FILM REVIEW: THE CRESCENT
THE CRESCENT has to be easily one of the most bizarre and stunning genre films I’ve seen this year. Coming out of the 2017 TIFF Midnight Madness program, THE CRESCENT has all the makings of a cult horror film, if it could just get out of its own artsy way. The film is somewhere on the abstract spectrum between the colorful works of Dario Argento, and the nightmarish insanity of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. It’s a beautiful, albeit frustrating film.
THE CRESCENT begins with a mother named Beth (Danika Vandersteen) and her young son Lowen (Woodrow Graves), as they mourn the passing of his father. The first act feels like it was ripped right out of a giallo film from the 1970’s. It’s full of strange camera angles, forced perspective, and seemingly random shots of beaches, trees, and Beth’s breathtaking artwork. Beth is an accomplished artist in the world of “marbling” and it seems that the film took most of its creative cues from the artwork itself. Marbling is an art form you’ve probably seen before, but didn’t know what it was called. It’s when various paints and colors are dropped onto a liquid plane, such as water or oil. The paint spreads and flows into various patterns as it’s placed into the liquid. While a variety of different tools are used to push the paint around, it creates an almost “marbled” appearance. The film shows us countless ways in which the art is made, maybe too many. The film has no shortage of these sequences, and it’s quite amazing to watch. One of the more sinister looking marbling tools is actually used as a weapon at one point, but I’ll leave that bit for you to discover.
The film feels European, and had the production team opted to add film grain to the finished product, I might’ve believed that the film was made decades ago. Even the dialogue and scripting feels improvised, with an almost ADR quality reminiscent of so many giallo films. There is just a sense that something is “off” as the film finally starts to divulge some narrative. Beth and Lowen decide that in order to process their new reality without a patriarch, they’re going to move into the breathtaking Crescent House on the beachfront somewhere in Canada. The house is absolutely stunning and seems like it was made in some kind of Frank Lloyd Wright fever dream. The home holds many secrets, and Beth and Lowen are about to find out what that means.
Beth and Lowen investigate their new surroundings when, almost immediately, a series of “neighbors” appear to offer help with anything from learning the area to babysitting. Some of these neighbors seem strange and otherworldly, as we discover that most of them are spirits roaming the land around the Crescent House. The house is located on the tip of a false bay, and the bay has been the cause of countless shipwrecks and tragedies over the years. The “neighbors” are spirits looking to use Beth and the young child as a means to re-enter the world of the living. This is as close to a through-line narrative that I could find, as the majority of the story relies on symbolism and abstract art segues.
This brings me to my main issues with the film. The actor playing Lowen is maybe three years old, and his dialogue is nearly incomprehensible. The movie is so abstract that having Lowen be the focus of the story almost makes sense. In fact, the story was so strange and difficult to follow; I actually posit the idea that the story is told from the fractured mind’s eye of a three-year-old child. Nothing is as it seems, and time and space seem to shift seamlessly…as if from the perspective of a toddler trying to make sense of the world he’s been thrust into. If this is the case, bravo! That was some next-level genius shit by director Seth A. Smith; If not, the film is indecipherable for roughly ¾ of its entirety. I did feel like my mind was searching for meaning within the frames, and that was the best I could manage.
THE CRESENT is a beautiful piece of film making as an art form. Story structure aside, the film is filled to the brim with beautiful images that are a feast for the senses. I don’t know that I can tell you exactly what message the film is trying to convey, but it’s a sight to behold. The cinematography and editing are masterful, but the film failed to land a meaningful connection for this writer. If nothing else, I’d say that the film has sparked an interest in the art of marbling, and I’ll probably look into the medium for my own creative expression. That being said, films are meant to tell stories, and I’m not 100% sure what that story is here…But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t beautiful to look at.
“THE CRESCENT has all the makings of a cult horror film, if it could just get out of its own artsy way.”
2 out of 5 Tombstones…