UK Release Date TBC
Tabloid Vivant is a film which starts off with an offbeat jazz tune before diverting into brutal murder and then back to wacky rear projection car driving scenes, while occasionally throwing in a few graphic inserts of magazines and restaurant menus to add a little zest. You might think this sounds like some kind of wacky comedy caper about oddball artistic types shacked up in the woods together with a dash of horror just for good measure. But this is only partially true. Tone is a major issue here and while stories like Frank and Inside Llewyn Davis have tackled similar material on the nature of art and artistic temperaments recently, this doesn’t really have the same kind of focus. Instead they’ve opted to throw in all kinds of other ideas to see what will stick. Fame and fortune versus creativity, creators versus critics, art versus audiences… and paintings that are… alive? So it goes without saying that not all of this works.
Sara (Tamzin Brown) is a writer for an arts magazine who finds herself over stepping certain professional boundaries after meeting Max (Jesse Woodrow) a painter claiming to have revolutionary methods. It all sounds a bit like painting by numbers to her, and that’s because his explanation does come across that way. But after dropping her current boyfriend to write about the the process she becomes the subject for this radical portrait technique. They will both finds themselves putting a little too much of themselves into the project as things progress. The romantic conflict is element is dropped early on, and in places it feels like scenes have been cut. Rob (Chris Carlisle) is introduced during a flashback in the first act as Max’s friend during a bit of Valentine’s Day drama, and seems to be a main character. But by the end I had forgotten all about him until a last minute reappearance. Pacing and structure are more than a little off balance here.
In terms of style it’s just about as mixed, with flashes of the actual film script appearing on screen in places while in other moments black and white photography is used. Art is supposed to be arty is that the idea? It’s pretty distracting when everything else is played deadly serious. The cast are all fine but it’s as though these visual gimmicks have been added in place of real quirky performances to make things feel zany. Unfortunately the dialogue is half domestic bickering and half technical jargon. As Sara says herself in one easel side discussion ‘who’s gonna care about all this abstract talk about pixels?‘ as if she’s asking on behalf of the viewer. All kinds of debate about digital media and colour theory are covered, and it drags things to a halt more than once. We just want to know how the paintings are moving… and what kind of effect it’s having on their grey matter when they stare into that soupy canvas.
In terms of horror the atmosphere is generally lacking, and it doesn’t help that the sinister artwork itself is just a digital animation effect that looks like they’ve taken Shepard Fairey‘s Hope and merged it with other images by morphing everything into squares. There’s a lot of time spent hiding this off camera with characters reacting to what they see, and at first I thought they must be imagining things since the pictures Max has created are never shown in frame with the actors. But it really is just a weird living, mutating bunch of paint and it’s never explained beyond all the endless theory dialogue. Something as strange and supernatural should have been shown having slow effects on the artist and the subject, but it’s mostly rushed at the end without a lot of conclusion. Putting your soul itself into a project is a really neat idea but the execution is not really effective.
Max and Sara have some characterisation but it’s not really fleshed out beyond surface delineation. The tortured artist complains about his plight as well as his relationship problems, and the fussy journalist struggles to get the drafts down for her publisher in time. All that initial murder stuff adds a lot of Black Dahlia imagery to the proceedings, hinting at darker things to come as Sara visits locations linked to the real life crime. However it doesn’t really go anywhere or have a pay off later, making Sara’s more obsessive and narcissist side feel like a tangent without enough grounding in the story. While the characters reel off lines about vanity and creativity, the films itself is left without that much to say.
When things really go off the deep end it seems to be heading somewhere more interesting but the last few scenes are pretty brief without much to add. While the love triangle rears its head for a quick bit of melodrama, all the visions, ill health and compulsive behaviour never really form a solid plot line or a memorably creepy experience. If the characters were more deranged and the pacing was more brisk it might have potential, but like the experimental canvasses in the story it’s all feels a bit messy and unfinished.