Talking about a horror movie about a huge talking fungus being the least oddball thing about it is tricky business. All I’ll say is Don Thacker’s unconventional psychological freak-out Motivational Growth needs to be seen to be believed. And even after you’ve seen it, you’ll probably still think you were hallucinating the whole thing. The film is one of those low-budget indies where the pure craft and ingenuity on display outstrip the meager budget and you’ll probably find yourself hooked in right from the start because you’re hit over the head right away with some truly striking, memorable visuals.
All I know is within the first five or ten minutes of fake TV shows I saw what looked like a fake TV commercial for a fake anime adventure/shooter hybrid game called Starr Mazer. My eyeballs did a double-back flip and I wrote that name down in the notepad I keep nearby for reviews. If it was just animation created for the film, it was a genius move on Thacker’s part. If it was an actual game, well… I had to find out what I could play it on. When I looked up that fake game later, I found that there actually IS an anime adventure/shooter hybrid called Starr Mazer. In fact, it’s also one of Thacker’s many side projects.
But let’s keep the rest of this review about this bizarre, near brilliant film…
Ian Folivor (Adrian Digiovani) hasn’t left his apartment in some 16 months, bathed himself or even bothered to clean his place. He lives day to day in front of his TV (an old console he’s named Kent), eating whatever is lying around from his weekly grocery deliveries, clearly in a deep depression. Things come to a head when Kent blows a fuse and distraught, Ian decides to take his life in his exceptionally filthy bathroom. The suicide attempt doesn’t go as planned and Ian is awakened by The Mold (voiced bu Jeffrey Combs), a pile of fungus lying against his bathroom sink. The Mold motivates Ian to clean up his act and get his life in some sort of order, but it’s clear that the chattering gray mass isn’t quite as friendly as he wants Ian to think.
The film is set in one location and as new characters are introduced, we see Ian dealing with them first without thinking much, then with assistance from The Mold as the film progresses. Between his crazy musclebound landlord Ox (Pete Giovagnoli), two different TV repairmen, and a nosy but cool supermarket delivery gal (Hannah Stevenson), we get some nice, weird dialog sequences and in some cases, animated moments that blur a few lines between “reality” and whatever the hell is happening in Ian’s head. We also see Ian ogling his pretty neighbor Leah (Danielle Doetsch) through his peephole until she notices and decides to knock on his door. By this point, the film has been so brain-frying that you don’t want Ian to open the door at all. On the other hand, the total lack of joy in his life make you wish he opens that door. Either way, it seems that the results are going to be the same.
As great as Combs is voicing The Mold, it’s Digiovani’s portrayal of Ian that makes the film. He both narrates the story as it happens and breaks the fourth wall to address the audience as each chapter plays out. His musings are of one who’s terminally depressed, yet somewhat smarter under all those sores and dirt. When he finally shaves off his beard and we see his real face, it’s a revelation – he’s not a terrible-looking guy once cleaned up. Yet his assorted psychoses are displayed more often that the different T-shirts he wears during the film. The Mold has him doing some really odd renovations to his apartment, compels him to eat parts of it grown for that purpose and even after things get messy (well, messier), Ian’s mental state is never really anything resembling “normal.”
In fact, the film’s strangeness is reminiscent of equal parts David Lynch and David Cronenberg, but with excellent chiptune music and a more 90’s sensibility. If you pay attention to the narrative and watch carefully, there are a few points where the story seems to be taking place on a few planes of “reality” and in fact, some parts of the film could be seen as entirely imaginary or even happening in some sort of afterthought stage. Saying more would spoil things, but let’s just say your mind will be blown by the time the end credits roll. But that’s an excellent thing. Today’s horror films tend to be one note jump scare-fests with forgettable “acting” and gore for the sake of gore effects. Motivational Growth nails you to your own couch with a weird vibe that draws you into its web and once you’re stuck, it seeps into your brain and rattles around for about 104 minutes.
Of course, despite the strangeness, minor gore and what seems like a gallon or two of green liquid projectile vomited onto one character, this really isn’t a traditional “horror” film. That said, it’s also hard to peg down and I think that’s how the team who made this wants it. Hats off to Don Thacker and his creative crew for getting this one done and out to the masses. Now, about that Starr Mazer project? Looks as if I’ll need to be checking that out at some point as well along with any other films he ends up making.