Over the last few years I’ve paid particular attention to the works of Writer/Director, Dustin Mills. Most of you probably haven’t heard of him, but he’s been behind films such as “Bath Salt Zombies”, “Easter Casket” and one I reviewed a while ago called “Skinless” aka “The Ballad Of Skinless Pete”. I suppose most of his films fall under the Horror genre, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t ventured into other sub genres, and done so quite successfully. He usually tries his hand at everything, and given the low-budget nature of his films I can respect his work ethic and usually the end result. I recently purchased a copy of his new experimental film “Applecart” from VOD (video on demand). Applecart is a silent film that’s shot in black and white. Paying particular homage to old films of the 1920’s. It has a 56 minute running time made up of four sexually motivated segments.
It opens with “The Sleepover”, where a young girl invites a “friend” over for the night. This potential girl on girl scenario peaks the curiosity of her perverted father, in turn making the mother extremely jealous. It has a Shakespearean and dark comedic feel, leading to a very tragic conclusion. Following that is “Caretaker”. A young nurse arrives at a home to take care of a young man’s wheelchair bound father. She spends the night trying to entice him sexually, going to the lengths of inviting her boyfriend around to have sex in front of the elderly man. The third section is titled “Dad”, it sees an extremely religious father react to his daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, this is close to the best of the bunch. Lastly, in “Let Me Show You Something” a young factory employee has a crush on a co-worker but refuses to do anything about it. His best friend decides to take matters into his own hands, leading to devastating consequences for all involved. The film stars Josh Miller, Dave Parker, Erin R. Ryan, Brandon Salkil, Haley Jay Madison, Allison Egan and Joni Durian.
Whether you agree or not, it can’t be denied that Mill’s Applecart is a breath of fresh and original air. It’s definitely experimental, and to the average viewer probably rather bizarre. The core fetishes are very raw and the screenplay is rather perverse, but I suppose that’s the intent and if that style of film making isn’t for you you’ll probably know almost immediately (haha). Most of the budgets of Dustin’s past projects have ranged anywhere between $1,000- $5,000. Applecart feels a lot more polished and the production value is massive. I estimate the budget to be between $10,000- $20,000, but don’t quote me on that. On the Aesthetics alone, this film appears to be aimed at fans of old 1920’s cinema while still managing to keep the modern flare of an Arthouse film. This is seemingly inspired by Filmmakers like the great Charlie Chaplin, and even some of D.W Griffith’s early work. I absolutely loved the decision to shoot this one in black and white. I don’t know much about equipment or lenses etc, but I do know this captures the nostalgia of a very specific time, but by the same token keeps the feeling contemporary. The shades look fantastic, and when juxtaposed with the smooth panning and wonderful shot choices, everything comes to life. As I previously mentioned, this is a silent film accompanied only by that classic piano based score you’d often here in 20’s films and theater productions. It’s very lighthearted and often upbeat, in complete contrast to the seedy nature of what’s happening on-screen.
The lighting is another thing I’d like to touch on quickly. Once upon a time TV and Film was only in black and white and it wasn’t a concern, you had a lot more room to hide with your technical aspects than you do these days. I dug the use of shadows in this one. Techniques like half lighting someone’s face, or using a silhouette in the background etc, it’s amazing how a few small things can enhance the whole look. Each of the characters wears a mime mask, so as to embody that we are often feeling emotionless at the time of making questionable choices. Personally I think it was more to allow the actors and actresses freedom to explore the theme and not to be judged for it. Either way, the masks were a nice touch and I commend Dustin on approaching it that way with his cast. Though there isn’t any dialogue, everyone plays their part well and carries the level of confidence required to do something like this successfully. For example, the film opens up with a rather voluptuous and buxom girl fiercely pleasuring herself (I’m not sure it had its place, seeing as though none of the segments had actually started at that point haha). Credit goes to everyone involved for bearing all, in one way or another. Majority of the actresses either get partially naked, or in some cases even fully. Don’t worry ladies there’s several shots of the male reproductive organ too (they don’t play favorites haha). Most of the sexually charged scenes aren’t that graphic in content, just a little uncomfortable so I’m giving you a heads up.
As in all of my reviews but this one in particular, the following section is open to each individual’s interpretation and limits. Applecart is essentially a piece of art that will be received in completely different ways, depending on what each viewer hopes to get out of it. I wasn’t a fan of the familiar audience clap track that’s ongoing throughout most of the film. A similar technique has been used in some of David Lynch’s short’s and it doesn’t do anything for me. For the most part its associated with comedy, and regardless of the intent here most of what I saw didn’t feel funny. “The Artist”, was a movie which incorporated a few subtitles for when something important was being said. I felt that might have been useful here. I’m not saying you won’t get the gist of what each short entails, but it wouldn’t have hurt to get inside the characters a little more. The other technical thing that irked me was the gradually intensified, static sound effects used in transitioning between scenes or segments. It’s a grating noise that’s totally unnecessary and sounds like you’ve got audio issues. I’m not sure how to interpret the recurring theme of apples, and it’s representation to the title “Applecart”. It’s only a scene here and there where someone is eating an apple or cutting one, so I don’t know??. Another reviewer quoted, “Dustin upsets the apple cart by stepping outside the conventional core ideas of what Horror usually is”, or something to that effect. I won’t read too much into it, personally I think it’s just a name (haha). I don’t want to criticize the film just because of its unsavory content, which includes nudity, sex and an ejaculation scene. Film is just one art form, and I’d imagine a very cathartic way to express certain ideas or feelings and I don’t want to deter that process. From a personal point of view though, and due to my limited life experience I couldn’t really engage in this. It’s very well made, but I struggled to find any context relating to a broader idea. In the end I thought “Let Me Show You Something” and “Dad” were the two most relatable segments of the four.
I was glad I got the opportunity to watch Applecart. I like that it’s comprised of four different segments, and runs under an hour giving you some kind of variety. Early on I got a vibe similar to that of Lynch’s mini series “Rabbits”, Aesthetically anyway. With its focus on black and white, careful lighting and smart shot choices, it’s a visual feast. The cast was solid and chose to put themselves out there, and the 1920’s inspired piano score accompanies the tone well. Applecart’s voyeuristic and perverted players are reminiscent of characters in Director, Larry Clarke’s film’s “Ken Park” and “Destricted”, probably more the latter. Unfortunately I couldn’t relate to most of the content in any of the stories, I also saw far too many penises for my liking, fake or not (haha). I figure if your feeling uncomfortable at any point throughout this, Dustin’s probably done his job partially and that’s a good thing, but it’s not everything. My opinion is there’s so much to a successful film, regardless of what others think as long as you do what you’ve set out to do, you can’t go wrong. Applecart’s a difficult movie to judge fairly and honestly depending on what tickles your fancy. I feel I’ve done my best so all that’s left to do is for you to see it for yourself. I look forward to more projects from Dustin in the future, keep up the good work!
You can stream the film for 24 hours for under $4.00, please support indie films here’s the link https://vimeo.com/ondemand/35781
My rating for “Applecart” is 5/10