Directed by Pat Tremblay
Director Pat Tremblay introduced the North American premiere of his film by asking the audience a series of questions. “Do you like sci-fi movies?” he asked first. Followed by, “Do you like long movies?” The audience started to squirm when he asked, “Do you like slow movies?” By the time Tremblay asked, “Do you like painful movies?” everyone knew they were in for trouble.
Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass is certainly long and painful as intended, but what the director didn’t mention is that the film is also side-splittingly funny and that the grind is thoroughly entertaining. It’s an homage to the “so bad it’s good” sci-fi genre while at the same time being one of the best reproductions of a post-apocalyptic video game ever made.
But first let’s get this out of the way: Hellacious Acres aims to punish its audience and succeeds. If you go in expecting a fast-paced narrative and lots of action, you’ll likely find yourself cursing the screen. The film is slow. Very little happens. The landscapes are bleak and desaturated. There’s limited dialogue and few characters. Tremblay is concerned with all the mundane aspects of life that are rarely shown in movies and games, and so copious amounts of screen time are spent watching the main character walk, sleep, eat and crap. Oh, and search dilapidated barns. For a sci-fi movie there sure are a lot of barns.
But in the context of the story, barns in the middle of nowhere make sense. After all, what else is going to be left after humanity is hit with the one-two punch of a worldwide natural disaster followed by a coincidental alien invasion? This idea of multiple calamities and slapstick bad luck is present throughout the film. The unfortunate protagonist of the film is John Glass, a regular joe who awakens with no memory (in a barn) to find himself strapped into an airtight suit with only the antiquated computer on his arm to keep him company. As he painfully punches his questions in key by agonizing key, he learns that his seemingly pointless mission is to travel to two locations, enter a code at each, at which point the rest of his assignment will be unveiled to him. He also finds out that he must eat by extending a vacuum feeding tube from his backpack, and that he must evacuate his waste through the same tube (eewww!). His sarcastic AI companion also informs him that while there are teleportation pads available in select barns, the after effects are unpleasant and it is recommended he not use them. There is a blue serum to help counteract the consequences of the teleportation, but the serum has side effects, too. What’s a post-apocalyptic hobo to do?
If you think this sounds a lot like a video game, you’d be on the right track as Hellacious Acres is filled with the same kind of desolate landscapes and character design as Fallout, while the various meaningless missions and jeering AI is highly reminiscent of the Portal series. The endless fiddling around in menus, the interminable walking, the occasional “bug”, and the overall sense of wasting your time are all conveyed in the film. The director insists he hasn’t played a video game since Doom 3 so the similarity to modern games is astonishing.
And it’s no surprise Tremblay is so out-of-date with video games as there’s no way he has any time to goof around given how many hats he wore while making his movie. He wrote, directed, edited, and co-scored and performed the bulk of the visual and practical effects in the film, all while suiting up and playing John Glass, his lead character! This is true micro-budget auteur filmmaking, folks; miss it at your peril.
3 1/2 out of 5