Review: THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR Tackles Difficult Stories And Looks Good Along The Way
It’s really hard to make a successful movie about a woman going crazy. Movies like Possession and Rosemary’s Baby are enjoyable because you know it’s about a woman who is losing her grip, but it could be, and probably is, something more sinister and possibly supernatural. Repulsion succeeds because emotionally, we are made to feel the claustrophobic and disturbing feelings of a woman’s descent into madness. It’s a fine line to walk to make a successful movie about a woman slipping off the edge, and it takes a truly deft hand to deal with the subject matter. Joe Badon, the writer and director of The God Inside My Ear , had the bravery to tackle this kind of difficult storyline in his first feature film, and although the movie manages some really good moments, the film never quite manages to become more than the sum of its’ parts.
The God Inside My Ear follows twenty-something Elizia after a weird breakup in which her boyfriend tells her he’s leaving her because he has found God. Elizia (Linnea Gregg) sinks into depression and seems to have lost her sense of meaning and purpose. After receiving a call from The Telemarketer, (who, in a very sort of Dr. Who way, is known only as “The Telemarketer” for the entire film), and seeing a TV advertisement for a spiritual fix, Elizia seems to be completely losing her mind and her grip on reality. She begins to do things that are uncharacteristic for her, and although her friends can tell she’s out of sorts, they still recommend she begin dating again, which is not exactly the best suggestion in the world. Elizia heeds their advice but she knows something isn’t right and tries a number of fixes, including a therapist who recommends she collect something. Once she settles on something to collect and brings one of her finds home, even weirder things begin to happen. The Telemarketer also continues to call Elizia, seemingly intent on being in her life. If this sounds a bit confusing or muddled, that’s because it is. So many elements are introduced into the story that the viewer can’t quite settle on what is happening. Is Elizia simply losing her grip on reality, does she have some sort of possessed object, or is The Telemarketer or the TV advertisement somehow driving her mad?
Gregg, in her performance as Elizia, tries to show us the detachment she has from reality, but in the beginning her dialogue comes off a little wooden and too detached. However, Gregg is watchable enough that you are willing to give her a chance to pull it off, and, in fact, her acting greatly improves as the film goes on, so much so that it almost feels as if the movie was shot chronologically. She appears vastly better as the film proceeds, and, in fact, much about the film seems to get better as it moves along. Some of the side-players aren’t exactly the best actors, but some of them really show promise, including The Telemarketer, who is terrific from the beginning, and a coworker who admires Elizia, who himself gets better as the film progresses. Elizia’s friend David (Lucas Boffin) also feels earnest and sincere, even though he and his sister make some suggestions to help Elizia that feel somewhat ill-advised. Yet, even as most of the acting improves and the visuals effectively propel the story, the movie feels cluttered by too many possible explanations for Elizia’s behavior. While much else about the movie gets better as it moves forward, the story just isn’t part of that. That, instead, becomes more convoluted and unnecessarily excessive as it presents us with far too many possibilities for what’s happening to Eliza.
When I said this has echos of Dr. Who, I meant it, in that there seems to be something or someone out there that seems to be pulling the strings, intent on driving Elizia mad or possessing her, and who is using unusual means to achieve that. But Elizia is also just doing weird things and seems to be driven by something, we just don’t understand exactly what that’s supposed to be for much of the movie. We are led to believe it could be many different things, and the movie simply suffers from an excess of those ideas. Sometimes, as a writer, Badon gives us bits of dialogue that are great, and as a director he really has a knack for visual storytelling. He fills the film with beautifully framed shots and lush and gorgeous imagery, but the storytelling just doesn’t feel purposeful enough. It feels as if Badon just had too much he wanted to put into this story, or didn’t quite trust his audience enough to fill in any blanks, or both.
The film definitely feels like it draws on influences of David Lynch, but also seems to take influence from some sixties-era films, in that it sometimes utilizes devices like split screen imagery and other effects not as oft used in modern filmmaking. There are times it feels experimental or a little “art-house,” and you have to give the filmmaker credit for doing something outside of the box. I really can’t emphasize enough, however, how good-looking this film is, and because of that, I sometimes felt myself wondering if all the extras were necessary. When the filmmaker draws too heavily from outside influences the film feels less successful, but when you can sense he’s trusting his own voice, it feels much more like a well-rounded movie.
There are some pretty clever things here, like a conman telling Elizia about the deceitful nature of “Tricksters,” a date who winds up dead in a plate full of spaghetti, and a conclusion which could have really been impactful, if only more of the movie hadn’t led us in a different direction. The talent is definitely here, it just feels as if it needed to be tightened up. There is a lot of imaginative storytelling in the movie, but, frankly, it’s just too much imagination. What we get are lots of great ideas, but they just don’t feel as if they all belong to the same film. That being said, I’d rather have a filmmaker who has an excess of ideas than a shortage of them, and Badon definitely has plenty of ideas. That, plus his ability to put beautiful images on screen, leads me to believe he could do some really good things in the future.
Credit for the visuals, of course, also has to go to cinematographer Daniel Waghorne. There are some people here who are displaying some real talent, but who just don’t manage to tie it all up in a tidy and effective horror movie. I definitely think there are some names here that you will hear from in the future. The God Inside My Ear just takes a little too long to find its’ footing, and once it does, unfortunately, it’s become crowded with too many concepts. Still, there are enough good things here to know that, once the filmmakers learn to trust both themselves and their audience more, there are likely some great things to come.