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Simon Read [Celluloid 04.23.19] horror thriller

With his first feature writer/director Quarxx has literally expanded and built upon his short film A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky, turning it into All The Gods In The Sky. The result is a bold psychological horror film dealing in themes of madness, guilt, mutilation and alien invasion. It's a film which will impress some and madden others, but it won me over perhaps just for its sheer audacity and weirdness. It is probably not a film with which to relax over a nice cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, but if you do take the plunge you'll be rewarded with one hell of a trip.

The story concerns Simon (Jean-Luc Couchard), a factory worker from the French countryside who, along with his severely disabled sister Estelle (Melanie Gaydos), resides in their now dilapidated family estate. As children they fooled around with their father's gun one day, and a terrible accident occurred. Estelle remains bedridden and mute, and Simon continues to blame himself for her condition. This guilt, along with the pressure of continuing to provide care, is driving him out of his mind.

Taking a slow-burn approach, the film's slightly fractured narrative sees Simon struggling to balance his work with his home life, and initial signs of his crumbling mental state take the form of images of outer space - the sun, the Earth from orbit, distant visions of far-off star systems. These curious science-fiction-style cutaways juxtapose with the character's relatively mundane life, but during meetings with health professionals and confrontations with his superiors at the factory, we can see that Simon is rapidly losing his balance. When he begins to create vast crop circles in a local field, we gather that he is preparing for something...

Couchard's performance here is admirable. It's an unforgiving role, as he must project anxiety, frustration and increasing paranoia at every turn. Additionally, in what is ostensibly, or at least initially, a passive and non-speaking role, Gaydos does an exceptional job. Estelle's feelings are somewhat obscure as she reacts with subtle, considered mannerisms and eye movements to her brother's controlling demeanour and occasional outbursts. We know that she ought to loath this man responsible for her condition, but how can she when all he wants is to save her? I count myself as a fan of Gaydos' work, and I'm thrilled she's getting such interesting and challenging roles. She is magnetic.

Quarxx fills the screen with bizarre and arresting sounds and images. As Simon falls deeper into madness he suffers almost Lovecraftian visions and hallucinations. His radio and television broadcast otherworldly transmissions late at night. We see flashbacks to a tortured adolescence. He is a haunted man. How long can he convince the world, and himself, that he is still sane? When a social worker arrives to assess Estelle's living conditions and quality of life, we just know it won't turn out well.

If this is all sounding terribly intense and depressing, it is worth mentioning that there are moments of humour and tenderness amidst all the madness. A local neighbour, a mischievous young girl called Zoe (Zelie Rixhon), visits the estate and, with simplicity of thought that only a child possesses, befriends Estelle. She even manages to make Simon smile. Zoe acts as a reflection of Simon and Estelle's lost innocence, and her scenes are both touching and amusing.

There are patches where the film stumbles, occasionally flirting with self-indulgence. An extended epilogue feels like an afterthought, despite shedding light on some of what has come before; we don't need to see it, although we can understand why the director chose to include it. In so neatly wrapping up the story something almost feels as though it's been removed rather than added. For a film as consciously oblique as this, it doesn't quite fit.

All the Gods in the Sky is a genuine oddity. Films like this, bold and assured, risky and occasionally shocking, don't come along often. I get the feeling Quarxx is going to make some interesting films in the future. I can't wait to see more.

Recommended Release: Cthulu

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