This film was eagerly anticipated and couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Let’s push things forward – if our cinematic horizons were to depend on my last review (Curse of Chucky) you could feel free to hang me now, and forget about ever cutting me down. Thankfully, one of the other films I’ve been waiting for to shock me awake arrived – that is Christopher J. Miller’s Forbidden Dimensions, a post-apocalyptic scifi body-horror time-traveling epic packed with very stylish post-post-modern afflictions, absurd, surrealist humor, tons of visual effects, and a healthy dose of the usual anarchic eclecticism we’ve come to expect out of Razorwire Pictures. That’s a lot for one genre, let alone one film.
The story follows a young Jack Slade, a man with an unfortunate penchant for slipping in and out of time against his will. Jack Slade eventually becomes one of the last survivors of a generation born during an eclipse, going from a young Charles Bukowski-type alcoholic writer to Road Warrior-esque savior of humanity in the blink of an eye. Our doomsday scenario is thus: an evil corporation derives a way to transmit matter from outer space into the earth’s atmosphere. In true science-fiction fashion, they beam down an alien, and in true corporate fashion, immediately murder it to synthesize drugs from its insides. Given the current client, that’s fairly plausible. Those said drugs turn anyone using it into a foul mutant (krocodil, anyone?), and America turns into a wasteland under corporate control. Slade has to find a way to end his own suffering, lead a revolution with surviving mostly-human denizens of the new American wasteland, and unite with the star-child Kadijah in order to undo the damage. Sounds easy enough, right?
I sat down with this film a number of times before the write-up. The first thing I’d like to note is that, as with all Razorwire films, the content totally belies the running time. I think the film clocks in around 87 minutes, not precisely sure, but there is so much going on in every single frame, every single scene, that epic status felt like a no-brainer. As far as attention to detail goes, I think it’s safe to say I haven’t seen such a fully realized science-fiction film since maybe Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. There’s a lot of care put into making this world tick, which probably wasn’t easy with juggling multiple eras. The same goes for the effects. Resourceful is the key word here, along with heart. A lot of the pictures we cover don’t have the extravagance of having a six or seven figure budget, but the sheer volume of film effects of all varieties is on display, each with a very distinct personality. It’s a very kitchen sink feel, but it doesn’t feel excessive (at least in the negative sense, there is a ton going on in every last second) as much as necessary to convey what the film is going for. That sounds clunky at first, let me explain – the film feels like it’s built on a skeleton of familiar sci-fi and horror tropes, most of them the cerebral and visceral variety, but instead of creating a simple re-tread/homage of known themes, it’s like they were focusing on re-combining that DNA and twisting it to its highest logical conclusion, then going further to deconstruct them all at once. There are rip-offs, homages, and love-letters, then there’s complete dissection and proving to the audience what they mean and why we need them in the first place. That’s just part what makes Forbidden Dimensions stand out.
Offsetting the genre trappings is a healthy sense of humor, mostly the absurdist variety. The film is played straight, to an extent, but most of the humor comes from the acting, dialogue, and completely bizarre situations our poor hero wakes up in. Delivery is generally very over the top, overly intense, regardless of being situation appropriate – my best analogy is if Scream was self-referential because they talked about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Forbidden Dimensions knows it’s a film, and is struggling very hard to not break character due to its sheer audacity – but given that we’re working under the assumption that the world onscreen is these character’s god honest reality, it adds another perverse mind twist to the picture. The world here is so very, very layered, that even if these characters know they’re in a fictional universe, one that’s on edge at all times, all they can do is go with that, and once again, push it as far as they can. That’s actually a bit more subtle than it sounds, and lacks the obnoxious tendencies of something like Funny Games, where the antagonist rudely breaks the 4th wall. Maybe that’s the real Forbidden Dimension. There’s wisdom in that – be self aware with respect to the audience.
