Rover (or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level) (2013)
Written and Directed by Tony Blahd
While the film community was flipping its dick over The Raid 2: Berandal and Nymphomaniac, a really cool little movie hit Park City’s neighboring Slamdance Festival, that city’s last bastion of actual independent cinema. Let me tell you about it.
My friend Tony had a church and a camera, and a wild idea for a movie about a cult that hires a videographer to tell the story of their origin, a Brigham Young-type saga of a man named Randall who’s spoken to higher beings on the planet Venus. Randall’s disciples are a handful of sad-eyed dreamers in matching Crocs, all aiming to please and anxious for their impending ascension to a murky “next level” on Venus.
I don’t want to give you much more than that, but needless to say, he made the movie. It’s called Rover (or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level), and it’s all shot on location in a beautiful abandoned Lutheran church in Bushwick. It’s a simply remarkable piece of filmmaking, an incredibly confident debut possessing a still, careful camera that always seems to find the best shot in the room, and wide lenses that let you drink in every tactile detail of the decaying church—a location that is the film’s centerpiece and heart.
There’s a central mystery and a few mind-bendy twists, but unlike most films about cults, it’s not really a puzzle movie. There’s a propensity for long quiet takes, like the kind Ozu used to love, which invite you into the strange and fun world of these deeply unusual, but relatably human, characters. It’s all very funny, but not so much a jokey funny—most of the comedy comes from juxtaposition and unexpected sincerity. Of particular merit are Jade Fusco, who packs a lot of energy into relatively little screen time, and the show-stealing Liam Torres, who crafts a character as strangely stilted and endearingly earnest as those aliens in Galaxy Quest.
There’s something beautifully odd about Rover, sort of like the oddness of Wes Anderson’s stuff, but where Wes Anderson embalms us in overstuffed dollhouses, the world of Rover is vivid and small. You want to run your hands over the walls, play the rusty old organ, and you can almost smell the dust and peeling paint.
There aren’t many films like Rover. It’s a stone-cold, no-studio independent, partially funded by a nail-biter of a Kickstarter that came down to the very last day, and written and filmed in a race against time before the church was demolished. But it’s detail-oriented and unrushed, with the crisp picture of a major film, and a smart, well-curated musical soundscape.
At times, it feels like Andrew Bujalski doing Split Image—at others like Steve McQueen doing that crazy Japanese movie Hausu. I can compare it to other films and filmmakers all day, but in the end, I think it announces a confident new voice emerging onto the New York independent scene.
Seems like it’s still doing the festival rounds and isn’t out on any VOD, but keep an eye on this one. It’ll surface sooner or later, and you’d do well to watch it. Rover is Tony Blahd’s first film, and you’ll want to be in the loop for his second.