It seems like it wasn't that long ago that I found myself sitting down with Joe Badon's cinematic wonderfuck The Blood of the Dinosaurs, an Indy Film Fest official selection that we knew up front was a prologue to something bigger and hopefully even better. That something, as it turns out, is The Wheel of Heaven, a feature-length cinematic wonderfuck that plops us back down in Badon's world and practically demands our complete surrender.
I will admit that I struggled at first with that surrender, a unique and inspired opening catching me off guard, Badon's episodic approach to storytelling both fiercely compelling and impossibly complex.
Yet, the longer I found myself watching The Wheel of Heaven the more completely I was able to surrender to it, a surrender more than a little inspired by Kali Russell's bravado work in multiple roles and Vincent Stalba's return as the off-kilter but mesmerizing Uncle Bobbo.
It would be difficult, maybe impossible, to fully describe The Wheel of Heaven and perhaps even less likely to ascribe meaning to it. As we enter Badon's universe, we're invited, in essence, to choose our own adventure just as Purity (Russell, in one of several roles) will be choosing hers. While it would be easy to say that these disparate scenes don't make sense or aren't connected, such a conclusion is wholly inappropriate and the film's meaning, choose your own really, becomes more evident as each adventure is revealed. When I reviewed The Blood of the Dinosaurs, I mentioned the film's devotion to a reality-tinged absurdism into which we become immersed. In many ways, I continue standing by that description with The Wheel of Heaven. The film explores both intimate and universal issues and invites us to determine for ourselves impact, interpretation, and our actual experience.
It's bold filmmaking and it's likely only for those with an appreciation for the experimental side of filmmaking.
Russell is glorious here, handling each scenario with a sort of abandon that is simply a blast to watch. I would easily sit down with the film and watch it again simply to observe her various performances.
The same is true for Stalba, whose work I seem to be seeing more of these days and whose work is intuitive, inspired, and just plain exciting to watch.
While the ensemble is tremendous, The Wheel of Heaven really also excels in terms of production values. It's worth noting that this is without question a low-budget indie, yet Daniel Waghorne's lensing is phenomenal and Maura Lindsey's set design is absolutely inspired. Original music by Badon and Jason Kruppa, who also co-wrote the film, is atmospheric and wonderful.
There's so much to love about The Wheel of Heaven, a uniquely envisioned film vividly brought to life by Badon and his cast and crew. It's the kind of film where every little thing that happens matters and paying attention is of the utmost importance. As I wind down my 2023 film viewing, The Wheel of Heaven earns a place as one of my most uniquely satisfying movie experiences of the year.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic