HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (6/23/13) -Just got back from the Big Biting Pig premiere of Lucid, PJ Woodside's provocative new thriller. Judging from the crowd, which was huge, I'd say the film is a success.
The movie is absolutely unique the way it weaves its spell. A Hollywood feature would never even attempt what PJ does because she doesn't follow the usual formula for a thriller. PJ invents her own formula, applies her own visual language, and never wavers in the confidence of her choices. The effects she creates are at times dazzling. She pulls off moments that seem offhandedly startling. Later, after thinking about the movie, the complexity of these off handed moments, in terms of story and idea, gradually sink in. Though a couple of shocks at the very beginning announce certain possibilities, the movie doesn’t announce where it’s going and what it intends to do. We meet the characters and share intimacies; relationships are divulged and past action is hinted at. Using the simplest of means - sometimes it’s just a simple edit - PJ will pull the rug out from under us, then, just as easily, returns us to something that seems normal. The story then emerges as the experience of the film intensifies. It’s all very tricky, with a series of unexpected, sometimes shocking, surprises punctuating what at first appears to be a rather normal life being lived. But - and I don’t think this is in any way a spoiler - right away you realize that nothing is as it at first seems. Let me put it to you this way, merely opening a door in this movie can produce a traumatizing effect.
Not only that, but PJ's performance, playing a rather insightful therapist, is maybe the very best she's given in a BBP show. More then just her striking red hair and fashion model make-up, she transforms herself into this other woman; you see it's PJ, but it's not.
A actress named Brittney Saylor plays the one who needs a therapists, carrying our interest and, in fact, the entire movie on her shoulders, with the kind of ease you expect from a seasoned player. Looking on IMDB, I discover this to be her only credit. Let me amend that: her first credit. Surely there will be more to come.
This is the first time I've seen local actress, Megan Jones, in a big role, and I could easily become a fan. She has this incredibly relaxed concentration that seems so easily achieved, her reactions jump off the screen like the unexpected bit you discover watching actors improvise. She has this wonderful way of getting a joke or something humorous across, without letting you know that something funny is coming. Craig Angel plays her husband. They are both big people and, in a very real way, they look like they, quite happily, belong together; which is an observation that extents to the way they play off each other. Craig is so low key, his manner so casual, that you believe him utterly; and with Megan as his foil, they are so perfectly genuine that you find yourself wanting more. (Maybe someone should make a movie for these two to star in.)
Michael Coon plays the boyfriend and, again, like the others, he rings true, even in moments that cut deep, deeper than anyone could possibly expect. At the root of things .... one might say.
Scott Cummings, a gifted, often brilliant actor I've known for years and have worked with before, plays Dr. Aaron Knight, otherwise known at his "Wake Up" rallies, as the Sandman. Scott has got a real showy part; he gets to yip and yell. He puts on his salesman's face and sells his very expensive Lucid Dreaming program with evangelical grace. What's even more amazing is how he gets across some of the film's more complicated ideas without us realizing that he's doing all that heavy, expositional lifting.
What's remarkable about the Big Biting Pig movies - if anyone reading this has been following Steve Hudgins and PJ's work, you'll agree with what I'm about to say - is how the level of acting in the movies have developed from film to film. Look back only a few years to the way I'm twitching and making faces as Dr. Franklin Grimm in Maniac on the Loose, and realize just how far the company has grown! (Including yours truly: I’m certainly less of a hambone in Spirit Stalkers!) When you see other regional films at Frightfest in Louisville, for instance, it's often the level of performance or an annoying tongue and cheek approach to violence or the horror genre in general that betrays the quality of the work. Steve and PJ will be tongue and cheek if the material is such (as it is in Maniac on the Loose or in Steve's disarmingly horror-comic Goatsucker a few years back), but in a movie like this one, where viewers are being asked to believe in the characters as real human beings, the goal is decidedly to create action and behavior on the screen that's drawn from real life. The fact that I can spot not one performance in Lucid that's off, from the main performers to the folks who simply walk on and say a simple line, shows amazing growth and is a testament to the constantly developing sophistication that forms the basis of their approach and vision.
Lucid is PJ’s third film in four years as writer-director-editor (with Hudgins as co-editor). In all three films, from Widow, to The Creepy Doll, and now Lucid, she focuses on a main, female character, all three with something in their past that creates psychological distress. The story in each chronicles circumstances that intensifies the distress, leading to irreversible actions and violence. PJ’s women are troubled before the different movies begin, their actions express the final consequence of things, real and/or imagined, in the past. Her women all live in ordinary, suburban environments, often in relationships that at first glance seem normal. Or if not exactly normal, at least recognizable. At the beginning of each film there’s no way one is prepared for where these women end up and what’s left in the wake of their actions.
