Starring: William MacDonald, Bryce McLaughlin, Courtney Kramer, Earl Pastko
Director: Mark Tuit
There’s this brilliant bit of dialogue at the end of Todd Solondz’s bruising film Happiness.
One sister – older, richer, prettier – after breaking out laughing in malice at something her younger, less endowed sister has said, tries to placate her by saying “don’t worry, we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.?
“But I’m not laughing,? responds the sister who is the butt of the joke.
Of course, they are laughing at her.
This exchange jumped into my mind immediately after the credits started rolling at the end of Shelf Life. I was laughing at the film, but the film – deadly serious and totally lacking in any self-awareness – wasn’t laughing at all.
Shelf Life is a dreadful, badly written, dour, pointless movie and one of the worst I’ve seen in a while.
Saddled with poor lighting (you can hardly see what’s happening in any scene that takes place outdoors at night), smarmy, stupid dialogue, amateur special effects (these are the flimsiest looking body parts you may ever see on film) and a bad story, it’s hard to see what people could like about this film.
Shelf Life is the story of Martin Romero (get it? sigh), a professional Hard Man who goes around philosophizing on the nature of life and man’s place in it, while working for a multireligious secret organization that funds a war against some sort of vampire/parasite species living among, and preying on, humanity.
Martin is (of course) one of the few people who know the truth, and oh how it weighs on him. It weighs so heavy, in fact, that he’s a heroin addict (oooh. edgy). And when he’s not self-medicating and spouting aphorisms that sound like they’ve been written by a smart, but anti-social and immature computer programmer and would likely only be interesting to a stoned 16-year-old, he kills the vampire/parasite things.
Things get complcated when a yuppie couple, Ben and Julie, hit Martin with their car and he convinces him to take him back to their house to recuperate.
Once there, Martin implicates the annoying couple in his world, eventually trying to help them become hard-ass killers in the war against the things (whatever they are).
This is a dumb movie. The characters only ever act in the way that advances the plot, rather than in a way that would make any sense if the characters were real people. They speak in chunky exposition, like clay dropping out of their mouths. We are never given a reason to care about any of the characters or sympathize with their plights. We’re just presented with these scenes and, since the director cares about them, he assumes that we will, too.
But, like the sisters in Happiness, the creators behind Shelf Life seem so wrapped up in the idea that this is a good, interesting movie, they fail to provide the audience a reason to think so and don’t seem to see us shifting in our seats, waiting for the movie to be over.
(Dec. 8: A note from director Mark Tuit informs me that the version of Shelf Life screened at RIIFF was an uncorrected DVD and that both the sound and the lighting on the final version of the film will be much better. This would certainly address my problem with the exterior night scenes. Thanks, Mark)