DFF '15: Aaaaaaaah! (Steve Oram, 2015)

by Jason Suzuki

Not every film can be completely original and feel entirely singular. That doesn't hinder your enjoyment or engagement with a film or its ideas. But when you see a film that you feel is a work of its own with no clear reference points of prior works, you begin to want that from everything you see in its immediate wake. It's what Hitsohi Matsumoto's Symbol achieved and Steve Oram (Sightseers) has done it here with his directorial debut. After the film you will become an outsider to your own film going experiences, able to tell which films you should like but just aren’t clicking with. The feeling eventually wears off until the next film that shakes your perception of what a film could be, which is sadly too few and far between. Thanks to Oram’s film one of the films I need to give another shot is Crimson Peak.

The closest point of reference to the look and structure of Steve Oram’s film is the nature documentary. The high-concept is what if modern man acted like primates within the modern world of apartments, parties, shopping, and installing television sets. Actors grunt and moan, shriek at one another, and masturbate with a rat. It’s funny seeing people act like apes but it becomes really interesting when moments play out almost exactly as they would in regular life, just exchange the monkey talk for English and this would just be an extremely low budget British film. In terms of the nature doc aspect to certain scenes, the camera is foregrounded as a voyeur, at times not allowing itself to get too close to its subjects except through the use of zooms. Through essentially no dialogue, Oram and his fully committed cast are able to convey complex and warped versions of familiar interactions and family/relationship dynamics.

The main storyline we can discern in the film is of a household and the shifts of different alpha males competing for ownership of the house. Steve Oram plays the lead character, just coming off a break up (the act of breaking up involves him and his subservient pal urinating on her photo). Lucy Honigman plays the other lead, a younger woman who seems to long for something other than the three she lives with. Bored with the alpha that replaced her father after he couldn’t figure out how to fix the washer in the kitchen, her character is destined to encounter Steve Oram’s character. Very much a romantic comedy trope but you don’t realize it given the nature of the film.

The attention to detail in the film is astounding given the lo-fi nature of it all. This is much more than a group of friends acting it out at someone’s flat. Oram creates cooking shows and sitcoms the characters watch, he invents a racing video game which utilizes oversized motorcycle handle bars as controllers. Text in the film are combinations of slashes and zeros. The film just seems to be a continuous stream of clever touches, from more world building ones like the above mentioned examples to moments where you realize what typically human interaction is being filtered by the ape acting and what typically ape interaction is being filtered through modern human society. Even extra-diegetic touches like the score match the off-nature of the film, like it was made in this alternate world by ape-like filmmakers. Featuring the music of various King Crimson Projekcts, the music is perfect for the film. You are seeing and hearing something bold and singular.

If you only see one film at this year’s Denver Film Fest make it this one. If you only see one film for the rest of the year this one should be a contender for what you choose when complying with the ridiculous hypothetical situation in which you watch only more film this year. It’s a film that challenges what you thought was possible with film, despite how simple and sketch-esque the premise is, and it makes you excited for the potential of movies, especially ones made for very little money and in a short span of time but with a whole lot of attention to detail. With that, Aaaaaaaah! receives the mark of Editor’s Choice.

Aaaaaaaah! plays Friday, November 6, 11:30 pm; Wednesday, November 11, 9:00 pm; Sie FilmCenter.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.