Phil Stevens' surreal horror film FLOWERS details the journeys of six murder victims as they "awake" individually in the crawlspace of their killer's abode. Each woman crawls on her belly during their own vignette, wading past the filth and squalor found in the narrow tunnel they must negotiate.
The first woman captures glimpse of a fresh victim being abused through two slats of wood. The second encounters a fresh pile of entrails - the off-cuts of the killer's (Bryant W Lohr Sr) latest disembowelling ... which we briefly get to witness.
While each one crawls, muddied and bloodied, through the house's underground crannies - a metaphor for the purgatory they preside in, while making their painful journey to either redemption or damnation - their memories provide gruesome flashback clues to how they came to be in their present state.
The second victim (Krystle Fitch), for example, is gutted and sprawled spread-eagled on a filthy mattress. Her oversized murderer strips and smears her blood onto his cock as lubrication before indulging in necrophilia with her corpse. While he does, a small group of sharp-suited men watch impassively via a video monitor.
Devoid of dialogue or any real plot, FLOWERS exists on the fringes of arthouse. It's a graphic, disturbing and undeniably confrontational proposition - but to write it off as anything less than a serious meditation on the aftermath of traumatic death would be churlish. It's harrowing, yes. Ugly, certainly. But it's also freakishly beautiful and so considerately made, scene after scene after scene, that to dismiss it as anything other than art would be robbing some seriously talented people of their due.
First and foremost of these is Stevens, who takes the bold notion of filming such a non-linear project and imbuing it with a dark, sepia-tinted post-production look that lends proceedings an even bleaker feel. There is no respite, no moments of comic relief, no irony here: FLOWERS is grim through and through - commendably so.
Then we have the cast. Lohr Sr is a middle-aged man with little previous experience of acting in front of the camera. And yet, he's unafraid of pushing the boundaries of what what's expected from an actor. He's menacing, too, without ever falling into the trap of over-emphasising the psycho thing. The actresses are uniformly great: each one of the victims is believably vulnerable in the telltale clips revealing how they met their maker, and heartbreakingly frantic in their posthumous to flee the scene of their death. Kudos to each woman too for crawling through acres of mud, blood, spunk and God knows what in the name of their art. This must've been a tough shoot for these girls...
Set design is flawless in its evocation of a true nightmare scenario (pig's heads in the sinks, corpses strewn across bloodied furniture, decrepit decaying decor everywhere you look). You can smell the squalor, the fear. Perversely, Stevens' cinematography is gorgeous all the while. Mark Kueffner's electronic score is so cunning in its restraint that it's borderline genius. It generously allows for Ronnie Sortor's sound design to work its magic at regular intervals, helping to create an atmosphere of utter despair.
Special effects make-up is handled by Fitch and co-star Anastasia Blue (she portrays the third victim), and is suitably gory - though focuses largely on bloody aftermaths rather than actual acts of violence occurring. In terms of horror though, that hardly prevents this film from being what you would consider as "hardcore".
Somewhere between MARTYRS in its stylish, nihilistic extremism, Marian Dora (CANNIBAL; MELANCHOLIE DER ENGEL) in its arthouse horror allusions and a Jan Svankmajer film (GREEDY GUTS; LUNACY; ALICE) in its meticulous attention to detail of both the aural and visual variety, FLOWERS is quite some film. I enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to getting more and more from it on repeat viewings.
FLOWERS is presented uncut on Unearthed Films' region-free DVD. The original 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been respected in this attractive 16x9 transfer.
Images are, as mentioned above, intentionally filtered through for a darker, paler sheen. It gives the film a more cinematic style, falsely aging it in agreeable style. You get used to this look and, as I say, it's very deliberate. Blacks are deep, detail is consistent, noise is absent: there's nothing to grumble about here.
2.0 audio is equally reliable. Again, it's a very considered approach - a lot of the sounds are echoed or muffled - intentionally, once again - while the brooding synth score works subtly alongside some horrifying sound design to create an ambience entirely of its own.
An animated main menu page opens up the DVD. From there, an animated scene selection menu allows access to the film via 8 chapters.
This disc begins its generous set of bonus features with two audio commentary tracks. The first comes from Stevens, who bills himself as the film's "writer, director, everything". He's got a good sense of picking out details - dates, locations, shooting conditions etc - while managing to keep things friendly and informal. This starts off shakily (pauses, awkward swearing, an abundance of "err"s) but stick with it, as it does emerge as a rewarding endeavour.
The second track comes courtesy of editor/associate producer/foley artist/sound designer Ronnie Sortor. He better explains the intentional "drained" look of the film, as well as racing through a lot of detail about each scene's composition and visual élan. You may remember Sortor as the director of the no-budget gorefest RAVAGE (1997): he's clearly gathered oodles of experience in the art of crafting indie splatter flicks over the years, and this ensures his commentary track is - if anything - even more revealing and consequently essential than Stevens'.
An "isolated sound FX track" is just that - it takes away score and focuses entirely on the numerous sounds (dripping water, howling winds, fidgeting insects etc) which contribute boldly towards the film's singular atmosphere.
A 10-minute interview with Lohr Sr is candid enough to have a cat wandering back and forth behind him on the sofa he's sitting on. He speaks of how he always aspired to try his hand at acting, his attitudes towards onscreen gore and going nude for the camera, working with his fellow actors and so forth. It's a good, natural chat (with an off-screen interviewer - Stevens, I think?).
Final victim Makaria Tsapatoris' original audition tape makes for interesting viewing. This is a beef 15-minute affair which harks back to February 2013. Filmed in a darkened studio with solitary spotlights on her to begin with, I found this oddly absorbing.
A 15-minute stills gallery proffers a plethora of behind-the-scenes photographs.
Finally, we're treated to a gory showreel of trailers for other titles available from the Unearthed Films roster: COLLAR, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE, 100 TEARS, WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE, THANATAMORPHOSE, MORRIS COUNTY, HATE CRIME, NECROPHILE PASSIONS, VISCERAL and FLOWERS's own 99-second preview.
Experimental, unusual, grisly and gripping, FLOWERS is a highly recommended proposition - for those who can stomach it. It's served extremely well by Unearthed Films' loaded DVD.
The DVD reviewed was the regular single-disc release. A limited edition 3-disc set was also released (contained deleted scenes and a Making Of documentary on disc two, along with a CD copy of the film's soundtrack).
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|see main review|