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Wednesday, August 31, 2016
I don't exactly know the full extent of Stephen David Brooks' filmmaking skills, but for his second feature as both writer and director he took about the same budget as your average home video of a kid's birthday party and managed to come up with a quirky, intriguing, and delightfully different sci-fi tale called FLYTRAP (2015).
When I say "low budget", I mean that almost the entire film takes place inside a house in the suburbs of L.A., with no SPFX (even though Brooks has worked with John Dykstra himself as a visual effects supervisor) and precious few props or other major production elements--just a nicely-written script and a cast of actors who know how to get the best out of it.
One of them is Jeremy Crutchley ("Black Sails") in a deftly wry performance as British college professor James Pond ("My parents had a sense of humor"), whose car breaks down in front of a house in a sleepy Los Angeles neighborhood while he's on his way to a new job as an astronomy professor at UCLA.
Knocking on the nearest door for help, he meets Mary Ann (Ina-Alice Kopp), a beautiful but odd young woman who's not only socially awkward but seems unfamiliar with even the most basic human interactions. In fact, the first thing she does after offering James a huge glass of wine is to lower the shoulder strap of her dress and inquire as to whether he is now ready to "reproduce."
James' earlier voiceover about how "they" are among us comes to mind and we begin to suspect Mary Ann's earlier admission that she's from Venus (James assumes she means Venus, Texas) might not be all that far-fetched.
He also finds it odd that she mentions a housemate named Gilligan (Jonah Blechman) and another known as The Skipper (Jason Duplissea), who is, not surprisingly, their "leader." (Mary Ann also mentions a "Ginger" who, for some reason, didn't work out.) But are they indeed aliens...or just members of a weird religious cult?
FLYTRAP keeps us in the dark about all of this in the most teasing ways, maintaining a nice level of suspense as James, now a prisoner in the house, keeps trying to escape (an electronic collar prevents him from crossing the threshold) while also facing the fact that Mary Ann's seemingly insatiable desire for him doesn't appear feigned.
So, along with him, we keep wondering just exactly what the heck's going on even as The Skipper's behavior grows more punitive and hostile toward James (jealousy, perhaps?) and whether or not James will be disposed of when his purpose (something to do with "reproducing", perhaps?) is fulfilled.
There are some nice moments between James and Mary Ann as he warms up to her and she seems eager to learn how humans interact romantically. While Crutchley maintains James' likability with little effort, Ina-Alice Kopp gives Mary Ann a yearning innocence that's quite disarming. We feel for her when she expresses a desire to leave the house and experience the outside world, even though we know she's merely part of the "flytrap" keeping James prisoner.
Despite some talk about being trapped by fear of the unknown, or by "an unknown or invisible god", the story thankfully doesn't try to get too mired in metaphor. The narrative is refreshingly lean and straightforward, with a nifty ending that leaves just enough unresolved to fade out on a tantalizingly unsettling note.
Sometimes we wake up in the middle of a sticky situation from which we can't escape, this movie seems to be telling us, and there's nothing for us to do besides hang in there and try to reclaim our autonomy. As for me, I found FLYTRAP just as sticky and just as inescapable.
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