REVIEW: Symbolicus: Vol I (2021)


Synopsis: A collection of shorts from underground filmmakers from around the world.

This may very well be one of the hardest reviews I've done, simply because there is so much content in this film, and all of it varies wildly from one segment to the next, with no over-arching theme. So sit back and relax, as I do my best to break everything down into individual sections about each of the thirteen shorts - all of which are represented by a single symbol.

When I was watching this movie last night, I was also leaving live comments on social media about what my initial impressions were of each short. I'll incorporate some of those thoughts here as well. Let's get started...

Square (Dir. Patrick Fortin): This is one extremely trippy film, and as the opening segment, it's an absolute assault on the sense. Shot using a mixture of analog and digital video formats, I believe that this is probably the movie you have to watch as you pass through the gates of hell. Filled with some absolutely incredible visuals, this short feels like every scrambled porn you tried to watch as a kid, mixed with hyper-violence and completely crazy scene blends. Definitely an attention-grabbing opening to the mix.

Octagon (Dir. Joe Meredith): I made a mistake thinking I could eat dinner while watching this movie, and thanks to director Joe Meredith, I had to promptly discontinue that act. I swear this was shot with a macro lens as we are assaulted with close-ups of maggots and flies right from the jump, and it continues with some extra bizarre stop-motion puppetry of a dismembered head, complete with puking up what I believe were its own entrails. It's underground artistic filmmaking at its finest.

Star (Dir. Kasper Juhl): The first short with a clear narrative (and shot in HD!), to me this segment is a standout, and one of my favorites. A home nurse working an overnight shift invites her friend over as she takes care of Jim, a complete invalid who barely moves even to blink. He is a younger guy, and both women find him quite attractive, but doing an internet search of his name reveals a dark past. The pair go way overboard throughout the night, drinking and partying while harassing and molesting Jim. Things become awkward when the friend tries to make a move on the young nurse, and the night turns much dark and more violent than could have been anticipated. This is a great story told very well in a short amount of time. 

Spiral (Dir. Michael Todd Schneider): Another narrative short, in Spiral we're introduced to a couple chatting via Zoom. He's away for work, she's at home in his house. It's clear he's been drinking, and an unnerving conversation takes place. Accusations of infidelity are thrown around, but as most people would do regardless of the situation, she denies everything. This short turns perversely arousing very quickly, as the viewer is suddenly shown a masked woman masturbating. Then a masked man. It's not long after this, that someone meets a violent end, but it's hardly what you're thinking. I would have loved to see a longer version of this short. I think there's a lot more to tell in this story...

Pentagon (Dir. Marcus Koch): As is mentioned in the dialog, this short is the very definition of "heroin chic." Marcus created an off-putting quick-bite with this short, detailing some graphic heroin abuse. I felt like I was watching a documentary made by a mental patient and starring a junkie. It's high-art that is dirty and disturbing, and even being as short as it is, you feel dirty for what you just witnessed. 

Hexagon (Dir. Jonathan Doe): I loved this segment so much, and even within its highly simple story, it is brilliantly done. A completely nude woman with a head that resembles a giant vaginal opening scoops a bowl of water from a running brook, and carries it into the forest. When she reaches the perfect spot, she unrolls a piece of burlap filled with very tiny human fetuses. Burying them in the fertile ground along with some seeds will develop them into full-grown babies. This is decidedly not what I learned in sex ed. It's a strange tale, but one that cannot be missed. This segment also features the most shocking thing I've ever seen in an underground horror movie: a nude woman with a normal body type and no tattoos. 

Question Mark (Dir. Gurcius Gewdner) This subtitled short is quick and hilarious - and I say that hoping to God that it was intended. A man proceeds to explain to us, through voiceover, that his obsession is necrophilia, specifically with a cat, but the whole segment is the guy just humping everything around him, rubbing entrails over his crotch, and detailing how incredible it is to have sex with dead things. I laughed until I cried. 

Circle (Dir. Matti Soikkeli) Speaking of humping everything, this foreign segment also features quite a bit of sex, but far less comedic and substantially more violent. If rape and necrophilia are not your thing, this is not the segment for you. I loved the simple FX used here, basic but brutal. From a story standpoint there's not much to tell, but I will mention that there's a great payoff that shows a bit of normalcy in the life of someone clearly quite sadistic, and it definitely gets you thinking about the kinds of people who are out there, the horrific things they do, and how normal their everyday lives probably are.

Infinity (Dir. Jeff Shedden) I was quite surprised to see a stop-motion animation short in here, but low-and-behold, director Jeff Shedden brings us a great one. It's a mixture of The Twilight Zone and the Matrix, and its a fun story told quickly, although I'm sure it took ages to film. What was extremely unique about this one is that while the main character is a three-dimensional character made of clay (albeit crudely designed with no features), most of the others are flat, one-dimensional drawings done in colored pencil. It's a break from the violence of some of the other shorts, but you know what? We do get some hand-drawn nudity for your pleasure. 

X (Dir. James Bell) The second this short started, I could tell it was directed by James Bell. If you're familiar with his other films, or his FX work, you know it just has a certain look. X is no different, and it jumps us right back into the excessive violence. James' props and gags always have a slick, wet look to them, as if everything is oozing with gore, and in this short we're treated to some graphic self-mutilation in the form of amateur "surgery," as well as some vintage stop-motion puppetry. It's sickening in its look, and I loved every second of it. 

Inverted Cross (Dir. Cidney Meredith) This one was great - it felt like a 90s alt-rock music video if that video was directed by someone who spent their days watching, well - underground horror films. Cidney Meredith has appeared as an actress in a handful of shorts, but I believe this is the first film she has directed. Featuring a satanic cult, cannibalism, and packed with nudity, Cidney clearly knows how to hit a specific look and tone. It's dark and disturbing, like a serial killer's home movie. 

Heart (Dir. Jessie Seitz) The second of two shorts directed by a woman in this anthology, Heart was also the shortest of any of the films presented. To me it plays like a predator and prey scenario. We're shown a young girl intercut with shots of a fox, a man, and a woman. The woman is clearly being watched, her quick pieces shot in night vision. The man is the fox, and he's hunting his prey. My interpretation was that think the story is that of a separated couple, and the father is stalking the girl's mother. The entire segment is only 58 seconds in length, so it goes by so fast it's hard to digest what we just saw. In speaking to director Jessie Seitz about the short, she said the title was originally "home movies," and was intended to show a serial stalker recording his victims on the same tape where he also recorded his normal, family interactions. So I was way off base, but now that I've fleshed out what the real plot is, I think this is one I'd love to see done in a full feature, or at least a much longer short. That is a great concept. 

Triangle (Dir. Victor Bonacore) I'm a sucker for films that feature people who treat inanimate objects as if they're real. Hell, I wrote a directed a film with that premise myself. This one goes much deeper than just a man obsessed with talking to his dolls, though. The triangle is the actual power here, and that triangle lies between the legs of an literal goddess. Frankly, this is as avant-garde as they come. Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe it, and it was the perfect way to wrap-up the first volume of experimental, artistic, violent and vile underground films. 

This movie is available for sale by reaching out to any of the filmmakers involved, in a truly independent and totally unique form of distribution. If you are the kind of person who enjoys experimental art films, underground horror, or gore flicks, this is one to seek out. 


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