02nd Jun2020

‘Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway’ VOD Review

by Stuart Wright

Stars: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Agustín Mateo, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe, Lauri Lagle, Rene Köster, Iveta Pole, Aris Rozentals | Written and Directed by Miguel Llanso

At its heart, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, is a Cold War paranoia thriller. It’s about two CIA Agents: Palmer and Gagano. They need to destroy a computer virus called “Soviet Union”. To defeat it, they must enter the Psychobook CPU system – is it a Game? a Virtual world? Both? But the mission turns into a trap and film’s focus shifts to Gagano’s neverending search for a way back to ‘ our reality’.

However, on the surface, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, is a discombobulating, absurdist narrative. Imagine Salvador Dali meddling with the rushes from Thomas Cappelen Malling’s Norwegian Ninja (2010) or Duchamp getting hold of demos for I Am The Walrus by The Beatles. Just don’t fight the instinct that you might be a bit lost at times. It feels like writer/director Migeul Llanso meant for that to happen.

It’s an undeniably bold and thrilling amalgam of sci-fi and noir with plenty of room for humour – you ever seen credit cards scanned with the tongue yet? There’s bakelite phones, cassette uploading data foley sounds akin to a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64, staid and shonkily built sets and 21st century netherworlds that depict a retro-future that must have been dreamt up in 1968. Alto-sax jazz noodlings, stock footage of hippos in a river, 8 bit electronic pop tones, straight from 1980s video games… It’s got the lot, and more.

Once inside Llanso’s virtual world the characters become lo-fi avatars of their digital self. The bad guys wear cardboard masks of Stalin and Princess Anne. The Stalin avatar speaks with a thick, Irish accent. Nothing is too obtuse, or outlandish for Llanso. Our heroes get Robert Redford and Richard Pryor masks as their identities in VR.

Agent Gagano is played by Ethiopian, disabled actor Daniel Tadesse… Anyone familiar with Llanso’s first feature Crumbs (2015) will recognise him immediately. Gagano plans to hand in his resignation at the CIA because of recurring back ache, but like all good movie retirements, duty calls one last time. He falls into an irreversible coma while on this final mission. When he comes to, he’s locked up in a cage in Beta-Ethiopia.

The crazy has barely begun my film chums. On his arduous, psychedelic journey to somewhere resembling normality, Gagano will meet the likes of Mr President. He is played by a man wearing a loose fitting – Adam West style – Batman outfit – replete with pixelated official logo. He repeatedly asks has anyone has seen any drug addicts. There’s a chase sequence featuring two man-sized bugs firing lasers from their eyes. Or there’s the larger than life Italian Mr Sophistication and his three kung fu masters – Spaghetti, Ravioli and Baltazar

Meanwhile, the Shaolin Monk guarding the Ark Of Covenent – an old mac laptop, but described as the most powerful tool known to man – is challenged by the Kung Fu masters. He defeats the initial wave, but a voiceover tells you they’ve been upgraded to Level Eight. Consequently, the next wave Kung Fu Masters easily beat the Shaolin Monk and take the Ark Of Covenent. BONKERS!

The film takes a turn for the Videodrome meets They Live when Gagano finds himself a floating image on a portable TV. An old lady takes him to Roy – a deathcult leader in a hurry to dish out the Kool Aid before the police arrives. Roy promises him the truth if he takes the substance. Gagano agrees and Roy smears the portable TV in it and well… That’d be a spoiler too far to reveal where that leads.

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, might be the analogue answer to The Matrix mixed with the purposefully retro video games aesthetic of the original Bioshock meets Julian Temple’s Absolute Beginners… It’s also Nollywood chutzpah and devil may care meets Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place or the histrionic John Waters style trash aesthetic coupled with having something serious to say. It’s a midnight movie to share with your friends – all of them.

There’s a giddy surreality that often only offers non-sequiturs when certainty about what is and what is not the real world would be so much more helpful. This film revels in taking you to worlds within worlds; minds with minds – so you better pay attention or you’ll be lost long before the 81 mins are up.

**** 4/5

You can see Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, first on Arrow Video Channel – the home for weird and wild cult classics, newly-restored gems, and genre favourites, available on Apple TV and Amazon.