Sunday, 6 April 2014

Zorg and Andy

Director: Guy Davis
Writer: VZ Montengo
Producers: Guy Davis, Quentin Dodd, Paul Dodd
Cast: Scott Ganyo, Kate Rudd, Sally Weatherston
Country: USA
Year of release: 2009
Reviewed from: US DVD

I always feel guilty when somebody sends me their film that they’ve worked hard on and I watch it and, not to put too fine a point on it, I think it’s awful. Part of me says ‘Hey, don’t review this. Give these guys a break.’ And another part of me says ‘Write what you genuinely think because to do otherwise would be a disservice to your readers and indeed to the film-makers themselves. Any creative artist, especially one just starting out, can learn more from detailed analysis and constructive criticism than from unalloyed lauding of their work. So tell the truth.’

A bit more verbose, that second voice.

It’s difficult to know where to start with Zorg and Andy, a 65-minute, self-styled ‘indie comedy sensation’ but I would suggest that its biggest failing is that it isn’t even slightly funny. Not only did I not laugh once, I didn’t even smile. It’s clearly not meant to be a serious film because the central premise is ridiculous and in fact there is tremendous potential for comedy in said premise, but none of that potential is mined here. It’s like the film is one enormous joke-oid; it has the shape of a comedy without actually being one. It’s not that the gags are weak or unfunny, it’s that there don’t seem to be any. Not only did I not laugh, I couldn’t work out where I was supposed to laugh if I had found it funny.

Which is a huge shame because the premise is very good. A student doing work experience in a museum is left in charge of an ancient idol which goes missing and it turns out that his university is full of secret cults and cabals, all of whom want to get their hands on the idol for their own nefarious purposes. I like that idea. It’s clever and original. I work in a university and I can well believe that secret ceremonies go on behind certain faculty doors.

Well, when I say “full of secret cults and cabals” I’m paraphrasing the sleeve blurb (“their idyllic campus is overrun by pagan blood cults”) and the website blurb (“his idyllic campus is home to a network of bloodthirsty pagan cults”). In fact there are precisely two cults with about 15 or 16 members between them.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that an archaeological dig by a German team in Turkey uncovers the stone idol and a mysterious woman who has a mind-control drug in the heel of her stiletto persuades the lead archaeologist to ship the item to the States.

Student Andy has had some problem in his previous work experience so he is assigned to a museum where the staff consists of brusque, downtrodden Jen and irritating, chirpy Pete plus an unseen ‘Professor Harpax’. While cleaning the statue, Andy gives it to a strange woman who calls it Zorg. When Jen finds this out she goes ballistic and sends Andy to get it back.

He goes to see two entirely unexplained characters, one of whom wears a large, papier-mâché pig’s head for no apparent reason. Identifying the woman from a bunch of staff photos as ‘Colette from Economics’, he then goes to the Economics Department where he finds a gaggle of middle-aged people wearing odd costumes who are planning to sacrifice Jen to Zorg.

Later, while Jen sleeps, Andy answers the door and Colette whacks him with a golf club and steals Zorg again but she is tricked by Professor Harpax who leads an all-female cult which already owns a female version of the Zorg statue. They plan to sacrifice Andy and Jen and Colette but the other cult turn up and there is a short chase until eventually two campus security guys arrive and arrest everyone.

There’s a good idea in there somewhere but a whole bunch of things let the movie down, not least a badly structured script (by the possibly pseudonymous ‘VZ Montengo’) which drags out the Turkey-set prologue and is nearly halfway through before Andy even sets off to find the statue, which is supposed to be the central quest of the plot. There is even the potential in there for comedy, for misunderstandings, for surprises and shocks and people going nuts and other people staying frustratingly cool and collected.

But the only thing that might possibly be supposed to be funny is the pig’s head schtick which seems to be just random surrealism and as such is totally out of keeping with what the rest of the film is (allegedly) trying to achieve. I’m wondering whether the pig thing is some sort of in-joke. If not, why is it there. Who is ‘The Pig’ and who is the other guy with The Pig?

Okay, enough beating around the bush. The script is terrible - in terms of both plot structure and dialogue - and nobody was ever going to be able to make a good film out of it. And there’s a whole bunch of bad choices and technical deficiencies which I shall detail in a moment. But something has to be said about the character of Andy and the actor who plays him, Scott Ganyo.


I don’t mean that as an opinion or as a critical comment. I’m using the term ‘meh’ in its purely adjectival sense. Andy Monroe is the most ‘meh’ character I think I’ve ever seen in a film. He’s blank, he’s nothing, he’s a character with no character. Not in a fascinating way like, say Peter Sellers in Being There. No, this is just an utterly dull character played in an utterly dull way so that we never, ever care about him at all. We don’t care what he does or how or why he does it.

