If David Lynch, Jonathan Caouette, and David Gordon Green held a house party, "Wild Tigers I Have Known" would be the beat that they dance to.
"Wild Tigers" is abstract, interpretive cinema following the lead set by Gus Van Sant's recent forays into the unknown distances of the mind. Short filmmaker Cam Archer makes his feature-length debut here, and the fingerprint of performance art is pushed deeply into the skin of the picture. "Wild Tigers" is difficult to watch, yet undeniably hypnotic.
Trailing the exploits of a junior high student named Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) who's coming to terms with his burgeoning homosexuality, "Wild Tigers" doesn't follow a clear narrative; instead it shadows Logan around as he develops crushes, lustfully interacts with his daydreams, and deals with the social burden of fixation. It's fenceless cinema; a wondering journey of acceptance and fear from a filmmaker who would rather bathe his frame in atmosphere than sharpen his story to an insightful point.
While it lacks the bouncing-ball hypnosis of a Lynch film, "Wild Tigers" nevertheless compiles a restless series of interesting artistic choices, underscored with an uneasy flow of pre-teen sexuality and humming metallic scoring that keeps the film on edge. The viewer fears for Logan's ascension to excruciating self-discovery, yet lulled in by his freewheeling dreamworld. Archer hypothesizes that the junior high boner is the first step toward a lifetime of heartache and peer humiliation, and his argument is a vivid one.
Unlike Caouette's tedious "Tarnation," Archer knows better than to rest easy in the ooze of self-involvement. There's a world for Logan to explore, which is the best effort this film makes at an actual story and rounded performances. Fariuza Balk co-stars as Logan's frustrated mother and Kim Dickens portrays the boy's knowing school counselor, and their varsity acting presence is welcome, along with their star power. After all, as brave as Stumpf is, he's not always the most technical talent around.
Archer has an itch to lay on the outcast symbolism pretty thick, best personified in a subplot featuring a mountain lion that Logan senses a connection with. The director also overplays his hand with some Lynchian spider web imagery that, if toned down, would've made a much more disturbing impact.
It's an abstract ride of growing pain skeet-shooting, but if you like your cinema to color outside of the lines, "Wild Tigers I Have Known" presents a kaleidoscopic voyage of hazy images, uncomfortable sounds, and screaming urges.
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