DVD Review: Sleaze and Salvation in UPSIDEDOWN CROSS

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Indie arthouse exploitation film UPSIDEDOWN CROSS is an effective psychodrama.

With the advent of accessible video technology, many indie filmmakers are fancying themselves a pack of David Finchers, trying to create slick Hollywood product on chump change with middling actors and press-the-button-on-the-laptop post-production FX. To this writer, the joy of toiling in the underground is that you can make something dangerous, personal. You can make a statement and extend a middle finger to the commercial mainstream.

Chances are, no one will see your movie in the multiplex anyway, so why not just strip it all down, grab whatever video camera you can find (and yes, I endorse making movies on iPhones) and make some sort of wild, untamed art.

Make something that matters.

Veteran indie filmmaker William Hellfire has long stayed true to his DIY roots, using whatever is at his disposal to make a series of transgressive, thoughtful and dirty exploitation features that are borderline art. He’s like Doris Wishman meets Roberta and Michael Findlay by way of Michael Snow.

His latest is UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, a film that doesn’t use computers to trick viewers into thinking the thing was shot on film. Film is film. Video is video. And UPSIDEDOWN CROSS looks like video. And it wears it so fucking well…

The film is rough and stylishly impoverished, following the plight of a dead-eyed junkie/hooker/model/lost girl named Nadine (PORKCHOP’s Erin Russ) whose manipulative boyfriend keeps her hooked on smack so she’ll do nudie poses for perverted clients armed with analog cameras (in a kinky aside, a film that screams digital video, celebrates the leering pleasures of the instant Polaroid). When the quasi-bordello she’s spreading in gets busted by an equally lecherous pair of policemen, with one of the cops first harassing then sexually assaulting her, Nadine drifts back to her mother’s home seeking refuge before her impending withdrawls kick in.

But mom (Colleeen Cohan) isn’t really there. In her own thralls of Jesus-juiced la-la-land, Nadine’s mother has sort of given up; she’s stopped payments on her house and is simply waiting for the bank to come for her, vacantly grinning and optimistic that God will sort it all out. It becomes quickly apparent that her mother’s apathy and bible-swoon has assisted greatly in stoking Nadine’s current disconnected, dehumanized state; she’s built-up a kind of wall, perhaps in part from being unable to deal with life and her daughter’s adolescent rebellion.

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While she begins detoxing from the lack of a heroin hit, Nadine’s mother turns to a tacky TV-pimped prayer line and invites a shyster preacher (rocker David Yow from THE JESUS LIZARD) to the home in order to “save” her child and evict the demons she believes posses her. Initially Nadine goes along with the preacher’s phony fire and brimstone shtick, hoping that if her mother believes the nonsense is working, that she’ll screw her head back on and the two of them can try to save the family home.

But soon, it becomes clear that this preacher isn’t just some raving hustler, but something far more dangerous.

What follows is indeed a kind of exorcism and it’s not pretty.

There’s a uniform cheapness and sleazy, voyeuristic sheen to UPSIDEDOWN CROSS that makes it feel like a vintage stag loop, especially when Russ is (frequently) disrobed and violated.

But this aint no Troma goof.

Hellfire plays it all straight, letting his unprofessional performers ad lib and create what feels like authentic relationships. He has something to say, about the rot at the heart of the family when reality checks out and religion checks in. The movie speaks about the hopelessness of poverty, the tragedy of how lowlife predators devour the easiest of prey and yet, the movie still provides a kind of titillation, with Russ’s open sexuality guiding her performance. In a way, she reminded me of a skid row Charlotte Gainsbourg and the film, a kind of cheapie Lars von Trier riff. A dollar store ANTICHRIST. And that’s a good thing.

I can’t recommend UPSIDEDOWN CROSS to conventional viewers looking for a slick possession film. This is not that. But It’s a bold, visceral work of art trash and hopefully, it will find its cult.

More Hellfire, more Russ, more edgy indie films like this, please.

The movie is now on DVD from Alternative Cinema.