For the Plasma
Directed by Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan
July 21-28 at Anthology Film Archives
In its obvious, 16mm love for wilderness, its desire both to capitalize on and dismiss tradition, and its stubborn refusal to cohere, For the Plasma is a very American production. It’s also a tiny, independent first feature, co-directed by Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan, which means that anyone watching or writing about it will feel both invested and responsible, the way a parent might feel when a bright child with an interest in architecture convenes the family outside to show them its first self-made project: a birdhouse with six and a half walls and a roof made of barbed wire, attached with brackets to the family car.
The movie is monstrous and glad about it; it’s testing you, watching for your reaction. Nominally set in the Northeast, by the sea, For the Plasma really happens in the American countryside between Twin Peaks and New Penzance, toggling with puckish glee between cryptic/uncanny and precocious/adorable. This is the plot: two blonde girls are staying in a secluded house, where Helen (Rosalie Lowe) has a vague job watching for forest fires, and has invented for herself even vaguer work in financial forecasting: like the nation’s earlier entrepreneurs, she looks at trees but sees money. Charlie, an old acquaintance (Anabelle LeMieux), is called in to help.
But the plot doesn’t matter; the lively score (by Keiichi Suzuki) doesn’t matter; the occasional other characters—a wacky lighthouse keeper, some foreign businessmen—don’t matter either. Bryant and Molzan delight in demonstrating how little any specific variables matter, but also refuse to dispense with them. The resultant heap of non-sequiturs (the acting itself, for example, stylized but differently by each actor; Charlie’s Persona haircut; an interminable football game borrowed, a friend suggested, from The Room) leads not to sublimity/absurdity, but to exhaustion/frustration. Watching might feel like being wrapped in barbed wire while listening to birdsong. But if that sensation isn’t yours, suggest another; if your movie fails, make one more; in the words of an exemplary American, if failing to fetch at first, keep encouraged.