Directors: Georgie Bailey, Lucy Betts
Writer: Georgie Bailey
Stars: Georgie Bailey, George Craig
Experimental filmmaking, despite what some may think, is incredibly difficult. Let me rescind that comment actually and say instead: Experimental filmmaking is incredibly difficult to do well. Similar to devised theater, the connotation in the name implies a paper thin narrative and some abstract imagery to instigate the illusion of art. And while that may seem (to some) to be the case for The Zizz, I feel that any regressive thinking such as the aforementioned connotation above would be a disservice to the remarkable work done by directors Georgie Bailey, Hal Darling, and Lucy Betts.
If their names sound at all familiar, it is because Darling and Bailey are returning after their daring short, The Process Trilogy, another experimental film that tackled the themes of love and combating our own psychological hesitations. With The Zizz, many of those ideas are revisited with several other layers overlapping in the dense subtleties of the filmmaking. But before I gush, let me first tell you a little about the film, which may be inaccessible to some of the readership in its current status on the festival circuit.
The Zizz follows a mysterious protagonist, Doz, as he finds himself alone in a vacant room shrouded in darkness and persecuted by the ever-elusive sound of a buzzing fly with intermittent cutaways to a small television that plays a staticky tele-salesman who makes vague allusions to ‘breaking free’ while also layering in several jarring depictions of corn (be it cornfields, corn on the cob, corn in a bowl, just…a lot of corn). As far as the narrative goes, that’s about all there is to glean from The Zizz. To the naked eye, anyway. For 14 minutes, The Zizz presses on with a deeply unsettling sense of paranoia that pervades all sense of scenery as the audience struggles to grasp the thematic relevance of such an abrasive picture.
The technical prowess in The Zizz stands as the concrete foundation for its ambitiously simple concept. At the start, it may appear to be a fairly unornamented film, and in many ways it is. The production design is largely minimalistic, the setting is virtually one location, and the cast encompasses two actors (one of whom is played by one of the core filmmakers, Georgie Bailey). Yet the grassroots foundation of The Zizz allows it to establish its atmosphere in ways far more poignant and substantial than a wide ranging budget may have provided. Bailey, Darling, and Betts corner our protagonist in the space and lean heavily into the barren walls and limited design as a way to heighten the agitation surrounding the crippling isolation. Darling, who doubles as the film’s editor, cuts fervently through montages, wedging violent expressions of Doz’s anguish with crawling long takes that linger on his paranoid face as his enigmatic voiceover layers the action with vivid imagery established only from the implications of his words. And then there is the sound design which bursts through the film establishing a brilliant juxtaposition to the often illusory but serene television imagery with the chaotic, propulsive blasts and buzzes that capitalize on every anxiety inducing second. In some ways, the theatricality of the film stands out stronger than any implied narrative, and the audience may walk away more impacted by the immediate emotion of the filmmaking than the film itself. But undoubtably, The Zizz succeeds in establishing its atmosphere through its simplistic design choices.
Darling’s imagery (yes, he is the cinematographer as well) can seem teetering toward the generic at times, with moments of lighting casting stark shadows in a way that may seem more than obvious and a tad ‘caution-to-the-wind, accidental’. But for every moment that feels concocted solely for the purpose of producing under intensely low budget circumstances, there is an equally impressive directive choice to counteract it. The frame rate adjusting is an ambitious gamble, yet it works brilliantly in The Zizz to establish the artificial atmosphere with fragmented, stop-motion aesthetics that lunge toward the lens and burst with a sort of synthetic psychosis. And then of course there is the stunning ‘climax’ of sorts in a thrashing moment where the facade crashes down and the vision of reality is shown in full light. Doz lingers on the sight before a panicked desperation implores him to cover it. But a slow fade allows for the two images to layer over one another as if to say the mind lingers on the static beauty of the outside world while the body rushes to re-mask itself. It’s a devastating depiction of depression, casting aside the crippling hibernation for a brief glimpse at the world beyond it before succumbing back to the comfort of darkness. Perhaps that is only my own personal attribution to the allegory and not intended by the filmmakers, but as such a powerful moment, it stands to mean many things for many viewers.
But lets discuss the allegory(ies) more specifically because it is undoubtably what will turn the audience on or off to the film. The tele-salesman’s monotonous preaching with the vague encouragement, the incessant buzzing of the fly as the slippery antagonist, and of course the corn, all establish enigmatic flexibility for the film’s narrative implications. Much like their preceding film, the weight of The Zizz depends entirely on the allegorical investment of the viewer. And whether it is a prominent allegory for ADHD or depression (or perhaps, more likely, a generic, all encompassing ‘madness’), The Zizz undoubtably will find its footing more in the viewers that are willing to accept mystery in the narrative than the ones who may stubbornly attempt to fit it into a cognitive box. The Zizzmay encompass many of the themes I’ve mentioned, or it may encompass none of them. Such is the nature of the experimental ideology that implores this type of filmmaking. This is equally The Zizz’s best quality as well as its most obvious drawback. But I applaud the team behind the film for leaning, once again, into the divisive nature of their work.
Emotionally, The Zizz is inherently lacking due to this enigmatic narrative. Doz and the tele-salesman are not characters so much as they are vehicles to drive the ideologies in the plot.
Which, again, feels like the reason why the film leans so heavily on its technical choices to compensate for its vacancies. As a result, the audience may feel a bit removed from some of the narrative empathy. But the runtime ensures that these grievances remain palatable. Whereas a feature may require more narrative cohesion, the flexibility in The Zizz’s plotting, characters, and even some of its technical aspects, fits well in the small time slot, and it makes me eager to dive into the 90 minute next step for this creative team.
Whether or not you align with the experimental nature of the film, the technical prowess (even for a short so isolated and simplistic in scope) is remarkable. ChewBoy productions remains an ambitious, uniquely bizarre, indie film group unafraid to embrace the delightfully weird Duplass-ian grassroots that make experimental film so interesting. The Zizz is one part The Puffy Chair with a small dash of Last Year at Mariebad and slight tonal similarities to THX 1138. It’s an enigmatic amalgamation of themes that universally offer solace in understanding—an acknowledgement that the internal dilemmas, the suffering we feel inside, may actually be a shared experience. Perhaps, in that way, The Zizz (in what it represents) doesn’t have to feel so daunting. 8.5/10