Half in French and half in English (though filmed entirely in Los Angeles), this bizarre new film from Quentin Dupieux, the director of Rubber, is like a modern-day Through the Looking Glass. You know from the beginning that most, if not all, of the events are part of a surreal nightmare, mostly about filmmaking. Whose nightmare is it, though? Which scenes are part of the nightmare, which are part of the film, and which are part of reality? Or is it all the same?
Jason (Alain Chabat), a French cameraman living in Los Angeles, is given an opportunity by an old acquaintance (Jonathan Lambert) to make his dream film: a complex horror/thriller about sentient televisions taking over the world. Before the deal is finalized, though, Jason must go on a quest to find and record the “perfect horror movie groan” that can be used as the televisions torture and kill their victims.
The official plot synopsis says, “the perfect horror scream,” but in the movie, the word is “groan,” and I think the difference is critical to the film. A scream is more external, while a groan is more internal. A man on a quest for the perfect scream might be driven to go on a killing spree and record his victims in abject terror. For a groan, though, Jason’s obsession is turned inward as he tries every means possible to produce the groan himself.
Meanwhile, another director, Zog (John Glover, Smallville) attempts to film his latest masterpiece about a little girl named Reality (Kyla Kenedy) and her attempt to find and view a mysterious videotape. Then, Reality begins showing up in Jason’s life—or possibly his nightmares—as well as the dreams and realities of other characters in the film. It’s possible that there’s no reality in this film at all, except for Reality—who continues turning up in both films and dreams.
There are a number of performances worth noting in this film. John Glover’s time on screen is brief, but he’s one of the best parts of the film. He excels at playing strange and eccentric characters, and this is no exception. Jon Heder plays an insufferable TV show host who’s convinced he’s suffering from excruciating eczema, even though his skin is completely clear. And, Eric Wareheim (of Tim and Eric) plays an insecure man who’s haunted by a dream—though that dream may well be nothing more than a part of Jason’s nightmare.
Reality is very funny and rather unsettling, often at the same time. It’s certainly not for everyone. Plenty of people will be left scratching their heads and saying, “I don’t understand!”—not realizing that that’s the entire point. The best way to enjoy this film is not to over analyze it or try to figure out what’s going on, but just to let things flow in their bizarre, surreal way and try to take it all in. As you exit the theater, you may find yourself doubting your own reality and having to readjust a bit to life in the “real world,” such as it is. If that sounds like a good time to you, then you definitely won’t want to miss this film.