I used to know this guy named Lamar. We were friendly acquaintances; I didn’t really know him well enough to say that we were friends, but I always liked him. Lamar had this deep baritone country twang. One night we were together with a group at the home of a mutual friend, playing a game. It wasn’t Trivial Pursuit, but it was one of those similar to it, where we each took turns answering questions. During one of Lamar’s turns, when he was asked his question, his response was, in his trademark accent: “I ain’t got no damn clue!” I mention this here because, as I was watching OBSERVANCE and repeatedly questioning what I was seeing, I kept hearing Lamar’s words echoing in my head. His phraseology became my own. What’s going on with this movie? I’d ask myself, and answer myself: I ain’t got no damn clue!
Originality is a prized commodity in entertainment. Creators must needs tread carefully, however, in pursuit of this rare achievement. In attempting to craft something original, there is the danger of deviating too far from the familiar, to the point that the created work loses all sense of cohesion, no longer adheres to any sort of structure. If the work becomes too original it becomes inaccessible to anyone excepting the creator himself. This is sort of what happened, I think, to OBSERVANCE. I won’t say that writers Joseph Sims-Dennett and Josh Zammit didn’t have an idea; I get the feeling that there was a point to all the strangeness, the bizarre imagery and incoherent plot points. They weren’t just flinging weirdness at the canvas, so to speak, to see what would stick. They weren’t just trying to be weird for the sake of weirdness, I suspect. But what they were trying to achieve, the point they were trying to get across, got lost somewhere in the translation.
I will give them credit in that the sort of movie I thought I was watching at the outset turned out to be a different beast altogether. I did, though, figure out the basic premise about halfway through. How, then, can I say I failed to understand the film? Because of the means by which the movie led me to the expected conclusion. It was an acid trip. I knew where I was going, but recognized none of the scenery on the way there. Is that originality? Yes, but it was also largely wasted effort, as it made no sense.
The cinematography is effective. The film looks all grimy and vinegary, black mold growing in the dark corners. You kinda feel like taking a shower after watching it, which is how you should feel. The movie succeeds aesthetically, then, and likewise the acting is overall sufficient, at times above the average. Lindsay Farris as the lead, the guy doing the actual observing (spying on actress Stephanie King from a dingy apartment across the street from her townhouse) is properly grounded and at times sympathetic to keep the viewer’s interest. The pace is slow but not plodding. The deficiencies lie in the twinned labors of plot and execution.
I should confess that movies wherein we, the viewers, never know for certain what is real and what isn’t, what is supposed to be really happening and what is an hallucination on the part of the character, tend to get on my nerves. This approach can work, if in the end all the loose ends are brought together, if everything makes sense in the end. With OBSERVANCE, they aren’t and it doesn’t. The viewer is left wondering what the hell he just watched. There are layers to peel away, symbolism to dissect, elements to examine. The question becomes, do you really care enough to do it? I confess that I didn’t.
Am I giving OBSERVANCE a bad review, then? Yes and no. If you are the type person who enjoys strange films where the narrative is murky; if you like trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t in a story, and aren’t put off by the lack of any straight answers; if you’re the kind of person who enjoys trying to decipher the lyrics to Nirvana songs or staring at those “hidden image”-type posters; then this movie should appeal to you. It is, as an example of such a movie, a success. But this film certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Will enough people find OBSERVANCE appealing that it qualifies as a win? I ain’t got no damn clue. (Actually I kinda do. I kinda doubt it.)
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