The black out method of time travel here plays against plot coherence to dizzying effect. One second it’s 1998, then 30 years forward, then back, then 50 years forward, blurring continuity yet maintaining it. Kyle Morris’ Jack Slade is a very put upon youth, and the performance shows the wear and tear being at the mercy of a skewed existence brings. It serves as a reminder that time isn’t necessarily a straight line, and one wrong move can turn you in the weirdest direction to clarity. That seems to be one of the story’s universal truths. On an individual level, every day can feel like the apocalypse when even time isn’t on one’s side, and everyone encountered seems alien under the surface. There’s a healthy dose of paranoia and conflict in the chaotic mix. The endtimes in this film seem inviting at first (and wholly possible, with the current culture – in fact someone visiting the present from 1998 might think we’ve already skipped past the finish line), any genre fan, cartoon fan, or videogame fan might feel they’ve woken up to their wildest dreams in the role of Spade, only to realize that being a hero is much less celebrated and far more perilous than the hype could ever live up to. At times, even what’s seen as fun is maliciously devilish, and an absolute detriment to our protagonist’s fragile psyche. Jack never feels like an anti-hero more than a tragic one, working through corruption and torment, much to his own personal detriment. There’s a very important theme with the relationship between Jack and Kadijah, but the outcome of the film is very predicated on it. I’d love to expound here, but it would blow the whole movie, and I’d rather you experience it for yourself.
The support cast is a blast to watch, always entertaining. There’s a lot of grimacing, very physical acting going on, especially with those under intensive latex application. Lots and lots of scenery chewing, to great menace and comedic effect. Todd Brown reprises his role from an earlier Razorwire film, Carrion, as hard-nosed Detective Giger, both as opening narrator and plot propellant. He’s more menacing this time around, and edgier. A brief aside, Carrion and the other films in Miller’s earlier Splatter Collection (which I’ve unfortunately not had time to commit to discussion as of this writing) do help to establish continuity style-wise here – plots aside, Forbidden Dimensions is another worthy entry into the Razorwire canon, and a definite extension of previous work (though logically, with time and experience, currently one of the stronger entities). Jamie Katonic as Kadijah is worth examining, due to her function in the narrative. In fact she’s a huge part of the plot, as well as one of the film’s overarching themes. Miss Katonic displays a certain screen presence, mostly exuding equal parts allure and enigma. She’s one of the most important characters in the story, yet seen very briefly, and honestly, quite fetishized in one sequence. The old rule of thumb in horror films was to keep the monster off screen as much as possible, to let the audience’s imagination run rampant. It’s fitting that the roles over beauty and beast be inverted, if not prolapsed, here as well. Kadijah is thought to be legendary and not necessarily of earth. Her role is perhaps purposely blurred, starting off as idealized male fantasy, starting at the point of arch damsel in distress, with a dash of sympathetic femme fatale. Her function in the overall narrative seems to question viewers’ own expectations of male/female dynamics in film as a whole, against a backdrop of very strong male and female characters (the warriors of the wasteland, as it were), and then, in stable Razorwire fashion, trumps those same expectations while lending a very classic, literate conclusion. Point being, her role is sparse, but changes dramatically in quick succession, leading the viewer to question more of what they’ve witnessed. This makes for a much stronger story. It makes for a stronger character as well, taking what could’ve been a one note performance and taking it somewhere fresh and allowing in break-neck fashion for the performance to be fully realized. I’m not sure if someone else in the same role could’ve said as much by saying so little, or provide the needed emotional weight to establish something much stronger.
In fact the layered quality of the picture on the whole keeps the viewer thinking, and not just about who did what when. The jumpiness led me to believe (with conviction even) that there’s much more going on, radically under the surface of this film. Underneath the calculations of style and visual assault is a deeper movie, and a much more personal one, not exactly critical of our fair species, but questioning and exploring that which we hold rational and true. The essence of this film, to me, any way, is a mirror of the complex and clashing realities we inhabit, some within ourselves, some virtual, some painfully and inescapably real. There’s a sense of discovery here – I think I’ve sat down with the movie about 7 times to date and it feels more revelatory during each viewing. The film has its fair share of extreme and transgressive qualities – but on the whole it feels like something more transcendent and enlightened. So, to look at it in absolute objectivity, we’ve got the mother of all b-movies, an enormous triumph of shock and awe and fanfare, every single thing people watch genre movies for. In excess. And on the other side of the scale – there’s enough complexity and depth, if you know how to read a film, to match the most arch art film minus the pretense, threads and threads about society and humanity, perception, emotion, and raw experience.
That means you should watch it, because it’s definitely worthy.
Bonus Points: The soundtrack was awesome.