Sunday, July 24, 2011

RPIFF: Vacation! (2010)

Zach Clark's follow up to his 2009 indie hit Modern Love Is Automatic was my must watch pick of the fortnight, to the extent of going to the cinema alone because everyone else was busy. I used to go to the cinema alone quite a lot, back when my enthusiasm for all forms of movie was fresh and needed to be fed constantly. I saw Independence Day three times at the cinema. Alone. It hardly happens any more, only in special circumstances. It's an odd feeling but one worth while in the case of some potentially great piece of cinema. You wouldn't find me going along to Transformers 3 with nobody for company (or at all actually, my feelings towards Bay are on record.) For Vacation! I was happy to make the exception.

The official blurb from the film makers made this sound very appealing to me: When four college friends reunite for a girls' week at the beach, it's all bikinis, piña coladas and dance parties at first. But the fun soon fades away... Sugar's got a thing for Dee-dee. Dee-dee's got a thing for a girl who's got a boyfriend. Donna's never made out with a girl, or done anything fun at all, ever. Lorelei's looking for some cheap thrills to help get over her ex. After procuring a psychotropic drug from a sketchy surfer dude, the girls take a very strange trip into the abyss. And that's when everything gets totally fucked. Bummer.

Zach Clark has been involved in mumblecore, a film making scene I am still yet to watch a movie from but the kind of realism that rocks my cinematic world if reports are true. I haven't even seen Modern Love Is Automatic so unlike all of the other reviews of this that I have read I cannot compare. What I can do is tell you that this is a movie of two halves. With a truly surreal intermission.

So there's four girls on holiday. All of them attractive in one way or another, spending most of their time in bikinis and getting drunk. They pass the time casually, not much happens. End of first half. They take some kind of drug (I assume to be acid,) they share the surreal nightmare trip. Something bad happens, one of them will not be going home, ever, they react to it in varying ways.

I couldn't help but enjoy the movie, they looked like they enjoyed themselves making it and that sense of fun comes across when watching. The dialogue is so real as we are treated to awkward conversations between people who have not much in common except shared college experiences and wonderfully natural lines such as "oh my god, I bought wigs," "fantastic, tell me more," "they're blonde" which made me giggle at the audacity of the film maker. The uncomfortable silences between the girls are even more realistic and true, it is these gaps in dialogue that accentuate what the movie is; a fun yet uncomfortable film about people and the way they relate to each other.

The cinematography from Daryl Pitman is superb, not just for a low budget film but for a film full stop, he uses vivid colours, a locked camera and a clean crisp use of light to highlight the overall feel of fresh playfulness and a tension that's slow to build to barely a simmer.

The music and sound design has gotten a lot of play, and rightly so, it is sufficiently hip when required and noticeably helps add to the sense of impending dread after one of the girls remarks that "things are only going to get worse."

Whilst the idea of four lesbian/bi-sexual girls drinking and having fun would ordinarily play in to male fantasies without even trying, I left Vacation! massively impressed with Zach Clark's direction and his restraint. The film studies concept of the camera gaze as male is largely thrown out of the window here as at no point did I get the sense that any of the proceedings were being eroticised, or the characters shown in an overtly sexual manner. Even the brief nudity and sexual behaviour is filmed so matter of factly that claims of misogyny would be flimsy at best.

Overall this is no Gregg Arraki, there's less plot, but it is a fun and impressive piece of low budget independent non-genre film making worth watching.

This is another one that's going to split audiences, plenty of people have disliked this movie, leave me some blah and let me know how you feel about it.


  1. I must admit I did not actually 'like' it. Watched for professional reasons and found it easier to focus on technicalities as the overall impression was very hard to grasp and define... Certainly an interesting experiment. A cinematic game.

  2. hey blondoner thanks for stopping by. you get paid to blog or professional reasons doing something else?

  3. The blurb from the filmmakers would have had me, too. I'll have to check this out. Thanks, Toby!

  4. i think it's that final bummer that sets just the right blahzay tone. good to see you around alan.

  5. working for film festivals, have to watch many films to be able to moderate q&a's for example ;)
    Your blog is very inspiring! I will pop back again!