Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart
March 9th, 2018 - Review by Paul Burch
This is a virginal experience with the films of Mickey Reece. It's a name I’ve seen many places the past year or two. Mickey Reece’s ALIEN in particular has showed up in many fronts, with many friends even mentioning that they’ve heard of it. For an independent film that is truly independent, this marks Reece out for one of super indie film’s more distinctive auteurs. After watching his latest feature STRIKE, DEAR MISTRESS, AND CURE HIS HEART I’m on-board with the idea that he is and while influences are worn proudly, they’ve never imitated beat-by-beat on the drama, its pathos, nor the way all falls into place. Reece could easily be compared to David Lynch but even Lynch’s ideologies were in an alternate plane. Lynch, for example, might not have one of his films exist as a film in another world (as a movie poster on a bedroom wall does here), but I don’t think Lynch would also be brave enough to place a poster of Oliver Stone’s U-TURN with Scorsese’s RAGING BULL and Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE. I would, but we’re mutually insane people probably.
I’m not sure if Stone’s film is indicative of the film’s subtexts. Reece’s blueprint feels more like AUTUMN SONATA, in the same way some films in the past have formulated entire rehashes to character dramas done by Ingmar Bergman. Again, no imitation here. Just a blueprint. What Reece does, instead, is approach the story in a way that heightens the sense of artificiality. There’s a theatricality here that is stylized. Not just in the dialogue, and the way the actors actually deliver these lines, but in the way Reece makes decisions for the characters beyond just verbal cues. For example, our heroine (if we can call her entirely that, but I feel empathy enough on Reece’s part to agree) seems to have taken her wardrobe and dark, straight-cut bangs from Anjelica Huston in Nicolas Roeg’s THE WITCHES. Even the lighting involved in the cinematography, often reminiscent of a tongue-in-cheek response to the glowing portrait eyes of Masterpiece Theatre. It could also just be a nod to the BDSM type imagery one could get from The Velvet Underground’s song “Venus in Furs”, which the film’s title alludes with its title. Whether or not there’s one sole purpose for this character’s design doesn’t matter when the performance by Mary Buss has shaded her with enough sincere, yet campy, poignancy that places all aesthetic intent into a corner. In a strange way, through the stylization, Reece’s own urgency is still felt. There’s a lack of pretension in his directorial choices and a self-awareness that can make or break a piece of work.
The plot? Oh yes. The plot. Have you seen Ingmar Bergman’s AUTUMN SONATA? That, with vomit. There’s a mother-daughter relationship, and there’s a disabled sister. In Reece’s twisted neo-remake, we have a heated married couple: Madeline (Audrey Wagner) and David (Jacob Snovel) Middleston; a choice of last name that I’m sure I assume was bitingly intentional. The couple have taken a historical hotel under their wing, leaving way for bizarre situations that may or may not exist on the realm of supernatural (it’s never, I don’t think, fully explained), however these are things that mostly come to fruition upon the arrival of Audrey’s mother, Dianne (played by Mary Buss, one of two Buss’ in the film) starts to unstitch wounds previously only held together by repression. The film follows as these wounds come open - often in nightmare scenes that invoke perfume ads crossed with Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN. This could at first be seen as a detraction, but even the best-made perfume ads don’t touch Reece’s layers and transitions. The fades don’t feel natural, and the sound work is heavily bass-driven. Through these, we seem to get ideas into exactly how distant the mother and her daughter have become.
There are major emphases on visual representation of emotions, rather than restrained. It flirts a chaotic line between traditional narrative storytelling and surrealism. As an example, the narration here (done by Reece muse Cate Jones) treats the material novelistically. At times, when dialogue is spoken, she’ll add a cheeky “she said”/“she quipped” - and they pause as if to wait for a laugh track. This is a familiar touch, if still an underused one; and for a film so founded in Reece’s imagination, it’s one attribute of self-awareness that grounds an infrastructure that’s otherwise idiosyncratic. There’s also a transfixing theme of religion running through, as well. How stagnant has Dianne made herself as a character? Are we to even assume? By the light, she seems to be finding peace somehow, even if she can’t find it in any traditionalist fashion. If anything, this parallels Reece’s own approach to an otherwise traditionalist melodrama. You want artificial? Here it is. And often, the fake means more to us than what we can possibly even contribute to just “authentic” storytelling devices.
STRIKE, DEAR MISTRESS, AND CURE HIS HEART is the kind of surrealism that isn’t weird just for weird’s sake, but actually feels congruent to the familial melodrama. Reece definitely has cultivated a distinct voice, a distinct pattern and a hypnotizing approach.