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DVD SAVANT

I Pass for Human


I Pass for Human
Arcanum Entertainment
2004 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 103 min. / Street Date Oct 31, 2006 / 19.95
Starring Joshua Cox, Eleanor Whitledge, Eva Scott, Jennifer Ciesar, E. Shepherd Stevenson, Terri Laird, Bryan Small, Iris Berry, Mary Woronov, John Diehl, Chris Shearer, Elke Hill, Jack Hill
Cinematography Brian O'Connell
Production Design Quito Cooksey
Film Editor Lynne Marguiles
Original Music Danny Carey, E. Shepherd Stevenson, J.G. Thirlwell
Produced by Richard Foos, Lynne Marguiles
Written and Directed by Chris D.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This DV direct-to-video horror film was made by Chris D., an American Cinematheque host and personality long connected to the Los Angeles music scene. As such it has more than the expected positive angles going for it -- mainly a powerful music track and some good casting. The story is stronger than the execution but D. manages to instill his show with a pervasive L.A. drug scene malaise. I Pass for Human sounds more like a science fiction film than a drug oriented horror picture; taken as a street-level DV feature, it's not bad.

Synopsis:

Jane (Eleanor Whitledge) is despondent because her heroin-using boyfriend Dax (Bryan Small) has O.D.'d. Another user, Dax's sister Mila (Jennifer Ciesar) introduces Jane to Rick (Joshua Cox), ostensibly so they can comfort one another: Rick's lost his sweetheart Azami (Eva Scott) the exact same way. As it turns out, Rick is already compromised by drug use and crime, having helped Azami cover up for a murder before she died. Rick and Jane are soon using together, scoring their drugs from the same source as Mila. They soon share a common secret: Dax reported seeing dead people before he died, and both Rick and Jane experience visions of their lost partners behaving like zombies or vampires. Even Jane's drug counselor Dr. Larraz (Mary Woronov) thinks there might be some basis to the idea that drug victims remain among the undead, deriving a vicarious high by haunting the living users left behind.

I Pass for Human's rather clever concept envisions drug use as a force literally pulling the living toward an undead existence. As drug users often hallucinate to such a degree that they cannot distinguish reality from their private fantasies, a junkie seeing a ghost comes as no great surprise; even alcoholics rationalize their D.T.'s. The wrinkle in I Pass for Human according to its director and producer is the connection between the drug state and the kinds of haunted alternate universes made popular in modern J-Horror films, where ghosts or demons look more or less like ordinary people.

The initially resistant Jane succumbs to despair and takes her first hit (precise drug terminology escapes Savant), opening the door to a user universe that she shares with those already passed on from drug overdoses. The phantom girl Azami (her name at first sounds like "a zombie") appears loitering in graveyards, or is seen out of the corner of one's eye in mirrors and doorways, like Catherine Deneuve's hallucinations in Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Jane soon discovers that all of her associates are users, and are quickly joining the ranks of the undead. The irresponsible Mila and the weak Rick cave into their needs without protest, and Jane follows suit. The story becomes a series of killings and suicides; Jane's circle of addicts knows all about the haunted zombie afterlife but simply don't care.

This story is the strongest aspect of I Pass for Human, as the DV feature only intermittently finds expressive ways to tell its story, mostly around the effective horror moments with hands grasping at Jane from under furniture, or the wraith-like Azami appearing in incongruous surroundings. Ghost stories need stylized settings and precise visuals, and the limited resolution of DV doesn't always cooperate with the director's aims.

Although the characters are cleanly conceived, the acting is uneven. Bryan Small is an effective brain-addled musician, the first to report that he sees dead people. Jennifer Ciesar is somewhat forced as Mila, the most destructive of the addicts. Established actor Joshua Cox is fine as Rick, expressing the necessary mix of self-doubt, concern and shame as he leads Jane towards the drug habit. Eleanor Whitledge has the central role and almost brings it to life. She's a bit inconsistent in her line readings and her decision to follow Dax into addiction seems a plot necessity rather than a personal choice; this may be a fault of the script. We're also not sure how the leading players make their livings or how they afford their apartments and drug habits, details explained in the disc extras.

Cult figure Mary Woronov has a passing stint as Jane's concerned counselor while director Jack Hill has a bit as Azimi's distraught father. Some of the cast appear to come directly from the music scene; the drug dealer played by E. Shepherd Stevenson contributes to the score.

I Pass for Human has the catch-as-catch-can look of a DV feature shot on the street without permits; it's unfair to hold it to the same criteria as an expensive studio picture. As a producer Chris D. has backed his story with good rock tracks from noted musicians and groups: The Birthday Party, The Flesh Eaters, The Hangmen, Lydia Lunch. The cues are used wisely and some suspense moments benefit from good scoring. Although this ambitious horror film is not entirely satisfying, it can boast a creeping feeling of doom missing from other gore-oriented direct-to-video features.

Arcanum's DVD of I Pass for Human has a well-encoded enhanced widescreen image and clear audio; cinematographer Brian O'Connell's camera wanders many dark hallways but never descends into the grainy murk of lesser DV efforts. Chris D. and his producer/editrix Lynne Marguiles share a candid commentary remarking about their cast, the locations and what they think influenced them, without making outsized claims of achievement -- it's a listenable track free of self-promotion. Besides a video trailer and a still gallery, the extras include Chris D's college student film, a fragmented horror opus filmed on Harry Houdini's estate in Laurel Canyon. Chris comments on that as well as three short deleted scenes from I Pass for Human, none of which seems particularly necessary.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, I Pass for Human rates:
Movie: Good and of interest to DV filmmakers
Video: Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by the director and producer, deleted scenes, 1972 Chris D. student film, trailer video, still gallery.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 14, 2007




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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