He’s given no background so we don’t know who he is and he’s given no goal (apart from the short-term task of getting back the idol he gave away) so we don’t know what he wants. And we don’t care. I have honestly never seen a central character so monumentally dull. Not even dull enough to be interesting or amusing. Just bland. He shows no expressions: no fear, no elation, no concern, no curiosity. Nothing.

Not that he’s given anything to say or do in the bland script. Every line of dialogue that Andy utters is a prosaically dull statement, invariably delivered by Ganyo in the same flat monotone after a pause of about half a second. It’s like he’s not even aware of what’s going on - yet not distracted by something else either. He never seems to make eye contact with anyone else. There’s no body language, no sense of urgency when threatened, no sense of relief when safe. Andy is a narrative and emotional void at the centre of this film. Notice how, in the plot synopsis above, I was able to apply two adjectives to both Jen and Pete but nothng to Andy.

And since the film is called Zorg and Andy, and Zorg is just a small statue, that doesn’t really leave much. Really, the film should just be called And.

If the central character was played as a bit of a wise-guy chancer we could laugh with him. If he was played as lovable slacker we could laugh at him. But he’s neither, he’s nothing. It’s like some background extra with one line was stuck in front of the cameras and made the centre of the whole film but without bothering to expand his character from that single line. For example, there’s one scene where Andy picks up some antique coins from a display and uses them to buy a drink from a vending machine and, because he’s such a bland non-character, we don’t know why. Is he so dumb that he didn’t realise they were antiques or is he so cocky that he didn’t care they were antiques? Either might work but we have no idea which (if either) is the case.

So the next question is this: is Scott Ganyo a terrible actor or is he just playing Andy like this? I must admit that I assumed, given the cheapo nature of the film, that the cast probably consists of director Guy Davis’ friends and colleagues but it turns out that Ganyo is a professional SAG/AFTRA actor. So presumably it’s not that he doesn’t know how to act, he’s just playing Andy as if the character were being played by somebody who doesn’t know how to act. Somebody who not only doesn’t understand how to convey emotions but doesn’t even realise that’s what he’s supposed to be doing when that camera-thing is pointing at him.

At some point in the film, a terrible thing occurred to me. And I apologise in advance in case anybody thinks I’m being flippant, but I wondered whether the character of Andy was intended to be autistic. No really, it seems the only way to make sense of his disconnectedness from everything around him. It’s like he has his own world and his own judgements and he’s not doing anything really strange but there’s something indefinably different. And it reminds me of what little direct experience I have had with autistic people.

And once I had thought that, I couldn’t unthink it. And everything after that made some kind of sense, at least as far as Andy’s behaviour went. Of course, if I’m wrong and the character is actually meant to be some sort of laid-back, goof-off slacker - in fact, if Andy is meant to have any character at all - then I’m afraid Scott Ganyo really is an unbelievably terrible actor.

The rest of the cast varies from adequate to dreadful. Sally Weatherston as Harpax is probably the best of a bad bunch although I must mention Nancy R’beck who plays one of the Economics cult members. She has about three lines yet still manages to stand out as one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen in my life.

Davis’ direction and editing are okay but he’s a little too trigger-happy on the shot-reverse-shot sometimes which is distracting and creates one or two body-position continuity errors. Cinematographer Benjamin Weatherston comes off best from this film I think although he can’t do anything about the perpetual problem of day-for-night shots, which is that they have never, ever looked like night-time in any film that has ever used them. Ever. I don’t know why people still bother with them, I honestly don’t.

Look, while I’m lambasting this little film, let’s point out a few specific problems. The German subtitles in the prologue are tricky to read. Then when we first meet Andy he’s lying in bed and somebody is leaving a message on his answerphone. But if you’re going to treat a voice with a telephone distort effect, don’t stick music over the top, especially when the film is just starting so we’ve no clues or context to help us decipher what is being said. It’s something to do with Andy’s last work experience but it’s mostly inaudible.

The only thing we can make out is that he has been assigned to the Kungsbaden Museum of Natural History which may or may not be part of his university - that’s never made clear. What is clear is that this is a museum of natural history, partly because it is called that several times and partly because of all the stuffed beavers, mounted antelope heads and dinotherium skeletons around the place.

I mean, kudos for finding - and getting permission to use - a real museum. This isn’t just set dressing, this is a full-on natural history museum and numerous shots are packed with top-quality background inaction of impressive taxidermy and some superb fossils.

So, er, what is an archaeological item, an ancient stone statue, doing in a natural history museum? Jen says repeatedly that this is Harpax’s prized acquisition and nobody bats an eyelid at its out-of-placeness. There’s a throwaway line about the museum concentrating on ‘anthropology and ethnology’ but that doesn’t square with the fully mounted woolly mammoth skeleton out front. Apart from the previously mentioned antique coins there is nothing in the museum which has any connection with anthropology or ethnology or indeed anything except animals. Either this is a general museum with a natural history section and an archaeology section - which is not what we are told/shown - or it’s just a natural history museum, in which case it makes no sense for it to have the facilities to clean and prepare archaeological specimens.

