Experimental Reviews

Odyssey of the Disturbed (2019) – 0.5 stars

Director: Dean Houlihan

Writers: Dean Houlihan

Cast: Dan Vaughan, Alan Mcloughlin, Nedra Cullen-O’Brien, Laurajane Sherlock, Holly Ruth Bailey

Running time: 13 mins

There are many things filmmakers need to do to avoid the wrath of the critics lying in wait to sythe their creation in two – but only one they really need take heed of when distributing. The most golden rule: “Thou shalt flog thine product honestly.” Film festivals and cinemas will not fall for any stunt you pull to dress something up as more than it seems, and some will feel actively lied to, making it harder to interface with them in coming years. In future, it is a rule Dean Houlihan, the man almost exclusively behind Odyssey of the Disturbed, would do well to abide by more closely.

When something bills itself as being an “80s inspired horror film”, I am being invited to think of a gore-laden golden age for the genre. 80s horror conjures images of some unspeakable portion of The Thing scuttling about in the shadows; Bub letting forth a howling moan as he tries to understand his remaining scraps of humanity; Freddy Krueger stalking the hallways of a dimly lit school after-hours. 80s horror does not connote several ageing teens larking about in a sunny park, bouncing wadded up paper off each other for laughs, or palling about in a day-lit pub while families with push-chairs arrive for their Sunday lunch.

It’s not just that Odyssey of the Disturbed fails to tap into the mise-en-scène of your traditional horror fare.  The plot to the film is tenuous enough that Houlihan seems to have somewhat cynically slapped the word “experimental” on its marketing too. Let’s be clear, this might be nonsensical enough to pass for a fever-dream, but “experimental” it is not. The film makes clear attempts to fulfil traditional narrative criteria – presumably before someone tapped its Writer/Director/Editor/Head-Chef/Chief-of-Police on the shoulder during editing and said, “Mate, this doesn’t make a lick of sense.” His response? Easy – just call it “experimental”!

As a result, 95% of the film’s content is utterly devoid of any meaning, let alone a meaning that approaches being scary. The characters are the avatars of a bumbling inconsequentiality that sees the film routinely side-tracked. At the very beginning, we encounter a clown-mask which presumably could be found at the local fancy-dress shop ahead of Halloween. It growls, and vanishes – permanently – as we discover this was the dream sequence of a school girl. She awakes in a plume of smoke that, rather than giving off some eerie otherworldly effect, gives off the vibe that somebody’s vape pen is malfunctioning close by.

She becomes our framing device for what little action then unfolds. Maybe the things we see are the product of her ‘overly active’ imagination – writing about her exceedingly dull class-mates – maybe they are real. It literally makes no difference, because the things which may be imaginary are so painfully vanilla, as an audience we begin to daydream something more ambitious as a result.

One curly-haired kid, who comes as close as anyone to being the protagonist, has a nice wholesome time with a girl he meets in an excruciating segment that seems to last six hours. The edgy kid (great showing-not-telling; he has a denim-vest, bum-fluff on his face and a ponytail to show he’s clearly not to be messed with!) goes to the arcade and wins at Pac-Man. Then he hangs out with his girlfriend and gets a kiss. None of this seems to offer up anything to justify the film’s “experimental horror” billing.

Call that a knife?

In fact, perhaps the scariest thing about this sequence is that you begin to wonder if it will ever end. “Will I be trapped forever in this endless circle of fuzzy, flu-like dreams?” you begin to worry. That’s why, when the edgy character ‘threatened’ curly, I had to actively pinch myself. Was I hallucinating action in this film? Was I imagining the fact he was jokingly menacing our protagonist with a… with a flip-comb?

Aside from this gritty portrayal of gang-violence between modern youth, however, Odyssey of the Disturbed soon lurches away from so-bad-its-good territory, and back into its earlier, distracted rhythm. That rhythm of young people hanging about in the tamest and most sterile of locations, and looking bored that there’s not really much to do.

An ending materialises, mercifully, though it seems utterly divorced on what little story or character development came before. It almost doesn’t feel part of the movie – like some merciful film god has taken note of the suffering this film has inflicted upon any audience it has incidentally found. A man takes an excessively watery piss on a copy of The Third Man and is summarily stabbed in the neck by one of our lead characters.

