Film Review

Strawberry Mansion

todayMay 30, 2024 31

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of David Lynch, lo-tech sci-fi, lightly philosophical yet humorous love stories

Sometimes names just stick with you.  That is the case of the star and co-director/writer of Strawberry Mansion.  The name I am referring to is Kentucker Audley.  His real name is Andrew Nenninger.  Quite a difference when you are trying to stay in someone’s memory.  Staying in someone’s memory is an actual theme in Strawberry Mansion, the second film that he has co-directed and co-written with Albert Birney.  I have not seen their first collaboration Sylvio, but after viewing this one, I am going to seek it out.

Strawberry Mansion is a low budget film that does a great deal with very little.  It has references to the work of David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, and other independent filmmakers but it also develops it’s own personality.  It tells the story of the near future where the government has developed a way to record our dreams and tax us for any commercial elements in our subconscious, such as trees or fried chicken.  Our dreams have become dominated and controlled by corporate entities  (not really a stretch from our current world.)  Kentucker Audley plays a dream auditor named Preble.  We begin the film in his dreams with his anxieties and concerns alleviated by his buddy (a computer generated corporate entity who brings Preble buckets of chicken and bottles of soda whenever he gets worried.)  This future world is very much a mixture of our current world as well as many past.  He drives a car from the 50’s and wears a helmet that could easily have been in a 60’s sci-fi film.  His next job is to find an older woman who has not been paying taxes for her dreams.  She is off the grid.  He finds her and in spite of his training and brainwashing starts to see the world from her perspective.  In fact, he may even be falling in love with her in her and his dreams.

The style of the film is most similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it also builds a world that is humorous and frightening.  It asks some of the same philosophical questions without being a carbon copy.  There is room for both examinations of these questions.

Like Michel Gondry, Audley and Birney do a wonderful job of using in-camera special effects instead of computer generation images.  It gives the film a retroactive atmosphere that effectively matches the character development and overall aesthetic.  In particular, I enjoyed the masks created for the creatures Preble encounters.  Very realistic and slightly disturbing.  Whenever he is in a dream, his glowing transparent body effect is also quite engaging in a Star Trek in the 60’s way.  Similar to the teleportation technique, it is distancing enough while also being familiar.

The acting is very strong, in particular Audley and the two women who play old Bella and young Bella, Penny Fuller and Grace Glowicki.  They look similar enough and do a wonderful job looking at Audley in the same kind way of understanding and empathy.  Linus Phillips is also a welcome menacing comedic relief as Buddy, the corporate creation that is always ready with a bucket of fried chicken to distract Preble.

The music is also a highlight for the film and is by Dan Deacon, who has also scored for Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt and for the television series The Changeling. Here, his score of synthesizer is hypnotic, soothing, and then disturbing.  For a low budget film, the score feels like it is for a much larger film, a credit to Deacon who builds the emotions of the audience to meet the story arc of the characters.

Strawberry Mansion is strong proof that if you have a vision for science fiction but have a limited budget, you can still create a world of wonder and imagination.  Audley and Birney do a fantastic job doing just that.  It is a believable world and the characters’ experiences represent so much of the human experience. It shows that you can do it with innovation and hard work.

Available to stream on PLEX and Amazon Prime

Written by: Gareth Jones

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