The Otherworld [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (1st October 2017).
The Film

It is helpful if you are the sort of person who errs on the side of faith before embarking upon the long, strange trip that is director Richard Stanley’s “The Otherworld” (2013). The more likely you are to believe in such things as apparitions, visions, visits from alternate dimensions, and the enigmatic power of arcane mysteria the more likely it is you may buy into much of what Stanley, and a collection of mystics and historians, is selling. The more skeptical viewers in the audience – ahem – however, are likely going to explain away every tale as the result of either science or drugs… possibly both. Stanley’s personal stories bookend this feature, and they are the most interesting part of this head-tripping metaphysical movie that stretches the boundaries of time, space, and possibilities, while the bulk of the run time is devoted to spiritual science and wild suggestion.

The feature opens with Stanley, moodily lit and mysterious as ever, recounting a story he “expects few to believe” wherein he experienced the appearance of an unexplainable entity during a visit to southern France with his lady friend, Scarlett Amaris. The veracity of Stanley’s story is less important than his retelling of it, which is done in an ominous cadence with an abstract reenactment showing viewers an approximation of what the famously eccentric director experienced. After this intriguing little nugget, the film delves deeply into the geography of the area in France, known as Montsegur, and the telluric and cosmic energies that are purported to frequent the area. According to some of the locals, this is one of the few areas in the world where “magic still has currency” and so superstitions and ritual are adhered to more closely.

The real star of the show here is a shaman-type who uses spare Barbie doll parts and bootleg DVD's of Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” (1980) as lawn ornaments, while dressing in an old Cradle of Filth t-shirt and painting his face like one of the background extras in “Braveheart” (1995). This is a man who exists on a different plane, living his life as though he were trapped in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, battling against the forces of evil on a constant basis. There are moments early on where you might be tempted to take this guy seriously because he speaks and acts with such reverence for his beliefs that they take on a sense of weight and plausibility. But then he’ll discuss the trinkets in his yard as being useful for warding off certain spirits, or he’ll discuss the time he successfully closed a portal to Hell by smashing a mirror in a hotel lobby, and it’ll be a quick reminder that Ol’ Chief Puddinhead is a few eggs short a full dozen. I mean, the man does say he was a patient at a mental hospital for a few years. But I’ll be damned if he isn’t entertaining.

Stanley doesn’t want viewers to think everyone in the area has been indoctrinated to the local beliefs, and so a few skeptics pop up to offer up their own thoughts on the usefulness these “powerful spirits”. Hint: not very. Even still, there are enough stories of unexplained occurrences and bizarre phenomena that even the most skeptical of viewers will hear the faint cry of a “maybe” in the backs of their minds. Is any of this likely? Oh, god no, but seeing people tell their stories of encounters they just can’t understand or deny feels powerful, even if it is entirely bullshit. Conviction is a powerful tool.

The picture ends with Stanley regaling the audience with one last trippy tale, this one leaving a much more profound impact on him than his first experience. Unlike the other interview subjects seen here Stanley has this spooky, magnetic quality to him when telling a tale; the gravity of his encounters seem to be both terrifying and beautiful in a way that his words can’t properly express, so he only does the best he can. I have to say, even as someone who has never had an otherworldly encounter, and doesn’t believe in anything of the sort, Stanley is the most convincing voice in his documentary. Just as with the brilliant “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” (2014), the man himself seems infinitely more intriguing than the films of which he is a part and I am convinced a camera crew could mine gold simply from his daily routine. “The Otherworld” ventures into the head-scratching netherrealm of another out-there doc, “Room 237” (2012), but Stanley’s film avoids the extreme strain of credibility that befell the Kubrick analysis because unexplainable environments still hold some degree of power and fascination, like the Bermuda Triangle. Film is powerful, sure, but nothing comes close to the wonders of the world which we are still discovering every day.

Video

The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image tends to be variable, as the shooting location dictates the level of quality. Stanley shoots himself and other subjects with low lighting or firelight, leaving the picture dark and suggestive. Much of the film, though, is shot in broad daylight and this allows for the emergence of fine details, bold color reproduction, and overall clarity to be maximized. There are many sequences where Stanley employs superimposed images, lighting effects, and, well, trippy psychedelic imagery to drive the picture and these scenes are likely presented just as the director intended. Many shots of the French mountainside and valleys are done so with sweeping, grand pans and they look absolutely gorgeous. At times this almost plays like a nature documentary.

Audio

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound track is provided, although the dialogue tends to be in French more often than not. The score is mostly minimal and soothing, like something you would hear at a day spa. The sound quality between interviews is consistent and clear, with every bit of dialogue understandable. There are moments when the sound design gets a little Lynchian, adding in droning tones or dissonant cues. During the final tale at the climax the music becomes a bit more bold and tense. Subtitles are available in English and French.

Extras

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

Deleted scene #1 (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 53 seconds, focusing on a place called the “Angel Sanctuary”.

Deleted scene #2 (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 22 seconds, this is another brief story from Scarlett Amaris.

“The Other Side of the Moon” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 33 minutes and 50 seconds. This is a making-of piece that is mainly a fly-on-the-wall look at Stanley putting together his feature.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

BONUS DVD: Limited to 3000 copies only.

“Voice of the Moon” is a documentary that runs for 32 minutes and 28 seconds. Filmed in 1990, this is a doc Stanley made showcasing various points in the history of Afghanistan. This feels incredibly relevant now, maybe more than when it was made. Available with optional introduction and audio commentary by Richard Stanley.

“The White Darkness” is a documentary that runs for 48 minutes and 22 seconds. Stanley heads to Haiti for this 2002 look at the voodoo culture that is still prevalent in the ravaged country. Available with optional introduction and audio commentary by Richard Stanley.

“The Secret Glory” is a documentary that runs for 96 minutes and 57 seconds. In 2001, Stanley made this piece focused on the famed occult experimentations carried out by the Nazis, including a search for the Holy Grail. Available with optional introduction and audio commentary by Richard Stanley.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case, with each disc on a hub opposite the other.

Overall

Weird and wild and wonderfully shot, “The Otherworld” may leave skeptics groaning in the wind but this is an interesting look at an area of our world rumored to be host to some strange phenomenon – and that, I think, is quite interesting.

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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