Can we ever live up to our mistakes? It’s a question pressing on all postmodern artmakers who wish to both proclaim and disclaim their love of mass culture and show the seams in both big-budget and schlockhouse productions of the past, that some honesty and affection can shine through.
This movie, to quote its opening monologue, does not have the answers. But it leaves a strong sense of wonder-what-did-I-just-see. Psycho Ape makes a patchwork aesthetic out of vintage continuity error, changing film stock and filters at will and clearly shooting two sides of conversations at different times and in random lighting. It’s as if Orson Welles made his Don Quixote that way on purpose, or the filmmakers here anticipated how stuff will look once every movie has to be done by zoom.
Psycho Ape is a prime specimen of title-as-plot; you pretty much only need to know that there’s a guy in a gorilla suit going around killing people. His rampage tramples across genres and pop-culture references, with the hit-and-miss of pure stream-of-consciousness; modern video software affords self-kibitzing supertitles, abrupt soundtrack interjections and other drawing-board techniques that make it feel as if the film is being brainstormed and edited as you watch it.
This is not fourth-wall-breaking, it’s more like an edifice already bombed out to the basic frame, in which the cast is squatting. With smoldering Donald Pleasence intensity and manic post-prime Lugosi frenzy, distinguished actor and no-budget scream-king Bill Weeden as the Psycho Ape’s Ahab gives the clearest impression that he knows how bad he sounds, and means to. But other standouts in the stiff competition of off-script digressions and otherworldly line readings include a superlatively careless performance by Grover McCants as a crap EW-style anchorman, Dylan Mars Greenberg as a park-loitering yenta and would-be monster-hunter, and Kearsyn Joniper and Bree Kaufman in a prolonged, hilarious argument about the relative merits of two Pixar films, which ought to cure Quentin Tarantino of his movie-buff dialogue for good (if not call an end to his whole career).
We’re deep into a cultural house of mirrors where old-fashioned ineptitude and new-fangled irony reflect on each other confoundingly. It’s a maze Psycho Ape doesn’t quite know how to get out of. But it sure knows its way around.