Review: Fell (2011)
Review by Annie Riordan
Bill has 99 problems and yes, a bitch IS one. Specifically, the bitch in his bath tub, the one who’s face down, naked and very, very dead. He has no idea who she is, how she got there or if he’s even the one who killed her. He thinks he may have, but he’s not sure. That’s where the other 98 problems come in.
Bill lives alone. He’s lost his job, quit his band and been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Jenny. He’s also suffering from an unnamed but chronic mental disorder – possibly bipolar disorder, but it’s never confirmed nor denied – and his maintenance medications are really expensive. He also keeps forgetting to take them. Or is he taking too many? The days and nights run together in a disjointed blur as Bill shuffles back and forth from the body in his bath tub, to the radio in the kitchen, to the couch where he sits frantically trying to call Jenny, to the bed where his nightmares are indistinguishable from his reality. His only solace comes in the form of his buddy Derrik, who drops by at least once a day to perform a wellness check, i.e. delivering beer, smokes and pep talks to his disheveled buddy. Eventually, Bill confides in Derrik about the body in his tub. Derrik takes it in stride and the two begin discussing ways to dispose of it.
But something remains off about the whole situation, and Bill just can’t put his finger on what it is. Maybe it’s because he’s washing his medication down with beer. Maybe the side effects of the meds too closely resemble the disorder they’re designed to treat. Or maybe he’s just finally gone over the edge into total madness. Bill’s only other connection to the outside world is his radio. Except the radio seems only to broadcast from within Bill’s memories, repeating arguments and half-remembered snatches of conversation in endless loops, Mobius Strips of memory that come from nowhere, lead nowhere and explain nothing, frustratingly eluding his grasp. Both alienated and hypnotized by his own fragmented mind, Bill withdraws further and further…until the day Jenny finally shows up and the metaphorical puzzle pieces finally begin to piece themselves together.
I’ve seen very few films that manage to realistically portray mental disorders. They either go overboard with the psychosis, or they underplay the severity, or they get the medication part wrong, or some dumb thing. I partly blame med school for erasing my ability to suspend disbelief, but my own battles with Bipolar Disorder play a bigger part in my pickiness. It’s damn near impossible to explain to other people how the disease can manifest itself, creating swamps of despair from which escape is not an option, to bursts of viciously looping auditory hallucinations which sound very real, very separate from oneself, but still within the mind. In this aspect, director Marcus Koch and composer Kristian Day hit the proverbial nail on the head.
The score is a maddening loop of repeated notes, mechanical grindings and static skips that refuses to let up. It slowly and subtly materializes as its own character, an insidious presence determined to keep the needle stuck in the groove. The voices from the radio are indistinct, garbled, often bleeding over into another frequency. Even if the film hadn’t had a good cast of actors and a strong story, the sound alone would have made it for me. It’s a disturbingly realistic portrayal of the auditory hallucinations that bipolar people – like myself – occasionally suffer from. They’re loud, they’re repetitive, and they will not be turned off. And, much like Bill, I can’t afford the medication that suppresses them. Besides, those meds made me blow up like a Marshmallow Peep in a microwave oven, but that’s a whole other horror story.
Fortunately however, this film DOES have a good, strong cast of real people and is shot well in a beautifully distorted manner that could only be duplicated by taking a lot of acid and shoving yourself inside of a kaleidescope. The story had me guessing right up to the end, and lemme tellya – that’s not something that happens very often these days. I usually have a film figured out in the first five minutes. This one, though – it’s so hinky and freaky and off its meds that even the most stalwart fan of psycho cinema will be hard pressed in guessing what the final moments have in store.