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Chemicals, Like God [Matthew Roe & Kat Parker, USA, 2017]

October 15, 2019

Matthew Roe and Kat Parker’s silent film Chemicals, Like God (USA, 2017) sounds and feels like a swarm of bees. Guitars, sitars and synths wail in brutal electric fuzz over drowned vocals, seeming less musical accompaniment than an obliteration of the possibility of diegetic sound. Two characters - Bailey Musiol and David Short, an alcoholic and an opioid addict - flail in the overwhelming metabolic urgency of their addictions. It goes on and on until all the blood drains from it, literally desaturating - richly coloured naturalist tableaus of initial (fleeting) repose giving way to surrealist voids, to ultimate expiry in grey urban confines.

 

Along this protracted comedown, what feeble support systems still exist for the characters buckle: abandonment or abuse quickly forthcoming from friend or partner, who by this point has had it up to here. Total isolation beckons, and the equation is fully and familiarly poised for the inevitable outcome.

 

Plausibly realised, these scenes succeed a more experimental, free-associative opening: inventive visual riffs folding together highs, sobriety, withdrawal, and their myriad realms. For if intoxicants offer a release, as is colloquially suggested, where is it we are released to? And what was it that bound us beforehand?

In Chemicals, Like God, whatever ‘release’ is attained is coded with the displacement implied by the word. The biological imperative to sate the addiction compulsion subdues conscious perception and disinhibits the subconscious - the stranger inside. The terminal process of this mechanism is a schism, a self-alienation, depicted here in recurring confrontations with the spectre of the doppelganger. For Musiol, she stares vacantly at herself staring back from the television set. For Short, his double becomes an active pursuer - appearing in alleyways, or across rooms, grinning back at him with chilling alterity. In each case the mirror appears more alert, more knowing - a capricious and eerie interiority unwittingly invoked.

 

Elsewhere a repeated motif sees the characters squared to the camera, looking calmly down the lens - the background often abstract, as if this were a brief step outside the present reality. Each time there seems some fugitive possibility of self-assertion. Each time something inward comes forth to warp or distend the image - looping corridors strobing through hollowed eye sockets; cold, dust-filled galaxies blooming from silhouettes. All recedes to the automaton procession of addiction – and they fall back in the swarm, strangers to themselves.

'Chemicals, Like God' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

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