Body #82 (2005)
This is a new one for me. I've been used to reviewing full-length movies, nothing under 90 minutes usually, but what we have here is a very short film of just over 21 minutes. Body #82 looks to be either a festival short or maybe an experimental film, produced by a very small crew working on a very limited budget with a 16mm camera and some nice mood lighting. It has only two characters and is narrated by young girl, who has the vast majority of the lines off-camera. But still, I was very impressed by both the quality and the pace of this little film and I do recommend it to PA fans.
The story concerns a survivor of a nuclear holocaust, a scientist named John, who lives in a bunker underground. John, played by David Carter, who looks to be in his fifties, has been down here for over 600 days (via his diary). Above him, the land is ravaged, radioactive, and barely populated.
The problem is that he's suffering from advanced radiation sickness. His body is wracked with convulsions and nausea, and it's given him a VERY NASTY tumor on his neck. This tumor is unbelievably gross, a pussing, oozing thing that I couldn't look at for fear of barfing myself.
John's life-saving solution comes from his invention of a "Soul Switching Machine". This machine allows him to quite literally switch souls with someone else, allowing him to escape one dying body and inhabit another, healthier body. Presumably, the "old body" dies and the "switched soul" dies with it, so in a way John is murdering other people to prolong his own life. John is on his 82nd body as the film opens.
But #82 is fast wearing out. John needs a new body desperately, his radiation sickness is getting worse and he spends a lot of time vomiting bile and mucus and squeezing puss out of his disgusting tumor. Oh, and oddly, the neck tumor goes from body to body, growing anew on each new body. Why? Some sort of stigmata thing, a physical manifestation of John's sins in harvesting bodies and souls?
A little bit about the bunker he inhabits. It's very small, maybe 20 square feet with bare metal walls and floor and very sparse furnishings. A short metal rung ladder goes up to a hatch to the surface.
His only source of food is a "potato tree" and his "only friend" is a little white lab rat in a cage. He uses this animal to conduct experiments on, to make sure his Soul Switching Machine is still working. Fuzzy, but it seems he switches the rat with a bird's egg at one point, but I'm not sure about that. There are a few confusing scenes in this movie, but maybe that's intentional.
John has a homemade radiation suit with an awkward-looking boxy head piece. He goes up to the surface occasionally, to look for more bodies to steal and look around. What we see of the surface world is typically post-apocalyptic, with yellowed dead grass and crumbling buildings.
John out in his suit.
In one of the film's weirder bits (and there are surprisingly a lot of them in a 21 minute long film), when John is on the surface he injects himself with "radioactive waste". In doing so, he "can see the memories of the past", which are represented by blurry bluish balls of energy floating around the ruins. He "collects the memories and keeps them in jars"! Dude. Come on! I don't know what to make of that, but it does sound pretty cool the more I think of it. If this movie were ever to be expanded to full-length, hopefully a lot of these ideas could be explored more in-depth. I'd watch it.
One day he's out in the ruins when he meets a little girl! She's carrying this doll, a doll that seems to have been recently haunting his dreams (or something, too many flashbacks to be clear). John runs from her and she follows him, but he escapes back to his bunker. Why did he run from her all terrified like that? Maybe he just freaked out. The pounding music track during this scene is very distracting, but does convey the fear John feels when confronted with the girl.
John finds the doll.
Back in the bunker, he has calmed down by the time he sees her again on an outside video camera. He brings her inside and puts into the Soul Switching Machine chamber, which is a frosted glass cage in the shape of a pentagon that sits in the center of the bunker.
The ever-present voice-over tells us that the girl is named Emily (played by Emma Rosenthal) and looks to be about nine or ten years old. She wears a satiny dress, white stockings, has her hair tied back with a ribbon, and is really quite cute. The young actress was coached well and throughout her short scenes she does a very commendable job expressing a variety of emotions without words.
John is quickly dying from radiation sickness by now, barfing up blood, passing out often, and barely lucid even when conscious. He needs Emily's body to survive, a terrible choice but one he's willing to make. This movie doesn't try to make us feel pity or even anger for John and his decisions, it just presents the horrible facts in such oblique ways that the viewer has to make up his own mind about what sort of person John is. And the short running time doesn't offer a lot of time for introspective thoughts.
Emily seems somewhat resigned to her fate, oddly wise beyond her years. She does take the opportunity to try and teach John about the nature of life and how foolish it is to fight the inevitability of death and all. John isn't listening, or maybe he is, but he doesn't show it. Emily seems to communicate with John solely by telepathy! Or something, we never see her lips move but she carries on conversations with John without visibly speaking.
Emily in the chamber.
She tries to get him outside without his suit, which he does while holding one end of a ball of string (?). She also fingerpaints and plays with her doll, "trying to bring joy into the little bomb shelter". It's surreal to see this little girl acting like, well, like a little girl as John slowly pukes his guts out and plans to steal her body. It seems like she's ok with it, though, which is more than a bit strange.
