Sunday, 3 August 2014

EJECTA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Solid script anchors alien thriller premiering @FantAsiaFilmFestival2014

It's time to make room for some visitors.
Ejecta (2014) dir. Dir. Chad Archibald, Matt Wiele
Screenplay: Tony Burgess
Starring: Julian Richings, Lisa Houle, Adam Seybold

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a world replete with eyewitness accounts detailing UFO sightings and contact with extraterrestrial (or at least, unidentified) life forms, all the stuff so many individuals and groups have testified to seeing and/or feeling, are those which tend to be discounted by ascribing said testimonials to mental illness. Though I have no doubt that many such experiences are indeed the bi-products of more than a few of the aforementioned folks being completely out of their respective (or collective) gourds, I still get the willies when I realize that some of them are most probably not crazy, that they've seen and experienced things I hope to never be unlucky enough to witness and/or feel.

Furthermore, I genuinely believe there's stuff out there that can never be adequately explained and probably won't be since an elite exists that's all too aware of certain realities, but keeps them veiled in secrecy for a variety of social, cultural, religious, political and economic reasons. The only people who would tend to dispute this, to doubt it beyond all that is reasonable, are those who would be quick to dismiss such notions, both genuinely and surreptitiously.

My own beliefs on this matter are not, I suspect, only due to years of tuning into very some very strange stuff on shortwave radio, eons of listening to Art Bell and George Noory on late-night talk radio and poring over as many books, articles and internet blogs on the matter as I've been able to pore over. Nay, I accept without question that some truly weird shit's going on out there (or, at the very least, I take it seriously enough to question it).

As for the poor souls who've become targets of derision for experiencing the unexplainable, it's clear they've been through something that's so cerebellum-brandingly real, so horrific, so indescribable and so nerve-shreddingly painful that they can only respond in ways that some would term as insanity. I have no doubt, however, that a goodly number of these people are not bonkers. In fact, those who absolutely refuse to believe are more likely to be the crazy ones.

Oh, and in case you're convinced that I am a few bricks short of a load on this, allow me to reveal, in defence of my sanity, that I've been mulling over the Drake Equation for several years (which, for some, might well be proof of my potentially schizophrenic nature). In any event, the equation provides an excellent basis for thought and discussion on the possibility of life existing beyond Earth and within our very own Milky Way and as such, has its fair share of champions in the scientific community. Radio Astronomer Frank Drake first came up with it in the early 60s and while it's impossible to use as a purely mathematical equation due to several unknown variables, it's still quite a brilliant series of questions to consider when searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. In fact, the Drake Equation is indeed the very foundation upon which the science of astrobiology was founded. (Feel free to do your own research on this, there's plenty of great stuff out there for further illumination.)

As well, we would be fools to ignore the wealth of historical artifacts, etchings and fossils that can certainly provide a solid bedrock to allow for a huge degree of healthy speculation that we, are not, alone, or, as expressed by the central character in the terrific film Ejecta:
"We were never alone."
All the aforementioned conundrums I've expressed tie directly and indeed form a great deal of the content of this extraordinary feature film triumph from the visionary Collingwood Crazies known to genre fans as Foresight Features. Ejecta is, without a doubt, one of the scariest science fiction horror films you're likely to see this year.

Buoyed by intense, intelligent writing from Tony Burgess (Pontypool, Septic Man) in a screenplay that induces fingernail-ripping-and-plucking (biting nails to the quick is "pussy", anyway), plus an astonishingly riveting performance by one of Canada's greatest actors Julian (Hard Core Logo, Cube, Man of Steel) Richings, Ejecta is a movie that plunges you into the terror of one utterly horrendous night in the lives of those who make contact with aliens. All of them experience a series of close encounters of the third kind, though be warned, they're as far removed from the benevolence and joy expressed in Spielberg's grandaddy classic of the genre.

