Nightstream 2021: Landlocked – The Past Is A Dangerous Place

If you want to get anything out of the house, you need to get there soon and get everything you want.

Relaxing, ethereal synths and the gritty crackle of analog haze, scanline memories and forgotten moments. If walls could talk, the stories and history of a location, revisiting the past through blurry eyes and a scratched lens to come to terms with the transience of space and structure.

Landlocked, a film presented like an extended, grainy home video, effortlessly weaves an otherworldly, meditative atmosphere as protagonist Mason returns to his childhood home after the passing of his father. Having written into his will that the home is to be torn down following his death, Mason’s father warns his surviving family of the demolition via a cryptic, fuzzy tape. Arriving at a barren, dilapidated home surrounded by overgrowth and scattered junk, Mason crawls through an unlocked second story window and begins to explore the ruins of his childhood. Digging through dusty boxes and old rooms he discovers an outmoded Panasonic camcorder that becomes a lens to the past, projecting grainy memories through the blocky viewfinder.

Reveling in both conceptual brilliance and its tactile analog inflections, Paul Owens’ Landlocked quickly becomes an exceptional piece of brilliant low budget filmmaking, a quiet exploration of our individual connections to the past, the way locations flood our minds with memories, and how important those memories are. Whirring tapes and gentle, droning synths craft a beautiful space in which Mason can revisit and direct his memories, clicking through fuzzy CRT menus to select which date he wants to revisit. Framed with inquisitive intelligence the film slowly builds a space in the surrounding of Mason, crafting a layout of the creaking home and its surrounding woods.

Landlocked. Dir. Paul Owens

The first half of the film is dynamically engaging, bringing you into this trip through time along with Mason as he sets up a bay of old screens and clicking, blinking 90s tech covered in wires and buzzing with life. The central concept here is so fascinating, such a smart way to craft a narrative with a small budget and a single location that really fills each crevice with a consistent intrigue. Its latter half, however, gets too lost in itself for its own good as Mason starts turning the date closer and closer to current time in an attempt to revisit moments that have just recently occurred. This turn of events brings a cold unease, the movie injecting static found footage dread into its once pleasantly warm construction. Certain sequences that continue to utilize the strength within the limitations of outdated analog technology create a sense of sheer terror, bolstered by the grainy haze of Mason’s lens. But as the past slowly begins to consume Mason, the horror builds and he breaks down, suffering at the hands of the breadth of truth he’s discovered, it gets so lost in it all that it disconnects from the viewer. The film’s larger ideas about the importance of which memories we choose to hold on to and how to truly move on from the past are touching, and often intimately tender and beautiful, but the tonal dissonance found between these concepts and the dread-infused finale we’re provided can be hard to reconcile with.

Nonetheless, you can feel the energy put into this work, it’s clearly an important piece of catharsis for director Paul Owens and it shines through the screen at all times. Maybe it’s the kind of cinema we all need, art with the gritty, heartfelt soul of its creators poured into it, buzzing with memory and love. The kind of cinema that recognizes and comes to terms with our impermanence, our fleeting existences soon to be taken over by consuming overgrowth, a flourish of life in our distant wake. Keep the past close and look to the future.


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