, perhaps more so than any other medium has explored the limits of this precarious pairing for decades, showcasing the horror of true revelation, particularly with respect to psychological trauma and the power of self-realization.  Craig Jacobson's Elliot is a harrowing walkabout, a VHS crucible for the social media age.  Featuring nightmarish visuals, an engaging central performance, and a plethora of practical effects, this is a stunning example of independent film making. 

Elliot is a technician in a sinister power plant, who spends his free time losing himself inside a digital world.  As his grasp on reality begins to fade, Elliot must confront the very essence of his humanity in order to have a chance at salvation.  The atmosphere of Elliot is a neon wasteland, populated by handcrafted costumes and sets.  While the hyper kinetic visual style is initially overwhelming, it settles into the viewer's mind, slowly embracing the subconscious with a synth drenched score (also by Jacobson) and Joshua Coffy's layered performance as the eponymous maintenance worker.  Elliot is more of an experience than a traditional story.  From the initial frame to the final shot, Jacobson's command produces an otherworldly vibe that pervades every composition.  It is this strangeness that marries with the heart of the subject matter to pointedly examine the world of 2017, a place where identities are created via likes and emoji reactions.  

Jacobson and Cassandra Sechler's astonishing cinematography was filmed entirely in VHS.  Pale blues and deep reds fill every frame, displaying Elliot’s mechanical prison with a sense of forbidden glory.  While the aesthetic initially appears like a twisted incarnation of MST3K, the powerful truth of Elliot’s design gradually becomes apparent as its protagonist moves through haunted corridors and alien control rooms, mirroring the endless procession of everyday life. 

Currently being screened at film festivals and hopefully coming soon to digital on demand, Elliot is a precious, absolutely unique film that demands attention.  A low-fi Promethean, risen from the ashes of neighborhood video rental stores and AOL chat rooms, this is truly a labor of love for its creator.  The vintage aesthetic blends genres, combining elements of horror, science fiction, and pitch-black comedy to elicit a kaleidoscopic response from the viewer.  In one breath, Elliot is a scathing takedown of the artificial quality of everyday life, flooding the optics with harsh lighting and bizarre interiors of implacable, soulless servitors.  In the next it becomes a somber rumination on loneliness.  Companionship, regardless of its form, is hardwired into humanity, and Elliot is at its best when it zeroes in on this theme.  Science fiction has always been a genre that asks thought provoking questions whose ramifications are relevant to current affairs.  Elliot is a film that not only understands this concept, but transmutes the implications of the digital age into an electronic dirge atop an existential graveyard of selfies and status updates.  

 -- Kyle Jonathan