“SCHISM” (Screamfest Movie Review)
Los Angeles’ Screamfest has become known as a place for indie films that might otherwise struggle for screenings to not only have a theatrical showing, but also catch the eyes of Hollywood’s major distributors. This year, the talk of the festival has been Adam Gierasch’s SCHISM, which screened this past Saturday night to a packed house. This reviewer attended without knowing anything about the film or what to expect, and can now safely say that it’s shocking, disturbing and possibly one of the best indie films so far this year.
Dylan (Callum Blue) leads an overly normal, rather boring life. He works as a chef in New Orleans and tries to be a good person. But after a series of disturbing hallucinations, Dylan must confront his past…or lack thereof. Three years before, he woke up in a field with a concussion resulting in full amnesia, possessing absolutely no memory of who he was prior. But after a newspaper photo brings about memory flashes, Dylan heads to a distant town to uncover who he used to be.
While SCHISM may be a true-blue genre picture with ample shocks and gore, the tone is that of a noir film. Jazz and loose bass notes fill the soundtrack, and shades of dark blue and black suffuse the color palette. The characters weave a sordid mystery of crime and passion, which even includes a sultry femme fatale (played by Nicole LaLiberte). Shot in widescreen 35mm (which is rarely done today), the film boasts stunning cinematography, with low-key, high-contrast lighting that fits not only the noir mood but also the disturbing plot. SCHISM is set in a world that seems to exist only at night, overflowing with flickering neon signs, glowing crimson lamps and continuously smoking actors who provide the attendant haze. The film journeys from some of the most picturesque New Orleans locations to the sleaziest and most repulsive places Louisiana has to offer. Yet the noir look adheres and endures, providing a powerful lens through which to view both environments.
Now add extreme, graphic sexuality and copious violence. SCHISM is intense, a psychosexual tale amped up with an insane amount of brutality; expect full frontal nudity and tons of gore. In fact, at the screening Q&A, director Gierasch (who scripted with longtime partner Jace Anderson) spoke about a portion of the script that was later cut, featuring the line “vaginal lips part.” The ample bloodshed is shocking but well-executed, beginning just a few minutes into the film (as a hallucination) and persisting throughout. Considering the level of carnage, it makes total sense that the filmmakers hired Toetag EFX and Jerami Cruise, known for such extreme projects as the controversial AUGUST UNDERGROUND series and THE THEATRE BIZARRE, to create the gruesome debauchery. I do wish that some of the CG gags had been done practically instead; in a film filled to the brim with splatter, it’s very apparent which gunshots were physical and which had digital assistance.
SCHISM is ultimately a head trip, and a slow burn at that. Despite the explicit approach, the bulk of the movie is comprised of moody, often silent scenes focusing on Dylan’s inner demons and quest to find his true identity. It’s a skillfully woven stream of consciousness that twists, turns and never truly reveals its real form. SCHISM only had one showing at Screamfest and was also screened earlier this week at the New Orleans Film Festival; no distribution plans have been announced yet, so keep checking back for details on future screenings and release for this stark, stylistic flick.