Saturday, February 2, 2013

WHAT IS IT? (2005) movie review

What Is It? (2005) d. Glover, Crispin Hellion(USA)

Actor and professional oddball Crispin Glover weaves a hallucinatory spell in his directing debut, utilizing a cast composed primarily of performers with Downs Syndrome, with support by performance artist/writer Adam Parfrey, cerebral palsy sufferer Steven C. Stewart, Glover himself and…snails. Lots and lots of snails, many of which meet their untimely demises via salt shakers or clenched fist in extreme close-up, providing some of the most unexpectedly troubling images I’ve seen (and considering my film genre of choice
I’ve seen a lot).

Glover, who travels around with his films and does not allow them to be screened without being personally present, is to be applauded for his fearlessness in challenging his audiences to confront disturbing material – be it in the form of the aforementioned gastropods, swastikas on Shirley Temple memorabilia, nude ape-masked women or blackfaced minstrels – and inquire exactly what offends our sensibilities and why.

Heavily influenced by David Lynch (who, Glover revealed in a Q&A session, served as an uncredited executive producer), there is an undeniably nightmarish and flamboyantly imaginative quality that pervades the film, and it manages to stir something deep within every viewer. Bizarre as it might sound, the emotions provoked when Fairuza Balk voices the anguished screams of a heartbroken snail are not easily dismissed nor denied.

This is one of the purest examples of ballsy, challenging and thrilling independent cinema I’ve seen, one that I urge all open-minded cinephiles who come within viewing distance of Glover’s arc to check out.


  1. Glover's actually coming to campus in two weeks to screen both of his films. Tickets are $18 apiece, though, which is a wee bit pricey. Also, What Is It? conflicts with the first weekend of AMC's Best Picture Showcase, which is my only chance to see Amour before the Oscar telecast. Decisions, decisions...

    1. Dude. I had heard that Glover was coming, which is what prompted the posting of this review. Here's the deal. AMOUR will get a DVD release, probably in a couple months. WHAT IS IT? will not be coming to DVD anytime at all. Glover, for his part, does a very extravagant pre-screening presentation and an extended Q&A and stayed until the wee hours of the morning signing and meeting people. Extremely generous with his time and definitely wanting to make a connection with his audience. Obviously, this was back in 2007 when IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. came out and he was doing the circuit. But I'd like to think he's still the same guy. It's definitely an event, so I can understand the $18 price tag. If you get what I got, then I'd say it would be worth it. Fingers crossed.

    2. I'll have to think about it. The main thing is if I see one of them, then I feel like I should see both, and $36 isn't exactly chump change.

    3. I hear ya. If it was $18 for both flicks, that would be different. Honestly, I'd be hard pressed as to which of the two to recommend over the other. They're both such very different beasts.