This is actually the only moment I will single out for something approaching praise. It might be a clumsily executed act of Tarantino-esque violence directed at ‘the enemies of cinema’ – but at least 1. It is loosely horror orientated, and 2. It shows a flitter or ambition. The filmmaker had an idea and he tried to realise it on screen. We have a pulse! We have signs of life after all!

I don’t mean that in a patronising “well done for trying” sense, either. I can relate to what happened here because I know being self-taught as a filmmaker is hard. You see, I did my homework on Dean Houlihan. His bio on FilmFreeway for example states that he “has been passionate about filmmaking since 2008 at the age of 14 when he began making short films with his friends on a cheap camcorder.”

Unfortunately, from the state of Odyssey of the Disturbed, his filmmaking hasn’t evolved much past that; mucking about with mates and a camcorder. However, if taken outside of the slap-dash mess of the rest of the film, there is at least one thematic idea that – while poorly realised – shows a capacity for something more interesting. While this particular effort was dead on arrival, then, Dean Houlihan has something in there. If he can learn to focus that, and build a film around it, maybe he can evolve beyond that.

Sometimes we need to be cruel to be kind. If someone is going to hone their craft, they need to be told in no uncertain terms that critics, festivals and – most importantly of all – audiences are not going to enjoy frittering away time on what their group of mates did while screwing around with a JVC over the weekend. Treat people viewing your film with some respect, and either come back with a more focused, planned and streamlined approach; or refrain from slapping “horror” and “experimental” labels on the same amateur output you’ve been producing since 2008.

Are you a filmmaker looking for independent professional feedback like this? For honest, straightforward opinions and constructive insight into how you can improve your work, submit your work to Indy Film Library on FilmFreeway now.

5 comments

  1. Although I would have obviously preferred a more positive rating haha. I’m very grateful for you Jack Brindelli to spend your Halloween reviewing my Film and writing a very lengthy review over 1150 words at that.

    You’re obviously an intelligent guy and I’ve seen some of the videos on your YouTube channel “Dawn of the Red” and “The People’s Game”, where you express alot of your political idealogies into your work. But obviously my film isn’t for you. But I’d rather people either love my work or hate it! than to give a lukewarm review. So I’m glad the film at least had a strong impact on you to get a place on your website and I see is one of the earlier reviews listed here.

    But in the two months since it’s completion it has already been an official selection in 2 film festivals in India and also been accepted in another 2 festivals in England and Italy. It will get into more festivals I guarantee that too! .

    Plus two weeks after this review was posted, it has since won an Outstanding Achievement Award at the L’Age d’Or International Arthouse Film Festival in India. The film is also up for another award nomination in March at the PIGEON D’Or Awards. So I guess I’m fooling a few people Jack! Lol

    That’s not a dig at you I’m just speaking facts, you did your job as a critic to only give your opinion and express your thoughts and you did so.

    Plus I did kinda dig this review oddly enough and got some laughs from it. So I respect you for that and wish you the best of luck and continued success with Indy Film Library.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dean, lovely to hear from you, and congratulations.

      I feel I should point out that just because I didn’t like your film does not mean I am cheering for your demise – and I will particularly keep my fingers crossed for you when the PIGEON D’Or Awards come around in March.

      Obviously film is always going to be a subjective medium, so one man’s ‘trash’ will forever be another man’s treasure. While I did give your film a low score, you are right that it is better to be good or bad in the extreme than to be mediocre, and though this particular effort was not for me, it will certainly end up being a film I remember for years to come.

      One of the most important things – which might have sounded more cruel than kind – is that I believe you can do better. Let’s be clear, I don’t say that to every Director whose work I did not enjoy. You do have *something* that you can build on, there are glimpses of it in ‘Odyssey…’ and perhaps that is what is making these festivals take your work on. What I do hope though, is that you don’t rest on those laurels.