It looks like Guy Davis got access to this fabulous museum location and decided to shoot there even though it contradicted the basic premise of his plot. Are we supposed to not notice that the idol is in a completely inappropriate place? Because the characters don’t. I don’t get it.

The ‘museum’ also has, for some inexplicable reason, an insect lab full of free-flying ‘flesh-eating bugs’ which are represented by lots of little black blobs whizzing around, a buzzing noise and occasional insert shots of a cockroach. Andy and Jen are locked in the lab which is supposed to kill them but the bugs (who don’t seem capable of flying out of the door while it’s open) cause no more bother than a swarm of house-flies would. A giant millipede can be clearly seen at the edge of one shot, crawling around its tank, but is never mentioned.

Andy and Jen escape through the traditional large, square air duct that has served characters in dodgy B-movies as an escape route since time immemorial. Except that this one is represented by a metal plate about 12 inches square that the petite Jen might just about get through but Andy stands no chance. And the other end of the ‘air vent’ is represented by the two actors emerging from a small cupboard! Sorry, but that was the point at which I started to lose sympathy with Zorg and Andy. That’s just amateur. This film wants to be treated like a real movie but it’s more like a home movie, a student project designed for playing to the people who made it but a chore for other folk to sit through.

An equally badly done scene is Andy’s rescue of Jen (and Zorg) from the Economics Department. At this stage, Andy is still hoping to apply a ‘fixative’ to the statue to protect it when handled but he finds that he accidentally swapped bags with a photographer friend whom he met on the stairs before seeing pig-head-man and other-man. The friend must be a keen photographer because he has a decent camera which he carries around in a large bag with nothing else at all. Andy uses this camera to ward off the cult members and force them to untie Jen - but how does he use it?

The dialogue has a threat to leave the incriminating photos where they will be found and published if Andy dies but that’s not a way to ward off physical violence. Once Andy has one shot of the group (he’s just firing off the camera randomly) then any additional photos won’t incriminate them any more - and they are evidently prepared to commit murder - so they might as well grab him, stab him and smash the camera. Or are we supposed to imagine they’re frightened of the flash? Unfortunately, between the people playing the cult members being such terrible actors and Guy Davis not knowing how to direct this scene, we can’t really tell why they’re frightened. (We also have no clue why they have kidnapped Jen in particular.)

There are plenty of other gaping holes in the plot. Why does Harpax travel all the way to Turkey with her truth-drug-heel-syringe (the one and only interesting thing in the film) then just use it to persuade the German archaeology professor to have the idol shipped to her university. She puts him under mind-control and then just hands him her address! Later, Jen talks of having spent ages overseeing the shipping of the statue. So why didn’t Harpax just take the bloody thing when she had a chance, avoiding all that bother and risk?

Similarly, when Jen is asleep, recovering from her kidnap, and Andy goes to answer a knock at the front door, he is careful to pick up Zorg and carry the idol through the house so that he can be holding it when he gets whacked with a golf club. He has no reason to pick up the thing and carry it. Jen’s asleep, he’s unconscious (from a blow to the stomach?) so Colette could have just walked in and taken the statue off the table. It’s more bad script compounded by poor direction.

There is some mention near the end that Andy is somehow the ‘chosen one’ of Zorg but this is neither explained nor explored - then the film wraps up at about 59 minutes. About six minutes of credits follow, more than half of which is an endless list of all the sound effects which Davis used from various websites. That still leaves the movie short of the seventy minutes required to classify it as a feature; it’s a measure of the film-makers’ inexperience and naiveté that they didn’t think to simply run the credits slower (or bigger) to drag the whole thing out. Have they never seen a Charlie Band picture?

If there is one word to describe Zorg and Andy it is ‘over-ambitious’. Guy Davis has bitten off far more than he can chew, working from an unsuitable script with an untalented cast in inappropriate locations. It’s a real shame because he has put a lot of effort (and fair bit of money from a large team of credited ‘executive producers’) into this movie. It looks like everyone involved had a great time making Zorg and Andy but that doesn’t translate into a great time for the audience. If anything, the reverse often holds true. Many of the best films ever made were hell on Earth for their cast and crew.

I was really looking forward to Zorg and Andy because it sounded great on paper. And, truth be told, I’m still looking forward to it. I really, really want to see a comedy movie about secret cults on a university campus fighting for possession of an ancient idol while some hapless intern tries to recover the sacred object just to save his job. That would be - well, could be - a great movie. I hope that Guy Davis spends some time shooting a few shorts, hones his craft, collects around him a stock company of talented actors and eventually remakes Zorg and Andy a few years down the line. With a decent script.

Sorry folks.

MJS rating: D+

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