Movie Review: Impolex
Impolex, directed by Alex Ross Perry, is a stripped down, intellectualized throwback to the classic midnight movies of the ’70s.
The defining characteristic of midnight movies is that they feature an overly determined, yet slightly befuddled main character wandering through an absurd universe, e.g. the great gunfighter El Topo taking on his spiritual betters; filthiest person alive Babs Johnson defending her title in Pink Flamingos; devoted lovebirds Brad and Janet having their relationship tested by Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and Henry Spencer trying desperately to hold onto his independence in Eraserhead.
In Impolex, Tyrone S. (Riley O’Bryan) is a World War II soldier wandering a forest, searching for unexploded ordinance. On his travels he runs into different odd characters, some Tyrone recognizes, but they feign ignorance of his existence; and others who claim they know him, yet Tyrone fails to recognize them.
Other than Tyrone are two main recurring characters. One is a talking, philosophical octopus — a special effect using an actual octopus corpse. The other is more human: Katje (Kate Lyn Sheil), a mysterious woman whose appearances eventually trigger what is either a flashback or a flash-forward to a happier time where the two once-upon-a-time lovers reminisce about their time together, which actually leads to tragic memories for Katje.
However, memories are certainly unreliable throughout the entire film. No character seems quite sure of his or her own purpose in life and nobody ever remembers their previous interactions with each other. Everyone is left to drift aimlessly in his, her or its own absurd universe. Although we are primarily told Tyrone’s story, it’s easy to imagine every character existing in their own unremembered, parallel worlds.
Where Impolex differs from the midnight movies that have come before it is that filmmakers such as Jodorowsky, Waters and Lynch created very concrete worlds in which they manifested their ruminations of existence. (And, yes, I’m considering Pink Flamingos a deeply philosophical film on the nature of identity.)
Perry, on the other hand, gives us an obtuse, undefined reality. Beyond Tyrone’s soldier uniform, there is no effort to make the audience believe the film actually takes place during WWII. (It also helps that O’Bryan’s face and hair makes him naturally look like the perfect WWII soldier.) The entire film takes place in a generic forest that could exist anywhere and at any time in the world. There is no evidence of war or devastation.
Yet, by not suggesting that the film takes place during any other time, we do end up believing that Tyrone is actually wandering the German countryside in the ’40s. There’s really no reason to believe otherwise. Even the appearance of the talking octopus doesn’t take us out of the reality we think the film exists within. Yes, we can assume that the entire scenario of Impolex is Tyrone”s or somebody’s fever dream, but Perry never gives any indication that this is so.
Well, more of a nightmare than a dream. One of those nightmares where some unobtainable goal is forever just out of reach. But, what is Tyrone’s true goal: The unexploded Impolex triple-zero bomb or to finally figure out what his place in an absurd universe is?
Like a true midnight movie, Impolex is a beguiling and mesmerizing film — one that you want to watch again almost immediately in order to start truly puzzling out its mysteries.
Watch the Impolex underground movie trailer: