Saturday, October 31, 2015

Heart String Marionette (2012)

I wish there were more films like those of M Dot Strange, as I enjoy not only these kinds of movies period, but also their existence. It's always nice to see creative sparks in all genres, no matter how weird or niche. Heart String Marionette definitely fits those bills, and is exactly as bizarre as its creators reputation suggests...

In a strange world of puppets, a lone hero named Samhaine Tsuke comes into existence to help a little boy who may be his brother. In search of an evil clown, the hero is struck down, but comes back, teaming up with an irreverent stripper, Siouxsie Silen, and Tatsuya, a boastful yet skilled archer. Samhaine continues his quest, determined to find this malevolent clown, and stop the evil machinations of Lord Wor...

Heart String Marionette is more straightforward than Strange's previous film We Are the Strange, but it's still a wildly surreal film. It's a postmodernist tale that's very much up to interpretation. It doesn't really get off to a good start, marred by poor acting, seemingly pointless bizarreness, and a story that feels both nonsensical and taking a while to get to a point. This all improves, thankfully, but it's not a good first impression. The point where the film started impressing me more was the encounter between Samhaine and the monster attacking Siouxsie, about 20 minutes in. From then on the film starts feeling more ordered. Still weird as heck, but it feels less like 'weird for weird's sake' and like there's more of a point behind everything, as well as a more consistent story, with the more surreal and narrative-bending elements fitting in more when they appear.

The pace is one of the weakest parts of Heart String Marionette. Sometimes it's good, but then we get long lulls where not much happens, and even good scenes that are too long. They don't feel overlong but not much actually happens in them, making them feel like time wasters. Because of this it takes a while before certain characters either get introduced, or interact properly with the rest of the cast.

When it comes to the more artistic and thematic elements of the story, it wasn't entirely successful to me. The biggest issue is that there's too little context. It's hard to make one's own interpretation of events when the story takes place in a totally fantastical world filled with elements we know nothing about. Some stuff gets cleared up as the movie progresses, but a lot doesn't too, and it feels a bit unfair, like being expected to write an essay on a film-within-a-film that we were never shown.

The scene when Samhaine approaches Lord Wor's castle is where the story really starts coming together in a satisfying way, despite some of the reveals come a little out of left field. Things start to decline afterwards though. The events that occur just seem weird, like a soap opera level switcheroo involving parentage, which flips around more than once, culminating in a devil killing diversion that ends up being entirely pointless and serves no role in the story, besides echoing an earlier line.

Finally, the ending is a bit of a mess. First it's a real downer that just stops mid-scene, and we're treated to the end credits, but once they end, the the movie keeps going, finally delivering a satisfactory climax, despite the absence of an important scene (I'll explain later). This whole wrap-up left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, particularly the near-exclusion of Siouxsie. There are some neat moments in the denouement, but it feels like it needed a little something more given all the themes at play, to wrap up the story better.

The three protagonists are an ok bunch, with some positives, and some negatives. Samhaine is brooding and flowery with his prose, but that's intentional, and it helps that his prose is well written. Siouxsie is pretty insufferable most of the time, and at any point where she almost becomes interesting and endearing, the movie stops bothering. Tatsuya appears only very sporadically in the first half, but is a ball. He's the liveliest and most fun member of the cast, and it's a shame he shows up so late, because he gets in some really good interactions with the other two heroes.

The villains appear less, and are less interesting. They don't really have much motivation besides being evil, and Lord Wor is confusing at the best of times.

The animation in Heart String Marionette is mixed. In some parts it looks really good, and in others, not so much, such as characters jerkily wobbling when they shouldn't. There's a neat stop motion effect to a lot of the film. Regardless of the sometimes not-so-good quality, I not only applaud the effort (this was all done by one man after all) and the creativity to visualise this bizarre and dark world. The direction is not without fault, but it has its moments, with really neat cinematography.

The dialogue here is really interesting in some places. Some of it is deliberately cliche and traditional, which works for what the story is emulating. It also wears its inspirations on its sleeve, paying homage to works such as Berserk ("A man takes up a sword to protect the wound in his heart..."). Some lines are quite a chuckle, too, but others feel a bit on the asinine side to say the least, and the instances of swearing feel really forced.

The acting is over-the-top, and enjoyable in places. JP Anderson delivers an interesting performance as Samhaine, while Asil Aceves is good in the very different role of Siouxsie, albeit sometimes grating (which I put down more to the writing than her performance). M Dot Strange himself voices Tatsuya, while Ricky Grove as the villainous Lord Wor is low-key, but dangerous, Also nifty is that Mindless Self Indulgence lead singer Jimmy Urine is in this! He's only in it for one scene, but he definitely gets time to shine as The Body. The actor playing the mysterious child is pretty awful though!

The score to Heart String Marionette is fantastic! It's an eerie and effective score that permeates through the whole movie, adding so much mood and character. If there was no music in the film, it'd be a bit of a drag.

Because of...reasons, the original score is no longer a part of the movie, and it's current form as the 'Uberector's cut' has a different score, by M Dot Strange himself. Thankfully I love the current score, and think it fits in really well, complementing the movie and its atmosphere perfectly. It's also not as loud and screechily annoying as the original one was (of what I've heard from it, all I can say is 'Ouch, my poor ears!'). I definitely recommend you watch this alternate cut, however it's purportedly missing an important scene that ties the whole final battle together. I say purported not because I haven't seen this scene but rather because I did, and didn't really understand what was going on.

Even down to the neat title, Heart String Marionette is a really good film! It's not flawless at all, but if you enjoy surreal odysseys, and as long as you remember to stay all the way through the ending credits, you may well enjoy this gloomy oddity and what it has to offer...

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