By ALEX DELLER
Stefan Sauk, Lena Nilsson, Martin Wallström and Carolin Stoltz
Written and directed by Kristian A. Söderström
FrightFest Presents / Signature Entertainment
Writer/director Kristian A. Söderström has chosen an idiosyncratic path for his debut feature – one that leaves VIDEOMAN (a.k.a. VIDEOMANNEN) part-way between glum kitchen-sinker and giallo-streaked whodunit.
The film follows Ennio (Stefan Sauk, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), a cantankerous, curmudgeonly, J&B-swigging git who’s spent a lifetime tracking down the kind of hard-to-find VHS tapes that’d get many a Rue Morgue reader hot under the collar. He deplores those who don’t share his passion, hectors anyone who doesn’t handle his rare VHS tapes with kid gloves and has ultimately found himself adrift in a world that doesn’t understand – or care – when he tells them it’s Ennio “like Morricone.” Today he’s an anachronism, and has tumbled from running one Sweden’s most feted video stores to sleeping on the floor of a cramped basement for which he can never seem to find the rent.
Ennio’s in luck, however: he turns up an ultra-rare tape that completes his Video Invest collection, and promises even greater reward when mysterious collector Faceless (Carolin Stoltz) offers him a life-changing chunk of cash in exchange for it. Once the deal has been struck, however, Ennio finds the tape has disappeared, and, with the increasingly-sinister Faceless moving in, he doesn’t have much time to unmask the thief.
“With the increasingly-sinister Faceless moving in, Ennio doesn’t have much time to unmask the thief.”
In the midst of it all, Ennio strikes up a relationship with Simone (deftly and often heartbreakingly played by Lena Nilsson), an 80s-obsessed alcoholic who fears her best years are behind her. Simone is on autopilot, losing herself in bottomless glasses of wine and a desperate quest for Instagram acceptance while her work and home lives crumble. Despite Ennio’s inadvertent attempts to scupper things (he doesn’t realise bringing MANHATTAN BABY over for date night might be a no-no…) they find a shy, faltering kinship thanks to their shared lot in life and the fact that their outré interests set them apart: “normal people don’t have time to be passionate,” she tells him.
It’s these social-realist overtones that provide the strongest source of interest: the relationship between two lost, fractured souls who don’t particularly care for each others’ interests but are able to find a deeper understanding. It’s as if something penned by Alan Sillitoe was shot against the grim, grey architecture of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, or the cast of DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES somehow found themselves watching THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE between swigs of rum and pep. The giallo inferences, meanwhile, are limited to a couple of slow-motion chase sequences and some strange, dreamlike non-sequiturs that blur the line between reality and whisky-shattered delusion. Indeed, rather than offering tense plot twists or operatic setpieces, the shadow of giallo instead provides moments of dry humour – Ennio and a friend pitting Argento against Fulci or being aghast at how a fellow collector catalogues his collection – and helps frame the world the characters inhabit.
This all leaves VIDEOMAN in a strange, shadowy place: it’s a neatly-crafted love letter to VHS and a sharply-observed ode to the obsessive collector spirit, but rather than thrill us with bloody spectacle it chooses to dig deeper, suggesting that it’s human connections that make us who we are, rather than the collectable plastic flotsam we covet or the likes we chase on social media.
Follow him on Twitter here: @dellerrr