      I have seen many filmmakers simply refuse to grow or improve because they managed to get their picture into the programme of the Warrandyte Film Festival etc. Those things might keep an ego fed in the short-term, but it also means those filmmakers tend to put their fingers in their ears when they receive criticism, and end up making films for the same niche festivals well into their later life as a result. In your case, you are a young filmmaker, and I think it would be a waste of your potential to similarly limit yourself.

      If you really want to pursue filmmaking as your calling, you want to get your films seen by a wider audience, in which case you need to also learn from this for your next project. With that being said; 1. I’m not exactly ancient myself, so I shouldn’t patronise you for being ‘young’, I’m sure you know what you are doing; and 2. you’re actually playing multiple festivals, so you’ve already surpassed my own level of success as a filmmaker! Dawn of the Red scarcely saw the light of day beyond YouTube.

      Please keep us posted at Indy Film Library about the next chapter of your filmmaking journey – personally I do look forward to seeing what else you have to offer.

      Like

      1. Hi Jack thanks yet again for coming back with a well detailed written response. I honestly appreciate the time you’re taking to get back to me. Thanks also for the kind words in regards to my films festival life.

        I do feel like we even have some common interests in regards to film. As you’re obviously a zombie fan and a Romero fan due to some of your work and you making a “Day of the Dead” Bub reference early in this review. Which is not only my favourite Romero film but one of my favourite flicks period!

        Anyway I’m going off topic, but I’ll take pleasure in hearing that you’ll remember “Odyssey” for years to come. Even if it’s not for the reasons I’d have aimed for lol.

        Of course film is subjective and that’s the way it always will be and although I love hearing positivity and praise for my work. I’m not the type who can’t take criticism. It goes both ways and each response good/bad is just as instrumental for a filmmaker.

        I do admire how outspoken you were and you didn’t pull back any punches in your review. I would submit another film to your festival/site again for sure. I’m not the type to run away like other filmmakers who maybe got a bad review just cause maybe you didn’t stroke their ego enough haha. Who knows maybe you might even like it!, I’m up for the challenge lol.

        That being said though despite the obvious trashing of the film. I did sense like you said that you noticed potential in there and seen something in this and about my approach that intrigued you.

        Plus I also respect since you’re someone who has made their own contributions as a filmmaker. You’ve now took it upon yourself in founding Indy Film Library and devote your time reviewing others work. It’s evident you obviously share that same love for cinema and have strong viewpoints and opinions like any true critic, they should express it!

        Especially since I feel alot of filmmakers and creative people in general, can be some of the most self absorbed people. That wouldn’t spend time or effort on something unless it’s for their own benefit. So it goes to show you are not one of them and you provide this platform to bring attention onto fellow filmmakers.

        Most importantly I do agree with alot of what you said in your review. But I’m not sure if you understood where I was coming from with making this. But again a filmmaker shouldn’t have to explain because people either react positively or negatively to what’s shown to them.

        You’ve got a strong knowledge too for what you enjoy or appreciate in cinema. So I’m not one to question or undermine the reasons why you didn’t like it, so it simply wasn’t for you.

        But I’m aware and totally understand where you were coming from with your review. True the film doesn’t have a plot as such. It’s basically just following characters like my own take on “Dazed and Confused” or “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” with some horror thrown in lol. So I did get a kick on how you recognised the Tarantinoesque approach I attempted to make lol.

        Plus it was more of a mood piece which I tried to evoke emotions from some of the music choices in this accompanying the visuals. I feel I wanted to do something here that represents youth and innocence, but also has a darker tone underlying that presents itself throughout.

        I really wanted to stand out with this film and I feel I achieved that. That’s why I consciously tried to make it so unconventional and have long lingering shots like films of the 70’s. For the lack of three act structure, I did put alot of effort into the framing and composition of every shot.

        While using unconventional editing in an attempt to stylize this and make it unique.

        You definitely made a lasting impact on me Jack in quite a positive way believe it or not lol. I wouldn’t be responding if I felt you were just some idiot slating the film, because you’re far from it. You’re an interesting guy and I’ve enjoyed reading some of the other reviews on your site and I’m sure our paths will cross again!

        Best of luck with your future endeavours too and I’ll be sure to keep up to date with your output.

        Liked by 1 person

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