There are no happy-faced hairless alien midgets gesticulating Zoltán Kodály Hand Signals whilst smiling at a beaming Francois Truffaut in Ejecta. No-siree-Spielberg, these mo-fos are super-ugly and their presence induces the sheer horror that inspires drawer-filling of the highest order. That said, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is worth noting here, because Ejecta shares one very important element with Spielberg's bonafide masterpiece.


Close Encounters took its title and three-act structure from a system of extraterrestrial classification as posited by the late astronomer Dr. Josef Allen Hynek – the close encounter. According to Hynek, a close encounter of the first kind is seeing unexplained phenomena, while the second kind involves hard proof of some sort of physical manifestation from what was originally witnessed and, finally, the close encounter of the third kind being contact. I'd argue that experiencing even one of these encounters would be enough to drive someone obsessively to seek subsequent levels of encounter or, in the case of Ejecta, we have three characters equally fraught with obsession. One seeks answers to stopping his pain, another will inflict pain to secure answers, while yet another brings the obsession of an artist seeking answers in his subject. And forgive me if I get all eggheaded on you here, but there is a sense of Trinity that Ejecta shares with Close Encounters - both pictures have a kind of Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifestation coursing through them and it's this level of spirituality and obsession that bind the pictures.

Close Encounters, of course, charts the journey of everyman Richard Dreyfuss who experiences the unexplained appearance of something other-worldly and abandons his life, his job, his family – everything he holds dear – to obsessively track down the meaning behind this occurrence. In a tale steeped in Judeo-Christian resonance – from Moses to Christ – Roy makes a perilous journey, climbs Devil’s Tower and comes face-to-face with the answer to his visions until he, along with twelve (trinity existing within the square root) apostolic “pilgrims” ascend to the Heavens, arms outstretched in what is surely the most benign crucifixion-image (trinity) imaginable.

This sense of spirituality is almost divine in nature and makes perfect sense considering the aforementioned Hynek’s own belief in the notion that a technology must exist which blends both the physical and psychic. Furthermore, it's important to note that Paul Schrader wrote the first pass of Close Encounters and though he didn't take a story credit (something he regretted almost as quickly as he agreed to it and more so in the years to follow), Spielberg's film feels, deep-down, like a Schrader narrative - especially the combination of obsession and spirituality.

This is an unbeatable combination that Ejecta flirts with at every turn.

The journey Burgess's screenplay takes us on begins quite evocatively with some cold, impersonal Ascii-text being typed onto a hazy computer monitor:
Tonight the universe is no bigger than my head.
It's time to make room for some visitors.
Yes, visitors indeed. William Cassidy (Julian Richings), a conspiracy theorist living off the grid in the middle of some godforsaken Ontario hinterland is inundated with unwelcome guests - a filmmaker, an interrogator and a mean-ass alien.

Joe (Adam Seybold) is the most benevolent of the three visitors Cassidy receives. This ultra-indie one-man-show documentary filmmaker believes he's been invited by Cassidy to engage in an interview. When he gets confirmation that he'll be granted an audience, he's ecstatic since Cassidy is considered the "Holy Grail" of UFO experts. Upon arriving, Cassidy seems confused as to why Joe is even there, but as things progress, we understand all too well why the wiry, jittery recluse is occasionally addled. Unlike the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters, most of Cassidy's adult life has been fraught with the obsession an alien encounter instigates. At least Dreyfuss had tangible things to lose, but poor Cassidy appears to have lost everything before he could even get a chance to amass it. What he's amassed is a life of questions, pain and endless, seemingly futile attempts to let the world know about his experience. He's lost a life he could have had. That's scary enough, but happily, the movie delivers its share of visceral chills to complement those of the philosophical variety.

