Monday, 2 August 2010

Seeing Heaven

2010
Dir. Ian Powell

While searching for his twin brother, young escort Paul embarks on a dark and dangerous odyssey through the lurid netherworld of male prostitution and the porn movie industry. All the while he experiences bizarre nightmares and orgasmic visions – shared by his clients when they have sex with him – of a mysterious masked stranger who holds a morbid interest in him… Can Paul find his long lost twin and unlock the riddle of his perplexing visions before it’s too late?

Ian Powell’s atmospheric and provocative gay art-house horror unfolds as an increasingly nightmarish mystery filtered through the candy-coloured lens of Mario Bava. High-brow allusions to the likes of Narcissus and various other helplessly self-destructive figures of mythology pepper the narrative, not only in the arresting images, but in the story itself. Figures such as Dorian Grey, the doppelganger and Jekyll and Hyde are referred to as Powell works through a series of complex personal ideas about identity, beauty, mortality, fate and tragedy.

At the heart of Seeing Heaven pumps an intriguing mystery involving the search for a twin brother through a bizarre dream world that seemingly exists in reflections and can be fleetingly glimpsed in mirrors and puddles by protagonist Paul (Alexander Bracq). It is revealed to him through his dreams and the intense visions he experiences when he orgasms. As an alluring male escort, he tends to orgasm quite a lot! Much in the same way that Cronenberg’s Crash used its sex scenes as the main narrative thrust (sorry), so does Seeing Heaven. With each sexual encounter, Paul learns something else about Saul and catches a longer glance into the bizarre dreamscape his brother seems doomed to dwell in; thus gradually fuelling the mystery before the inevitable peeling away to reveal the truth.Powell takes his time getting to the reveal, opting for a slow-burn trawl through this moody, twilight world.



The often intense sex scenes mesh with the unnerving flashes and visions of a creepy masked figure, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the figure of the killer in Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Indeed the stylistic influence of Argento and co’s Italian giallo movies is clearly evident in the mysterious stalker’s fetishistic wardrobe. While the film is elsewhere also visually inspired by the likes of Argento and Bava and the whole giallo tradition, the film itself is not actually a giallo – it isn't even a murder mystery as such - it simply pulls in elements of that sub-genre to offer audiences something genuinely intriguing and striking. The haunting and ethereal score courtesy of Ken Watanabe, coupled with the visually arresting imagery of the dream sequences, combine to invoke a vivid atmosphere right out of the Golden Age of Italian horror, conjuring dark dreams and memories of Bava, Argento and Martino. Visually speaking, Powell seems particularly influenced by the A Drop of Water segment in Bava’s anthology, Black Sabbath. His dazzling filmic canvas pulses and glows with the same eerie beauty and haunting style.

The abundance of mixed-up and confused characters that populate the story - including Baxter (Lee Chapman), a film director desperate to break out of porn; Pan (Anton Z. Risan), a sensitive psychic who feels Paul is not what he seems; and fellow escorts Zhivago, Carlos and Griffin (Denton Lethe, Maximo Salvo and Chris Grezo) - are all on their own quests to find something that is ultimately unattainable. Most characters find themselves inexplicably drawn to Paul – some feeding off his apparent innocence, vampire like – others genuinely falling for him and attempting to help him solve his mystery. The cast provide restrained and measured performances that enhance the dream-like tone. Along the way Powell’s script offers a plethora of ruminations on beauty, aesthetic value, the soul and escapism through art, flesh and sex. Lots of sex. Powell also delves into and explores the murky and very real dangers of working in the escort/porn industry, with the dangers of unsafe sex and the spectre of AIDS ever prevalent. These vulnerable Adonis’s seem to flit about in a shady netherworld, doomed to repeat past tragedies and mistakes over and over again like Sisyphus or Loki.

Powell tantalises us with the mystery, and it soon becomes clear we will have to be patient and allow him to guide us languidly through his narrative and to become immersed in the story in order to get to the bottom of events. At times some of the dialogue becomes a little repetitive and the sheer volume of characters further slows down the action, but its obvious Powell cares deeply about all of them and Seeing Heaven has obviously been a profound labour of love for the filmmaker.

An intriguing blend of Bava-like visuals, provocative concepts and unnerving thrills.

Seeing Heaven will have its European Premiere in Belfast at this year's Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival on 28th August.

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