A Review of ‘Rover (or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level)’

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Rover (or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level) (2013)
Written and Directed by Tony Blahd
92 min.

Spoiler-free.

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.

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3 Responses to A Review of ‘Rover (or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level)’

  1. Joe Long says:

    I’m 100% interested in seeing this after the review and trailer. I haven’t even watched it yet, but I’m guessing it’s very in line with how I wish more independent, first-time movie-makers would roll. I’ll have to take a note to remember to look into being able to see it down the road if possible.

    • John D'Amico says:

      Yeah, it’s very much how I want first-time films to be – totally ballsy, semi-experimental, and confident as all hell.

      • Joe Long says:

        Agreed. What I don’t love is when they purposely run from anything that resembles movies as we understand them and aim to be weird for weird’s sake. “You see the interstitial cuts to the vacuum cleaner coupled with cuts to the protagonist face is showing how the world around her is sucking the life out of her.” It’s fine for “student” movies to try to experiment for its own sake and try to go art vs narrative, but for something you want me as a consumer to invest in worry about it being good. I’m not one to run from “weird” movies by any means, I loved(!) ‘Spring Breakers’, but working in that independent realm with that budget can actually liberate certain aspects (See: Clerks, Primer, etc) while not having to reinvent what a movie is at that stage. I’m far from an expert on indie movies and if anything, don’t dip in nearly enough, (either way, I should make it a point to do so) but this is one of the main reasons why. Either way, the above description and trailer makes me confident that this movie while clearly “indie” sort of experimental and everything else, didn’t totally abandon first and foremost making a good movie with a solid amount of recognizable humanity within. I guess what I’m really saying with all these words is that it just looks “better” than most indie peers and so many of those types of movies are just not “good” even if there are good aspects like editing or lighting or whatever. And like I said, I probably don’t look hard enough to do so but I don’t have time to sit through that fuckin’ vacuum cleaner suckin’ the life out of Jane again and again. (Not a movie I’ve really watched but it could be and is sort of based on some shitty short story that some asshole was pushing in this creative writing forum I was in a long time ago.) Anyway, thanks for the response and great write up.

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