When was the last time you remember being absolutely blown away by the visuals in a movie? Not the huge-budget explosions of a Fast & Furious movie, or the creepy blue CGI aliens of an Avatar, but the actual look of a movie?
Today I had the absolute pleasure of watching one of the best short films I’ve ever seen. Turner Stewart and Dionne Copland’s Computer Hearts tells the story of Albert, a miserable man who hates his miserable job, his miserable fiancé, and his miserable life – with the exception of one part of it: His computer. Well, more specifically, the computerized anime avatar on an adult website he visits.
Sometimes a movie is perverse and filthy for nothing more than the sake of shock value. At the start of Computer Hearts, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It starts off moody, but innocent. Albert (played by co-director Stewart) and fiancé Vanessa (Alix Miller) are having dinner, and appear to be arguing. It’s muted, and like the entire film, the music and sound during the opening is fantastic; it’s dark and sets a tone right off the bat.
As the cut of the film I watched is only 28 minutes, (the “Director’s Cut.” Versions range in length from approximately 20 minutes, to the work-print 60 minute cut) there is not much delay before we’re introduced to Albert’s secret – an obsession with his online fantasy, a Hentai maid avatar he’s created with the screen name, conveniently enough, of Vanessa2. The obsession leads to his unraveling, as his fiancé leaves him, he loses his job, and the only thing he has left is his computer. His addiction. His literal sex box – complete with perky breasts and a wetness meter.
Therein lies the secret of this film, by the way – it’s dirty as hell. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what kind of film I’d be watching as it got started. Was this just a more trippy, Troma-esque, David Lynch-style version of the Hollywood film Her released a couple of years back? Turns out, sort of. Although the premise is somewhat similar in that a man falls in love with a virtual girl, things stray violently from there – right towards the Troma trash and those Lynch trips.
Visually, as I mentioned earlier, the film is perfect. Quick editing, amazing color (and black & white!), and brilliant sound and music make dream sequences all the more gritty. A particularly fantastic scene has Albert dreaming of masturbating in the bath tub, with some very dark and disturbing imagery, as we watch him give a “handjob” to a piece of tubing, which eventually leads to an ejaculation of dark liquid all over his own face. The tubing tightens itself over his face, and we smash cut to…awake in a pool of spilled water. Lynch would be proud – or more so, probably John Waters – but hey, I certainly don’t remember Joaquin Phoenix doing anything like that in Her.
With effects by Michelle Grady (Ryan Nicholson’s Gutterballs, Dead Rising: Watchtower), Computer Hearts really shines in its prosthetics. They’re silly to see, but not in an embarrassing way – they are just so entirely brutal or blatantly, overtly sexual that you can’t help but enjoy. From turning a desktop computer into a literal vagina, to bare-handedly removing a penis, to the great The Fly/Toxic Avenger-inspired final creature transformation, everything throughout the film looks just awesome. It was actually unexpected that they were as great as they were – until I saw Grady’s name in the end credits, of course.
Everything from the story and the script, the music by Graham Trudeau, and the great, stand-out performances all around, including co-director Dionne Copland, who made the film with Stewart, and performed the voice/lip duties of Vanessa2. Giving Rocky Horror’s Patricia Quinn a run for her money. Bravo, Dionne.
I can’t say enough good things about this movie, and I cannot wait for its Blu-ray release, coming soon and being self-distributed by the director’s Hentai Cop Films. (The version I watched, presented through online service Vimeo, was in high-definition, and the film definitely benefits from it.) Look for it soon. You can also check out Hentai Cop on Facebook.