Back Against The Wall

This opening-night program of the eighth annual Chicago Underground Film Festival gave me my first taste of the work of James Fotopoulos, an energetic experimental filmmaker in his mid-20s whose morbid preoccupations with sex and horror have already been getting him some attention from serious critics. His third feature is a black-and-white narrative shot in about a week for $26,000, and the simple synopsis provided for itA group of people struggle to obtain power through sex and violencedoesn’t hint at the long takes from fixed camera positions, surveying a variety of grim midwestern locations, or the layered and sinister industrial sound design. The centrifugal and somewhat confusing narrative has something to do with a few women who work in lingerie modeling, showing off their outfits to older men (the conspicuous absence of sex and nudity is balanced to some degree by the stripping and masturbating of the model in Fotopoulos’s accompanying 2000 short, Drowning). Many writers have linked the filmmaker to Lynch and Cronenberg, but a heavily made-up grotesque who becomes prominent toward the end reminded me more of Tobe Hooper. The most interesting thing for me is the film’s abrupt ending, which proves how difficult it is to anticipate what Fotopoulos is up to. 94 min. (JR)

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