Hypertensive is the first word that comes to mind after having watched writer/director Matthew Packman's latest film Morbid Colors, a film that feels as if it's going to awfully weird but is almost jarring in its normalcy.
Shot in Southern Illinois and Indiana, Morbid Colors possesses that part of the country's sense of rural isolation and occasional isolate desperation, a sense that even when you're connected you're not really connected.
The film centers around two young adult foster sisters, Myca (Kara Gray, Payton's Burden) and Devin (newcomer Lanae Hyneman), young women who have lived hard lives and who've grown up to cope with that hardship in different ways. Myca's a manipulative druggie, the kind of woman you wouldn't leave alone in your house and who has a chip on her shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon. Devin, on the other hand, has seemingly drowned her woes in music and seems, at least on some level, capable of something resembling human connection.
The two don't seem to like each other much, but it's clear they love each other in whatever ways they're capable.
It ain't much.
From its opening moments, Morbid Colors will make you think of Romero and Jarmusch and, strangely enough, it even reminded me a bit of 1987's The Lost Boys. For the record, all of these things are compliments.
When Myca blows the opportunity to be the drummer for Devin's band due after vomiting blood onstage, we learn the truth or we learn the truth the way Myca understands it. After an encounter with a wealthy socialite, Gloria (Cindy Maples, Random, 10/31), Myca believes she was turned into a vampire.
That would explain an awful lot. Or maybe not.
Part of the joy of Morbid Colors is that there are reasons to believe Myca and there are reasons to believe that these are just the delusional ramblings of a drug-addled mind. Morbid Colors doesn't show its cards quickly and Packman's script makes our journey with the film as unpredictable and meaningful as is the journey that unfolds for Myca and Devin.
It's that journey, really, that's at the core of Morbid Colors as Myca declares the only option to be the tracking down and killing of Gloria.
Morbid Colors is a dark and brutal film, though not necessarily for the reasons that might be readily apparent. It's a vampire film, that's for sure, but it's so much more that to dismiss it as simply a vampire film is to miss its entire point. Morbid Colors is a road trip film. It's a film about the bad things in life and the people that we so often call bad people. It's about the things we miss and the things we dismiss.
Morbid Colors is about all of these things.
The film benefits from strong performances from its co-leads.
Native Hoosier Kara Gray becomes instantly intriguing. Having appeared in such projects as Payton's Burden, How to Sit In Church, and The Gospel Writers' Autographs, Gray here serves up the gospel of stark humanity and primal rage. It's a gut-level performance that keeps us invested in Myca no matter how unlikable she becomes.
Devin is, at the very least, an infinitely more likable soul played with vulnerability and unspoken loyalty by Hyneman. In her debut performance, Hyneman appears to be a natural with a performance that speaks volumes even in her body language. While it's a more sensitive performance in many ways, you can easily identify the ways in which it's obvious that both Myca and Devin grew up together and carry those same wounds.
Cindy Maples is strong as always, her Gloria enveloping the screen when she's on it and carrying that certain swagger that lets you know that there is, indeed, much more going on with her and with the world around her.
While these three largely dominate the core of the story, Morbid Colors has a mighty fine ensemble cast.
If Morbid Colors is hindered by anything, it's a sound mix that suffers from those inevitable challenges of indie filmmaking. It's a relatively minor concern, though occasionally a noticeable one.
On the flip side, Packman's lensing for the film is dynamite. Morbid Colors has an otherworldly aura set smack dab in the midwest with kickass original music by Daniel Roach.
Having begun its festival journey in February, Morbid Colors has been on hold as COVID-19 takes a bite out of the 2020 festival season and sucks the life out of both indie and wide release cinema in the interim. As restrictions ease up, one can only hope the film will find the festivals and audience it so definitely deserves.
For more information on Morbid Colors, visit the film's official Facebook page linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic