People Were Harmed in the Making of This Film
... Which is exactly why you need to see it.
Loon: The Most Original Film of 2017
I wish I could say no persons were harmed in the making of this film, but that would be a lie. The director was stabbed with a fork. Then, in addition to sustaining some scrapes and bruises from a particularly physical scene, the lead actor was admitted into a mental institution shortly after filming.
Now, make no mistake, I say this not with derision, but with understanding. I myself have stayed at so many mental institutions in my adult life, I could probably rate their menus for Zagat. (By the way, don’t ever order the macaroni and cheese at Rush in Chicago. Sometimes they make it with decent shell noodles, and sometimes they just make that powdered-cheese shit from the box. You won’t know until you get it, and by then it’ll be too late.)
It’s kind of an interesting story how I was given an advance viewing of Loon (as in, British slang for a crazy person, not the bird) to begin with. I suppose we have the late-and-great Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd to thank for that. It was through a Facebook group dedicated to the music of Syd that I first began talking to the film’s creator and director, Fabrizio Federico. I’m not sure exactly why he decided to accept a friend request from a weird American blonde girl on the internet who wears too much eyeliner in her profile pictures, but for some reason he did – and here we are.
At first I didn’t even think that was his real name. I thought it resembled that of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini so closely, it had to be pseudonym. But no, to the best of my knowledge, Fabrizio is indeed a real person. If anything he’s the Anti-Fellini, about as far away from the chic and scintillating high-society classics as a filmmaker could possibly be.
When I viewed his previous works, I got the impression that – and I mean this in a good way – they were filmed on an acid trip (which is no surprise, considering how I found him on a Syd Barrett page.) It didn’t take me long to find out that Fabrizio abhors any kind of imposed structure. He won’t even use scripts, which to me (with my stringent, classically-trained literary sensibilities) was unthinkable. Quite honestly, I never would have thought a completely improvised film could possibly be as good as Loon is.
The opening credits feature a jarring, discordant instrumental theme by the band Mao. Actually, the band recorded the entire musical score at Aleister Crowley’s allegedly-haunted Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness, wherein Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin also resided for some time. Even if you’re not the kind of person who believes in ‘vibes’ or ‘energy’, the otherworldly background themes will seem to echo from whichever spirit realm you may or may not believe in.
From the first scene – which turns out to be an idle teenager’s experiment with autoerotic asphyxiation – you will be uncomfortable, even disturbed. And you should be. That’s the whole point. Then, after the first few nightmarish images, you’ll be introduced to an 18-year-old English kid named Charlie.
The interesting thing about Charlie is that he is, with no disrespect, psychologically afflicted in real life as well as the film; but he plays a fictionalized version of himself as he goes about his normal(ish) routine. Actually, none of the characters were professional actors. They were just people in Charlie’s everyday life who consented to being filmed in their natural habitat, you could say.
But then isn’t it just reality TV? Or a documentary? Well, no. I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) that reality TV is often carefully scripted, rehearsed, and molded unto what the intended viewers supposedly want to see.
For that same reason, most documentaries are meticulously edited to make some thesis statement, usually in order to appeal to an audience of a certain ideology, usually political.
No, Loon has no target audience. It has no point to prove, no statement to make, and no didactic school of thought to promote. The film exists only to offer a glimpse into one man’s troubled mind, so that his screams don’t die unheard. It recognizes no politics except for maybe Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature.
Still, the background track resounds with newscasts from the recent terrorist attacks on British soil, grounding the film solidly in the present. Doom-saying news anchors, as they calmly describe acts of violence and disorder, merely echo the pandemonium raging in the confines of Charlie’s mind. The macrocosm is marginalized, and the microcosm is brought to the forefront. To put it simply, compared to Charlie’s drawn-out mental breakdown, global terrorism is merely an afterthought.
In contrast, the film has its lighter moments. It features the comical Dismaland, an amusement park parody of Disneyland that is actually a large-scale art installation. It features frowning personnel, bleak scenery, and underwhelming rides such as a spinning mobile home. And yes, this is a real-world place that actually exists. It also concretely illustrates how even the happy-ish moments in Charlie’s life are laden with despair.