We are privy to some of Joe's interview footage which reveals Cassidy's credentials in the UFO field. At first, Joe makes the mistake of referring to the alien abduction Cassidy suffered almost forty years ago, but is sternly corrected that it was not an abduction. The aliens came to Cassidy:
"They met inside my mind. I could feel them, I could hear them inside. They pretty much ignored me, but they had this meeting and then they left. They left something behind, something inside of me, and it's been there ever since. When I'm awake it hurts, but when I'm not, it floods me with these nightmares. No, no, it's not nightmares, it's not a thing, it's a feeling, it's not pain, it's not fear, it's something else, something much, much worse."
And damned if we don't believe him. This, of course, is one of the scariest things about the film. Burgess has written a character that allows Richings to invest with such intensity, that many of the creeps and shudders we get come directly from Cassidy's brilliantly scribed (via Burgess) and executed (via Richings) dialogue.

It's often been erroneously suggested in a kind of knee-jerk screenwriting 101 fashion that it's always better to show in movies than tell and those who ascribe to this strictly are too quick to dismiss the cinematic power of telling. In the case of Ejecta, so much of the film's power is in the showing of the telling and believe you me, the telling via the words Burgess provides to Richings borders on the poetic and it's these flights of fancy rooted in the unknown that not only wrench the bloody bejesus out of you but are one of the contributing factors to the film's overall achievement as a genre film that utilizes the tropes it must, but does so with the oft-neglected poetry inherent in cinema itself.

When Cassidy explains the feelings he has because of the intrusive alien presence within him, he notes in desperation, that it's "the fear of the anticipation of this feeling [which] eats away at my life." Well, Jesus H. Christ, Almighty! Hand me an extra large pair of Depends Adult Diapers because this statement and the chilling manner of its delivered was easily just as shit-my-drawers scary as a beautifully directed set piece which happens at another juncture in the film where Cassidy and Joe hide in the shed from the alien that prowls malevolently just outside.

Structurally, the film benefits from yet another trinity in the three-pronged approach to capturing the narrative of this night of horror. Firstly, there's Joe's documentary footage, then there's the perspective of the military through various helmet-cams and finally, the present-tense unfolding of Cassidy's interrogation at the hands of the malevolent Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle). The movie skilfully bounces us throughout these perspectives, yet we seldom feel lost in the proceedings beyond the manner in which the characters themselves feel lost.

The film is co-directed by Matt Wiele and Chad Archibald and while it's difficult to ascertain the nature of the collaboration from the finished product, the bottom line is that there's a consistency to the film's overall snap, crackle and pop which renders a picture that almost always grabs you by the balls (or, if you will, vulva), squeezing, scratching, scrunching and twisting until you feel you can bear no more.

My only quibble is with certain elements of the interrogation scenes. There's an automaton quality to the military personnel which is no doubt intentional, but often feels too "play-acted" to gel with the elements in the film which seem rooted in docudrama-like reality. I was also mixed on how the blocking played out during these scenes as they seemed almost by-the-numbers plotted-out, not unlike that of series television.

Lisa Houle's performance, however, is one of the weirdest I've seen on film in a long time and that's quite a statement considering that she plays opposite Julian Richings who is eccentricity-incarnate. At first, I was not sure of her performance and thought I'd have to repress it in order to enjoy everything I loved about the picture, but it eventually grew on me because it really is so out-to-lunch. Houle delivers many of her lines with a kind of sing-song quality and at times she came across like some genetically mutated pollination twixt a happy host on children's educational programming and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is an achievement. My hat is off to her.

Then again, my hat is off to the entire Foresight Features team. They keep delivering the goods and Ejecta is as strange, perverse, thoughtful, scary and darkly funny as their best work has proven to be. The film also gives new meaning to the old movie tagline "Watch the Skies" because here, it's not the skies you need to watch, it's the universe implanted in your brain and goddamn, it hurts. And worst of all, you can't necessarily see it. Short of sawing the top of your skull off and gazing at your glistening brain in one of those cooking show mirrors, there's nothing to "watch".

Everything is feeling. And that, is really fucking scary.


Ejecta had its world premiere, presented by Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada, at the 2014 edition of the FantAsia International Film Festival in Montreal.