This week my digital media seminar class went up to Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival. We got the opportunity to see a lot of good and interesting films and a chance to become more engaged with film. Some of the film categories we got to choose from ranged from LGBT, documentary, sci-fi, indie, and much more. I want to focus on one film specifically, Stinking Heaven. Stinking Heaven is styled as a home video that captures the inner workings of a sober living community. It is set up as a dark comedy that also features a prominent amount of drama.
My first impressions on the movie was that it was not very good. I did not think that it was professionally shot and that there were several instances that could have been shot better. A lot of times the shot was out of focus or cropped strangely so that you missed what was happening. The overall quality of the video felt like it was intentionally shot with a lower resolution, which seemed odd to me, like an intentional design flaw.
Additionally, another aspect of the film I did not like was that it was hard for me to follow along with what was going on. It wasn’t until over halfway through the film that I was starting to figure out what was going on. That normally doesn’t bother me if there is a good story to back it up, but I didn’t feel like this movie had much of a plot. To sum up the plot, the film is about a group of people who join a community housing group in attempts to remain sober and drug free. They live and do everything together in the same house and are very open and loving to their family.
Nothing exciting or interesting happens in the first half. The group lives like hippies – talking about their feelings, singing and dancing, taking community showers in the rain, etc. It isn’t until about halfway through the movie do things become interesting. Everyone is running from something, and in the case of Ann (one of the newer members), it is her ex lover…until she joins the house. From this point on, things start to fall apart and the story becomes interesting.
The appearance of Ann’s ex lover, Lucy, sends ripples through the house. This proves to be stressful on Ann and it has a negative effect on her new marriage. Ultimately, she leaves the house and then the house goes to hell. It becomes very evident that while this house is meant to be a haven for those that come to it, things are not as they appear. Everyone in the house still struggles greatly with something and the house doesn’t seem to be helping any. Ann’s husband gets back into doing cocaine and eventually gets kicked out of the house because of it. He later dies of overdose, which completely destroys his daughter, Courtney, who is also staying at the house. The grief proves too much and she kills herself by drinking bleach. Just about everyone has a sad story of where their low point was in life and you can clearly see that everyone struggles a great deal despite the community they surround themselves in.
It wasn’t until the end of the film that I understood what the title meant. It was meant to show that despite the “perfect living conditions” and community, there was something wrong with it and things only got worse. I also came to appreciate the way the film was shot more as I thought about it. My initial thoughts about the film were that it poorly shot and there wasn’t much of a story to tell. I see that this was intentional because Nathan Silver, the director, wanted the film to resemble a home movie. I still think that it could have been shot better, but I think what the director did worked very well for what he was intending. I was not crazy about the story and felt it was more of a darker drama than a comedy…there were only a few parts in the movie that made me laugh. Overall, it was a decent film after I realized what the point behind the movie was. I don’t think I would recommend the film to anyone, but I don’t regret seeing it at all.
My final rating:
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