Dave's brother Trent died a year ago. A hard up writer, Dave (a portly DJ Vivona) sees an apparition of Trent (Jason Allen Wolfe) who hands him a DVD before disappearing. Playing the disc, Dave looks on at the confessions of a junkie called Beth, who describes Trent's self-destructive spiral into drugs and kinky sex. Pulling his strings was the mysterious Tracy, who filmed their kinky exploits with a web cam for subscribers to her website. Dave starts to lose his grip when his psychic sister and her lesbian lover come to visit him, as the walls of reality come tumbling down and a wicked twist is revealed.

Between the amateurish SAVAGE HARVEST and the harrowing SCRAPBOOK, it seemed as though director Stanze's exceptionally bland work with actors was remedied. However, the inspired pairing of the late Tommy Biondo (as the tormentor) and Emily Haack (as the victim) in the latter cannot be replicated with just anyone, as is discovered in this over ambitious, cheap-jack attempt at Art. Packed with actors who look more suited to a grungy music video - indeed, Wolfe barely registers when given dialogue but is appropriately anguished when the music starts to govern the flow of the action - it is filled with rapid editing, mixes, dissolves and an MTV pace that smothers dramatic effect with its repetitive rhythms.

With off-centre framing of characters and jittery camerawork that often rocks from side to side, Stanze and Garrels are putting up STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS signposts, and the storyline - equating video watching with hallucinatory imagery - recalls Cronenberg's colder, more clinical and vastly superior VIDEODROME (1982). The use of video footage from the past (those featured are dead), and its effect on the present conjures images of Jim Van Bebber's stunning MANSON FAMILY, a far more intelligent and purposeful film that has something to say on the culture of killing and its effects on impressionable minds. Unlike those films, CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE just isn't cinematic: with characters that can't sit still, it feels as much like a music video as Stanze's hugely disappointing (for anyone that saw the trailer, anyhow) ICE FROM THE SUN, and one wonders if he reverts to this type because he lacks an interesting story to tell or can't find good enough actors to carry out his instructions. Sluggish and uninvolving, it has a ridiculously contrived twist in the plot involving the true identity of the cryptic Tracy. Needless to say, it is hardly the Harry Lime of extreme cinema entrances in spite of the long delay!

Review by Matthew Sanderson

Released by Odeon Entertainment
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review