Festivals, Reviews

Cinema One Originals 2019: ‘O’ – An incomprehensible mess

[Disclaimer: This review is for the original cut shown during the gala screening.]

When the ending credits finally rolled, I braced myself as I confirmed a bad hunch I had throughout the entire screening: this film doesn’t have a sound designer. I guess we’ll never know whether they simply didn’t want their name included in the film or if the director Kevin Dayrit somehow managed to finish this film without having a sound designer, but this poses a major problem in O‘s overall technical quality.

Hollywood filmmaker George Lucas is often quoted to have said that sound is 50% of the moviegoing experience and in O, this point is proven to a greater extent. It was tiresome to follow everything that was happening because the dialogues were barely audible, the score often too loud and overshadowing them. Not to mention that only a few select portions of the film have subtitles, so there’s no other option left for the audience but to intently try to listen to the incomprehensible gibberish uttered by the characters, to no avail.

For a film that showcases some experimental aspects, O’s success is heavily depends on its ability to relentlessly assault the senses of the viewers. However, because of the poor sound design, the experience felt incredibly lacking, unable to properly establish its creative rhythm. It doesn’t help that the cinematography, particularly the lighting, isn’t top notch either. At times, sequences were shot too dimly that it’s difficult to figure out what was happening on screen. A good film exhibits proficiency in both sights and sounds and how the two work together; O, unfortunatelyhas neither.

Content-wise, the film initially had a promise of Booba-esque nonsensical hilarity, and there are glimpses of comedic brilliance at some moments, but Dayrit doesn’t fully commit to the film’s wasak mood and tone. The edgy narrative and style quickly lose their charm and by the third act it felt like Dayrit had run out of ideas to keep the film engaging. He opted for an almost melodramatic finish which doesn’t fit well with the rest of the film, sticking out like a sore thumb and leaving a weird taste in my mouth. Dayrit ends up being a victim of his own gimmicks, unable to keep up with and sustain the energy of his film.

Amid all these problems is the threesome of Anna Luna, Lauren Young, and Jasmin Curtis-Smith, the leads who are desperately trying to keep the film afloat its own puddle of mess. They provide the film some sort of emotional resonance, especially Luna who was magnetic in her portrayal of a funeral parlor intern and closeted necrophiliac. The choice to shoot most parts of the film inside a studio was also interesting and further heightens the impact of the photographic exterior sceneries, their stark contrast providing feelings of suppressed freedom and bittersweet desperation.

Still, no amount of brilliant acting or ingenious production design can save this dull and noticeably unpolished horror-comedy-confusion hybrid. The opening credits mentioned that the screenplay was rejected during the 2015 Cinema One Originals Film Festival and I can’t help wondering if it should have just stayed that way.

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