John coughs up blood, his time is short.
As he sleeps off a convulsion, she even comes out of the chamber and lays down with him, pulling his arm around her protectively. It's a really powerful scene as she tries to give him some semblance of humanity back. John wakes up horrified, however, and sticks her back in the chamber immediately. It's clear that he's made his decision and doesn't want to think about the consequences.
Emily laying with John.
Finally the time comes. He takes her picture with a Polaroid camera, leaving the ejected picture in the camera and setting it down on a chair. He then gets into the chamber, closes the door, and sits down to hold Emily against him as the Soul Switching Machine gears up. The voice-over tells us that "John switched souls with Emily that day". The look on Emily's face as the machine whirs to life is haunting, a mixture of twitching fear and acceptance that stayed with me long after I'd turned the movie off.
The end is near.
The stinger shows us the camera, focusing in on the Polaroid picture John took right before he entered the chamber with Emily. The picture only shows the doll, however, no little girl!
Ok, what the fuck just happened here? Ah, so back in the ruins did he only find the doll (perhaps infused with "memories" of its prior owner?) and not the girl? Was the girl even real at all, or was she just a manifestation of a memory? A figment of his diseased mind? A ghost? So, now he's a doll? Did he, can he, why would he, use the Soul Switching Machine to switch places with a doll? Did the doll contain the "soul" of the little girl? Ah, is that why we kept seeing cut-scenes of the doll floating in a creek with a nasty oozing neck tumor on it? Did John become the doll and the stigmata tumor appear on the doll after they switched? So many questions! But I love a movie that challenges me that way, so I don't mind at all.
The doll/John? Floating in the water.
Bonus! I contacted the film's director Ethan Rublee the other day to ask him a few questions about his movie, and he was gracious enough to reply. I was interested to know what all was involved in making a short film on a budget, and his answers were very informative and entertaining. Below is the gist of his memories about making Body #82, paraphrased with his permission...
"I made the film back in 2005 for a couple of reasons. I was sick of making student films at my Community College that were just mediocre, I wanted to push myself to make an ambitious project. I've always sickly fantasized of the end of days, and nuclear holocaust, so yeah. I got this idea in my head of a creepy bomb shelter, a tumor, a soul switching machine and a messed up doll, and with that vision set about with the project. As the idea was festering, I was hanging out at my local coffee shop talking with James Hoenstine (cinematographer, friend). David Carter, a lanky stranger, overheard our conversation and came over to talk to us. The crew was formed right there and then. In addition Miche signed on as our special effects guy (he loves zombie films, George Romero being his favorite).
A little about Dave. He is interesting character, which made him perfect as the main character and as a general crew member. At the time he was jobless, semi-homeless, and a crazy bastard (I mean this with much love). He ended up practically living in the bomb shelter during the four months of production, which was in my parents garage. At first he was welcome, but toward the end he became somewhat like his soul-stealing character. I won't go into any more detail on this, but he made the process odd, aggravating, and made me realize that every film maker should employ at least one semi-homeless bum in his or her career.
I bought a CP-16 16mm synch sound camera off eBay for $750. It had a nice general purpose zoom lens and only needed a new battery to get working. The set took a month of nights and week ends to put together. The final cost of set and props was around $400. The bomb shelter was made out of 1/2 inch foam insulation board. We bought most of the props from flea and farmers markets, which was fun and cheap. The bomb shelter got a lot of use as a hang out as we were shooting.
I sculpted the tumor out of clay and made a plaster mold. We bought liquid latex (the kind used for make up effects) and Miche perfected casting the tumors from the mold. We filled the tumor with pudding, corn syrup and food dye and we often grossed ourselves out sucking puss from the tumor.
Production took a few months of nights and week ends. We shot in the bomb shelter and at various locations around Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We found a burnt out high school and an old brick factory for the outside shots. We got kicked off a couple of locations by the police (no permits for this crew).
The radiation suit was a spray-painted Tyvek suit. I wish I had spent more time on the head piece, but it worked and gave a certain feel. The doll was very creepy and I found it in my attic. The throw-up was mostly oatmeal. The fake blood was corn syrup and food dye.
We were very careful shooting the film as far as lighting went and composition. We wanted to do it right. We used Kodak Vision2 film stock 500 speed. It was very versatile and allowed us to shoot in relatively low light situations. We spent about $2000 dollars on film stock. and Another $2000 on color correction, development and transfer to video. I edited it on a DPS velocity pc nle system. It was great to work in film, because we had to really plan everything out and know what we were doing because we didn't see the final outcome for weeks.
Emma Rosenthal was a pleasure to work with. I worked with her mom on various productions. She was very patient and well-mannered. My father, Mark Rublee, was a great resource for advice and some of the camera work. He has been in film and video production for the last 30 years and attended NYU Film School."
Written in March 2008 by Nathan Decker.
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