By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Jason Spisak, Leeann Dearing, Abe Ruthless
Directed by Gus Holwerda
Written by Gus Holwerda
Produced by Shirley Films, Black Chalk Productions
The writer and director of INTERSECT, Gus Holwerda, describes his work as a “puzzle film,” a film comprised of “flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks” that pushes the bounds of what audiences are willing to accept, a challenging viewing experience that proves rewarding at the climax and leaves audiences thinking about how the pieces may fit together long after the credits roll.
Whether it will have its intended effect on audiences is a bit of a puzzle in of itself.
INTERSECT becomes a lot less challenging when you realize the film is essentially moving backwards, starting from a point close to the end and then cycling back through each major stage of the protagonist’s life. The advantage to this is that Holwerda can scatter paranormal incidents throughout Ryan’s (Jason Spisak’s) life and eventually tie them all together in the climax; the unfortunate disadvantage is that many of these segments feel devoid of stakes, and there were times when I questioned why we were spending so much time in a particular… well, time. The plot was moving backwards, not forwards, and so felt (most of the time) like it was going nowhere; Holwerda drops a crumb or two here and there to remind us of the Lovecraftian forces at play, but I can say that those crumbs were largely swept away by the film’s insistence on giving us every gory detail of Ryan’s life. The pieces are eventually drawn together into a satisfying whole, but when the puzzle is solved you feel more relieved than elated; finally, after slogging through the past we have caught up to the present. It is a satisfying reveal with a compelling character arc for at least ONE of the three main characters, and the film’s open-ended ending will certainly inspire conversations about what the hell it all meant; I just wish it wasn’t such a slog to get there.
“INTERSECT’s most puzzling decision is to tell it’s story backwards in a linear fashion, hamstringing the characters’ development and testing the patience of audiences.”
I’m trying to figure out as I’m writing why I felt so disconnected to these characters. Is it because telling their story in reverse means that I miss out on seeing their characters develop properly, only really seeing them regress as the film goes onward? Is it because Jason Spisak’s performance tends to come off as monotone? Is it because the dialogue early on (and in other places throughout the film) was so awkward and expositional? It’s probably the first one, to be honest; the film’s non-linear structure complicates any sense of real character growth, and while by the end we understand how all of our main characters came to be who they are in the present, we have a limited idea of who they actually ARE in the present.
I also feel like I should take a moment and address the film’s messaging. The existential nihilism of the film is interesting, albeit hardly unpredictable given the film’s Lovecraftian leanings. But the film also sets up an antagonist in the form of Abner (Jose Rosete), a bully turned preacher who completes his arc as a rapey suicide bomber. I’m all for anti-religious messaging, believe me, but subtlety thy name is not Abner. Abner feels less like an antagonist than a straw man, a mindless zealot who claims all science comes from the devil and whose only characteristics are screaming “idiot” at atheists and, well, being rapey. He feels like a caricature, and he’s impossible to take seriously; therefore, I’m afraid the film’s messaging will have the opposite effect it’s intended to have.
The climax of the film brings many of the pieces together, giving audiences most of the full picture; altogether, it’s a messy but coherent one. Audiences will find things to enjoy in this film, from Nate’s (Abe Ruthless’) character arc (which was one of the most entertaining things the film brought to the table, as his story arc moves forwards, not backwards), to the way in which the Lovecraftian forces meddle in our characters’ lives. But all in all, much like the film’s ending, the fate of INTERSECT and how it will be received by audiences remains uncertain. It’ll likely bring pain and pleasure in equal measure; so for those who accept the challenge it offers, strap yourselves in, because INTERSECT has such sights to show you.
INTERSECT is available on Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, and on demand September 15th.