Images courtesy of Fabrizio Federico
Still, Charlie proves himself to be endearing, even adorably charismatic. You may laugh and shake your head at his antics or deride his immaturity; but you might also secretly hope that he’ll succeed in his naïvely unrealistic pursuits.
At first, it might seem like the antagonist is life itself - until it takes the form of Charlie's psychopathic nineteen-year-old cousin. I'm told she's also a psychopath in real life, which even further blurs the distinction between the film's characters and the real people involved. In the story, Character-Charlie's feelings for her are anything but appropriate. Unfortunately, she is too preoccupied with dildos of a certain ethnicity (also a true-to-life detail) to reciprocate the attraction, leaving Charlie frustrated and unfulfilled in nearly every aspect of his life. Still, his youthful enthusiasm is undeterred. Perhaps it's a fortunate coincidence that the entire film is shot in black-and-white, and therefore uncannily reminiscent of another monochromatic character named Charlie. There's something sadly Chaplin-esque about our Charlie's doomed optimism, oblivious to the cruel joke that the universe itself seems to be playing on him.
Unfortunately, the real Charlie's misfortune didn't just end when they finished shooting. I don't know the exact details of his real-life condition (into which Fabrizio never inquired, in order to remain impartial and unprejudiced while filming). Even if I did, I wouldn't disclose the nature of his illness out of respect for Real-Charlie's privacy and that of his family. If you're an especially sensitive person, I suppose you could argue that the entire film is unethical and exploitative of mental illness. Yet, speaking as a mentally ill person myself, I don't think that's the case. All who participated in this project did so of their own free will, and knowingly consented to be filmed. (Except for the guy who stabbed Fabrizio with a fork; he was left out as per his own forcefully-expressed wishes.)
That being said, I'm going to break my own taboo on emotional involvement to say that I really am concerned for Real-Charlie's well-being. I'll say what people are supposed to say; that I wish Charlie the best in his treatment and recovery, and extend my sympathy to him and his family; and I do. But anyone who's really been through hell knows those words don't mean shit. No amount of encouragement and well-wishing will ever be enough to free someone who's being held captive by their own mind. I doubt Charlie will ever read this in real life, and even if he does, I'd be the worst possible person to offer any kind of advice on dealing with demons I can barely deal with in my own life. All I could tell him is the same thing I tell myself: Never stop fighting. When life kicks you down, get up and kick it right back. (Of course, I haven't lived long enough to tell if that actually works, but I suppose I'll find out eventually).
All subjectivity aside, however, I do believe this is a film of considerable merit. It's as brilliant as it is dark and melancholy. I don't believe anyone's made a better film on a budget of £100, which translates roughly to $200. Yes, two-hundred dollars, you read that correctly.
"Perks of working with real people," the filmmaker told me. "I just paid for the food and they were happy."
Other than that, he wouldn't reveal much about the film itself. When I asked him if my interpretation of the Ouija Board scenes was correct, his cryptic reply was, "It's multi-layered, so anything goes."
I still think my theory is the best possible one, and anyone who thinks otherwise can fight me with the nearest kitchen utensil. (No, I'm just being facetious; don't actually do that.)
Regardless of my personal interpretation of the story, it took me a while to characterize the nature of the film as a whole. It exists as neither completely real nor as a work of pure fiction. So far, I've observed similar habits only in other Millennial writers who insist on throwing time-honored conventions in the garbage and setting them on fire, for better or worse. The most fitting term I could give it is Oblique Realism, for the way it rides a thin, crooked line between reality and fiction.
And no, that's not actually a thing. But maybe it should be.
All in all, I’m not sure who would be more qualified to give Loon a proper analysis: a professional film critic, or a licensed clinical psychiatrist. Instead, you’ll have to settle for the perspective of a twenty-something female writer of horror-fantasy fiction, so I hope that won’t be a problem. (But if it is, I don’t apologize.)
See the full movie here.