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In Sickness and in Stealth

Racked with cold sweats and panic attacks, Marc Forster's digital-video feature Everything Put Together is at once venturesome and reductive. Its primary emotion is grief, and its defining experience profound alienation—both of which the movie sees as raw material for a nerve-jangling creepshow of diseased domesticity. Angie (Radha Mitchell) and Russ (Justin Louis) are expecting their first child, and the vexed handheld camera (partial to dread-maximizing angles and compositions) and lushly ominous electro-drone soundtrack seem to anticipate no less than Rosemary's baby. Not long into the film, after what seems like a routine delivery, their one-day-old boy dies. The cause is particularly unfathomable—sudden infant death syndrome—and the rest of Everything Put Together charts two parallel withdrawals: Angie's de facto banishment from her community of suburban housewives and her estrangement from reality in general.

In his second fiction feature, Forster, a Swiss-born ex-documentarian, grapples with the sheer outsize awkwardness of bereavement—as a form of madness and an isolating agent—but in true Amerindie fashion, he also gravitates toward broad anti-bourgeois satire. Angie's vacuous harpy friends (one of whom is played by cowriter Catherine Lloyd Burns) keep their distance; she slips into a state of zombified semi-denial and is increasingly perceived as a threat, lurking in playgrounds and stalking the aisles of baby stores.

Though morbidly attuned to the petty cruelties of social embarrassment, the script never transcends its stick figures and creaky mechanics. Angie remains a cipher, who's characterized chiefly by her suffering and rendered sympathetic in relief (surrounded by a mild, hapless husband, cretinous acquaintances, and arbitrarily hostile strangers). The poised ambiguity of the final scene aside, Everything Put Together generates chills through unsubtle jolts (red wine gurgling down a kitchen sink, beets stuffed into a juicer). The film at times seems to pay homage to Todd Haynes's Safe, but if anything, Everything Put Together is its inverse. While Haynes's masterwork of existential horror explored illness as metaphor, Everything Put Together seeks to portray loss as a literal, convulsive nightmare, and it's not above resorting to horror-movie tropes and Grand Guignol trickery.

Playing it safe: Louis and Mitchell in Everything Put Together
photo: Stefanie Schneider
Playing it safe: Louis and Mitchell in Everything Put Together

Details

Everything Put Together
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Adam Forgash, Catherine Lloyd Burns, and Forster
Vitagraph
Cinema Village
Opens November 9

I Remember Me
Directed by Kim A. Snyder
Zeitgeist
Screening Room
November 9 through 22

Maze
Directed by Rob Morrow
Written by Morrow and Bradley White
Opens November 9


Safe also serves as backdrop of sorts for I Remember Me, Kim A. Snyder's documentary on chronic fatigue syndrome—a condition with a mysterious etiology that (much like the environmental illness that befalls Julianne Moore's SoCal homemaker) lacks a clear diagnostic test and was initially dismissed by the medical establishment as psychosomatic. Snyder herself became ill with CFS (formerly "yuppie flu"—both names gravely underestimate its debilitating effects) in the mid '90s, and the film cuts between her own on-camera accounts and interviews with other patients (soccer star Michelle Akers, filmmaker Blake Edwards, and Connecticut high school senior Steven, who makes it to graduation on a gurney). Snyder also uncovers evidence of what seem like CFS outbreaks dating back as far as the early 20th century. The interpolated stock footage is a misguided attempt at visual poetry, and some of the testimonials are underedited, but as a work of passionate advocacy, I Remember Me can't be faulted.


Rounding out the week's litany of maladies, Maze stars actor turned first-time director Rob Morrow as Lyle Maze, a lovelorn New York artist with Tourette's. Lyle's commitment-phobic best friend (Craig Sheffer) heads off on a Doctors Without Borders adventure, leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend (Laura Linney) for Lyle to court. Morrow's performance is all narcissistic condescension. His direction, meanwhile, is notable mainly for illustrating Lyle's POV via cutaways shot with a jerky camcorder. Just when you think it can't get any worse, Maze rams home a body blow—equating the involuntary spasms of Tourette's with the ungovernable impulses of the heart.

 
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