Anthology films are always like your own mini-film festival.
2 hours or so, and a few different stories, generally told by various filmmakers, with varied results, and there you have it.
Immortal (holding its Los Angeles Premiere at this year’s Screamfest) worked its way through its four tales by going from bad, to good, to truly amazing.
Four stories about different people – all revolving around immortality – and the different examinations of this topic, each told with a supernatural slant.
As always when reviewing anthologies, let me rank the stories and discuss each one within that ranking.
#1) The best told story in Immortal is the tale of long-time married couple, Ted (Candyman’s Tony Todd) and Mary (Robin Bartlett). As the subjects of documentary filmmaker Alex (Vanessa Lengies), Ted and Mary sit down for a frank and heartbreaking discussion of Mary’s cancer diagnosis, and their plan for Ted to assist in Mary’s suicide – thus finally ending her several years of painful suffering.
Not to belittle the film as a whole, but the performances in this chapter – from both Todd and Bartlett – are so good, the depth and gifts provided by these two actors almost feels out of place. The dialogue in this chapter is fantastic and within moments, you’ll feel so deeply for this struggling couple – so much so, that you’ll forget that their story is part of a larger collection.
In fact, I want a full-on film about these two characters, and so much of that credit goes to Todd and Bartlett. To call their time on-screen and their intense chemistry – mesmerizing – is a gross understatement. Todd’s past work (certainly from a horror freak like myself) is obvious. But Bartlett is less recognizable. Being a film nerd in general, I know who she is of course, with my mind immediately going to her supporting role as Meryl Streep’s rehab roommate in Postcards from the Edge. But her resume is miles long (from Sophie’s Choice to Shutter Island).
These two familiar faces practically defied my past knowledge of their work. I found myself – at multiple times during the screening – on the verge of tears. Magical. Professional. Transcendent. Todd’s and Bartlett’s work here is worthy of praise, study and awards. Truly, this is what great acting is. By all means, call it a master class.
Mention must also be made of Lengies as the story’s film director, Alex. A terrific supporting performance. Alex’s departing hug with Mary nearly destroyed me.
#2) The second story (last on the film’s time-line) revolves around track-star Chelsea (Lindsay Mushett) and her teacher, Mr. Shagis (prolific character actor Dylan Baker). They’ve a good teacher/student relationship, but in Chelsea’s running prowess, Mr. Shagis sees an opportunity, and he exploits it.
The two leads here are absolutely fantastic, but the real star is the impressive dialogue. Baker’s Mr. Shagis teaches literature, so he’s very well versed in all such things. The first scene of the film is a discussion of The Lord of the Flies with his class. And his obvious knowledge and impressive use of language transfers over to the rest of the film, and his epic (amazing) monologue to Chelsea later in this chapter. This particular entry also has probably the best payoff (not that I didn’t sorta see it coming).
#3) Ranked third is the film’s second tale. Married (and expecting) couple Vanessa (Agnes Bruckner) and Gary (Brett Edwards) are dealing with some tough financial times. So in order to make the best choice for their unborn child, they concoct a plan to commit insurance fraud – in the hopes of collecting a big fat (ill-gotten) paycheck. But things don’t exactly go as planned.
Look, I don’t want to give it all away, but this story as a whole – indeed the entire conceit – was pretty tough to buy. It’s always been my contention that for an audience to get on board with characters, their choices need to make some sense. And indeed, this chapter basically takes place in the real world. So what this couple plans to do (and the reasons for it) are unbelievably flimsy.
Decent performances from both the leads and a satisfying payoff (enjoyed greatly by the audience of which I was a part), just weren’t enough. This chapter also has a lovely cameo from Mario Van Peebles as a cable serviceman.
#4) The first story in the film, is easily the least of them all. Warren (Samm Levine) is your everyday working dude. On his birthday (poor guy), he’s hit by a car. And the subsequent events support the fact that, although the impact should have killed him, he’s still alive and kicking. So he makes plans to find the person responsible, and dish out some poetic justice.
This chapter of the film was simply not good. I didn’t care for any of the four lead performances, nor was I at all invested in Warren’s journey. Again, the fact that this film started off the entire screening experience – put me in a world of worry as to what was still to come. On the other hand, with this in the lead-off spot, you had nowhere to go but up.
Overall, I had a problem with the cinematography from Tom Colley, who did the work on all four of the stories. From the first to the last frame, I found so much of the camerawork and lighting to be boring and flat. There was no imagination present here. And in the lesser tales, where performance and writing were not stellar, these visual shortcomings were far more apparent.
For my money, the smartest idea would have been to completely remove the “Warren” tale and expand upon the stronger three installments. Again, give me days and days and days worth of Ted and Mary’s story.
Disjointed in quality, Immortal goes from pretty bad to simply amazing. Certainly worthy of a look, but since the story’s have no character continuity, you can just skip the “Warren” segment and get to the good stuff.
Immortal is still listed as in “post-production” on IMDb, so no wider release information is yet available.