Sunday, 25 December 2016

Movie Review: Aaaaaaah! (2016)



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Aside from being a very emotional year both on and off-screen, 2016 also seems to be the year of the crazy because there’s been a lot of weird shit to hit our screens. From the food comedy that made us lose our lunch Sausage Party to the poignant drama about the human condition using a literal bloated corpse with Swiss Army Man, even down to yesterday’s digital murder of sanity that is When Black Birds Fly, we’ve had no shortage of bonkers around here. So it’s really saying something when I have to admit that today’s film might be the weirdest of the lot. How so? Well, let’s grunt right in and I’ll hopefully explain why. This is Aaaaaaaah!

The plot: I have no fucking clue. The official blurb on iTunes mentions alpha males and fights over territory, but damn it all if I could gleam any of that from this. It’s a pastiche of events involving a group of people in a small community and all the cooking, shitting, fighting and partying that goes with it.

The reason why the overall plot is so hard to wring out of this feature is down to the fact that the dialogue here isn’t in English. Or French or Spanish or Welsh or any definable human language. Instead, all of the words spoken are just primal grunts and groans; if Neanderthal was an official language, that’s what this would be. The only other film I’ve covered that I could possibly equate this to is the Shaun The Sheep Movie, and even then the film was able to visually portray all the story elements needed. Here? I’ve heard less grunting in women’s tennis doubles. Now, that said, just because the overarching plot is hazy doesn’t mean that the whole film is without aim. Every scene taken on its own honestly comes across like scenes that I would normally expect from a modern British comedy: Shoplifting, raucous partying where someone gets pictured with balls on their forehead, trying and failing to cook dinner for the family; it’s all eerily recognizable, just delivered through the most animalistic of ways.

Even the production itself feels primitive in the way everything is put together. The camerawork looks like the work of someone who has just discovered what the zoom function on a camera is, or possibly what cameras are full stop, and the film can feel slapshod together with how awkward the framing can get. The editing, likewise, looks like an amateur’s film school assignment, being technically cohesive but not exactly the most refined thing in the world. Then there’s the soundtrack, which is mainly full of electronic bleeps and bloops with bits of instrumentation and appropriately basic vocal harmonies. It’s largely atonal and conveys simple melodies, if it even gets melodious to begin with, and the instruments played (primarily drum machines from what I can tell) are played with a basic sense of rhythm but not much else. As bad as I’m probably making this out to be, it actually ends up fitting into how the film is presented and, ultimately, what it’s trying to accomplish.

While this may be a weird sit, and definitely unconventional, both of those signifiers are mainly in relation to this being a film. In context to performance art, however, this is reminiscent of a style that has been around since the earliest years of cinema: The Theatre Of Cruelty. In lieu of a long-winded lecture on the French avant-garde and surrealist theatre, I’ll just boil it down as best I can. Brought into being by playwright Antonin Artaud, Theatre Of Cruelty is basically a way of showing how human emotion is too complex to be conveyed through mere words. As such, dialogue in the plays that fall into this practice are mostly comprised of sounds that are very far removed from legible speech, but still have the emotional range of regular communication. This film, in how it handles its grunting, feels right at home within that framework, especially with how “speaking without words” is interpreted by the cast. Some actors go with more recognizable noises like the hooting of primates or the yapping of dogs as their speech, while others go with more abstract throat sounds; think of it as how we view accents today: Same words, just said differently.

What those “words” result in is, honestly, the kind of story that could only be told in this style. Not to say that this story is particularly unique; as I said before, scenes from this film have been used before; rather, it’s the intent of the story. The main rationale of the Theatre Of Cruelty, and most absurdist and surrealist theatre, is to highlight the regressive nature of humanity; boy, does this manage to do just that. Everything that is shown on screen, from the humping of trees to the burying of meat in salt while it’s in the pan, is just normal human actions and interactions stripped of any form of emotional and intellectual nuance. It only feels strange because, at its core, we are all like this in real life. In an age where British comedy has gone as far down in overall quality as it has, this feels like a natural piece of commentary on not only the kind of films born from it but also the kind of people who enjoy it. Because let’s face it: It’s not that different from what we watch anyway. Honestly, considering how strange this all is, it’s no wonder that the main actors from The Mighty Boosh are in this thing.

All in all, while potentially more fascinating than it is entertaining to watch, this is nonetheless a mesmerizing piece of work. By taking what is essentially everyday life and flaying it to its bare bones, this film presents a view of humanity as being not that much different from its ancestors that first started to walk upright. And frankly, considering how familiar the setting and situations can get, as well as graphic and disgusting, it’s a pretty accurate view of humanity at that. This is better than Queen Of Katwe, mainly because this is such a unique specimen that it ends up trumping the admirable but still formulaic narrative of that film. However, even with how puzzlingly poignant this is, it still doesn’t strike as direct a chord with me as the feminist barrage of The Girl On The Train.

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