27th Mar2015

‘Applecart’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Dave Parker, Haley Jay Madison, Alison Egan, Erin R. Ryan, Joni Durian, Josh Miller, Brandon Salkil | Written and Directed by Dustin Mills

applecart-blu-cover

If there’s one thing you can say about director Dustin Mills, it’s that he never ceases to surprise… From the puppet-based terrors of Easter Casket, Puppet Monster Massacre and Snuffet, to the living-dead horrors of Bath Salt Zombies and Zombie A-Hole; to his foray into Grindhouse-esque exploitation via his Crumpleshack Films shingle – of which Applecart is the latest release – the man crosses genres, bends stereotypes and mixes tropes unlike any other filmmaker I can think of working today.

His work, despite the independent ethos behind it, is – at its core – the very antithesis of the auteur theory. Which means you never truly know what to expect from his movies; and I certainly never expected this!

Applecart is a strange beast. A portmanteau film connected by ideas of love, forbidden fruit and renunciation, the film is shot in a black and white silent-film style, with a audio track that mixes a sitcom laughter, in places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it, with a traditional ragtime-like silent film soundtrack (courtesy of Garageband I do believe) and a cast that all wear white, almost faceless, masks. Now that may sound like a recipe for disaster and, admittedly, it did take a me few minutes to get used to, but in the end the bold choices make for a film that is more interesting, more intriguing and more challenging than your typical straight to DVD horror fare.

Coupled with the often extreme subject matter and the lack of emotion from the cast – whose masks belying any attempt to traditionally convey emotion through expression – it’s as if Mills is attempting to put his audience on edge by subverting expectations. Which somewhat mirrors a career that, so far, has prevented Mills from being pigeon-holed.

Whilst the masks used by the cast prevent us, as the audience, from reading more into the characters motivations, it also allows his cast – which includes Mills regulars Dave Parker, Haley Jay Madison, Alison Egan and Erin R. Ryan – more freedom to explore the dark themes within the four shorts that make up this anthology. And explore they do. This is more an example of performance art rather than your typical Grindhouse fare – with no lines to recite and no introspective emotion(s) to convey, Mills’ cast use techniques more commonly found in stage performance to bring their characters to life.

Of course no matter how bold the stylistic choices Mills and co. make, Applecart is still, at its basest level, an exploitation film and Mills, never one to shy away from sex and nudity, still packs the film with enough tropes of the genre to please fans of more extreme cinema – mixing brutality with sexuality in ways that will disturb some and please others.

I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like Applecart. Part exploitation, part “art film”, this movie is the type of feature that will challenge audiences in ways that we haven’t seen since the early days of the Dogme 95 movement. Kudos to Mills and his brave cast for putting themselves out there in ways that many wouldn’t…

Applecart is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Dustin Mills’ online store.

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