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Reflections of Evil

Reflections of Evil, 2002

Bob (Damon Packard, who also wrote and directed) is a seriously overweight and food addicted man living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. Having lost his sister Julie (Nicole Vanderhoff), to a drug overdose and having fractured his relationship with his mother (Beverly Miller), Bob now wanders the streets of LA selling cheap knockoff watches. Alienated from the people and culture around him, Bobís experiences in the city grow more and more distorted.

What even did I just watch? Yes, that is an endorsement.

I think that thereís a glut these days of movies that are low budget that coast on being weird or just throwing whatever at the screen. Often, ambiguity can simply be a way to deflect criticism about things that make no sense. What is undeniable about this film, however, is the degree of craft and intention, even when that intention runs fully counter to what most people would consider the elements of a good movie.

This movie made me laugh incredibly hard, even as it also made me incredibly sad. In one sequence, Bob visits Universal Studios where he ends up on a ďrideĒ that is a recreation of Schindlerís List. Park visitors are hurried off of a tram by Nazi-garbed teenage workers, while a voice over an intercom instructs them ďleave your luggage on the platform. Leave your luggage on the platform.Ē Very funny, very dark, and just one piece of the greedy, indifferent world that Bob sees when he looks around him.

Almost every spoken piece of dialogue in this film is overdubbed, often seemingly by Bob/Packard himself. When it came to about 95% of what happened in the movie, I could never be sure if what was being said to and around Bob was real, or simply what he imagined those people would be saying about him or to each other. Spoiler: none of it is particularly kind.

Hereís kind of an aha moment: this movie made me think a lot of the first act (that I LOVED) of Beau is Afraid---asking the question, what does it mean to be mentally ill and anxious if the people around you really DO intend you harm and the world really IS a terrible place? Aside from the ghost of Julie, Bob receives no kindness in this film. He is harassed or threatened by people on the street---many of whom are clearly grappling with their own demons. He is treated with contempt by police officers who humiliate him on the street.

And that subjective overdubbing is intense. If you donít already suffer from misophonia, you might by the time this film is done. If you do suffer from misophonia, this is probably not a film for you. Every bite or drink that Bob takes is loudly overdubbed into booming NOMS and SLURPS, an amplified sensory punch that will be familiar to anyone who has ever grappled with the self-loathing that comes with overeating or stress-eating.

But for everything in this film that pushes you away, there is so much personality behind it and so much wicked humor that it keeps you watching just to see what will happen next. While the main character is the epitome of slobbiness, the film is far from it if you look past the superficial. As Bob enters a house during a storm, a character on the television also has her hair blown back by a strong wind. The ever-present jabber of pop culture echoes or amplifies what is happening to the main characters. It is incredibly on point, like a collage of emotion and imagery. And, again, this movie is really funny. ďBob, I canít take you in again. I need my chocolates for my Mah-jong club!Ē, or a demented dub-over of the E.T. ride at the theme park in which E.T. is actually Pookie, an ancient alien whose glowing finger is a tragic sign of his radiation sickness.

I donít really have any criticisms of this one. At times when I was watching, it felt like 140 minutes was going to be a long haul, and yet I was surprised when it was over. There are oodles of off-putting things in this film, but they are all intentional. And, further, while its depictions of mentally ill people and/or unhoused people are very unflattering, it doesnít seem to come from a place of mocking them. Instead, it seems like a criticism of a city/society that will see a man on the ground bleeding and just step over him on their way to wherever. The use of stereotypes in the voice-overs is one thing Iím still mulling over, but itís complicated by the highly subjective nature of the whole movie. Significantly, one overtly racist character is not dubbed. Something to ponder on a rewatch.

I would never in a million years have watched this if it werenít a recommendation. Iím glad I checked it out. The synopsis makes it sound like a horror movie, but really Iíd consider it a dark comedy. It certainly wonít be for everyone, but I say give it at least 30 minutes to work its magic on you.