What this points to, and what’s significant, I think, is that we’re watching the development of an artist in this regional setting. PJ works from instinct, with a knowledge of storytelling craft that she’s learned from writing prose fiction. She watches other movies, but is not compelled to copy their form or even style. Since her company, with Steve, Big Biting Pig being a regional, low budget film company, her responsibility is to her own integrity as a writer-director; unlike those locked up with huge budgets and the kind of Hollywood interference that comes with all that money, PJ only has to please herself, and in doing so, develop her skill in the craft as she progresses. Consequently, she is free to explore new ways of telling a story, new ways of engaging the attention and imagination of her viewers, the Big Biting Pig fans. If the films are at times uneven, it’s not because she’s somehow failed. It’s because she dares to be different, and in doing so, there’s always that risk. And, I would think, without the risk, there would be no learning curve; the two come hand in hand.
This is the exact process that energizes the entire form and it is the reason that regional film making, which is happening all over the world, will someday be seen as a driving force in cinematic art. There is no way a Hollywood company could make Lucid, but PJ and Steve can make it because they have their grass roots audience, fans that have been watching, and in some cases participating in the work, from the very beginning. A Big Biting Pig event, like last night’s premier, is special because those who attend are coming to see not just a movie, but their movie.
The fact that Steve and PJ have developed this amazing relationship with what has become a constantly expanding, grass roots audience is a rather special and totally amazing accomplishment.
Just as Lucid, with its challenging narrative, is also special and amazing.
Read an interview, conducted by Nick Faust, with Bill "Leatherface" Johnson below:
Facing actor Bill Johnson in person can be an intimidating experience. He is a very big man; over six feet tall and appropriately wide. A large space can seem small when he’s there, filling it. On the screen, he’s big guy, for sure; very big. In his most famous screen role, playing Leatherface, in director Tobe Hooper’s second Chainsaw Massacre movie, Bill not only fills the screen, he sets it on fire with all the colorful passions that only a love sick, mentally handicapped giant, with a stitched together face mask and a phallic-like chainsaw, can ignite. This enigmatic actor bring an incredible humanity to that role, a softness that, in life, is as disarming as the actor’s own voice. Instead of the big boom you expect, he hear a calm, soothing baritone; resonant and musical, seemingly pitched, word by word, from an inner score that registers, to anyone near enough to hear him, great intelligence and extraordinary sensitivity.
Nick: You started to study acting for the stage, and began your career with a touring children's theatre, and recently performed your one-man show, the couch potato piece. I would imagine you're a powerful presence on stage. Are you still interested in the theatre as an actor? Any stage roles recently?
Bill: Most recent is Learning Curve, my one man show about a couch potato who seeks community/fellowship/healing/effectiveness and adding to to the world's well-being. But finds out that The truth must get out and kill everyone as soon as possible. Which seems incongruous with a generally overall cosmological cool thing as the universe, but what did he know; Really and Truly? So, he explores the topography of god from his couch and is surprised to find this approach works just perfectly from anywhere, including couches and that god is good as you can imagine or otherwise.
Nick: What kind of roles did you find yourself cast in back when you were doing plays?
Bill: Power person or funny person, sometimes both at once.
Nick: I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with a friend and we both left the dark auditorium feeling as if we'd been assaulted! Certainly, it was more comic then the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that didn't minimize the power of its Grand Guignol effects, made even more disturbing by the film's relentless driving pace; a Hooper hallmark. After working on the film, did you know how strong it was, how powerfully disturbing?
Bill: one can only hope for something as wonderful as "powerfully disturbing" and I thought that "something" very usable was in there somewhere.
Nick: How often are you tempted to re-watch it, yourself?
Nick: What occurs to you if or when you do watch it now?
Bill: I feel comforted to have been part of an artistically and beautifully made film de la horror.
Nick: Talk about working on Lucid with Big Biting Pig.
Bill: I fell into the arms of a full fledged company of actors among a cadre of cinema artists and had a great time with all. I felt cradled by the angels of theatre. When it happens I really like that a lot. It's a sign of a very mature, healthy organization. Which Big Biting Pig Productions is very high quality artistry and output that I’ve been seeing.
Nick Faust is a local actor and director who has done it all. He has worked on theatre and film projects all over the world. The Sugg Street Post is happy to have Nick contributing in-depth movie reviews and will continue to share them with our readers.
Sugg Street Post
Written by Nick Faust