Sundance 2011 Review: THE OREGONIAN is the Strangest Movie I've Ever Seen


Calvin Lee Reeder's The Oregonian nearly defies description; if you've ever seen a David Lynch film (Mulholland Drive, The Lost Highway), think about this movie as a sort of backwoods Lynchian tale. Narratively, it makes very little sense, but it's steeped in utterly surreal visuals. The plot is so basic it's almost nonexistent: a girl gets in a car accident and wanders through the woods, encountering all kinds of nightmarish things. There aren't many lines of dialogue in the movie, but those lines are specifically chosen to unsettle and unhinge the audience, dragging us down into a tormented version of reality that can never truly be distinguished.

Lindsay Pulsipher reunites with Reeder (this is their fifth collaboration, but the first feature Reeder has directed) and imbues her character of nameless girl with an empathetic quality; if her performance was converted into a physiological sensation, it would be that desperate feeling you get when you can't breathe. As she goes from one sickening location to the next, she becomes more disoriented and the images she witnesses become increasingly disturbing.

It's impossible to judge The Oregonian like a normal film. Of all the standard elements found in normal movies, this barely has any. It's literally the strangest movie I've ever seen, and I haven't been able to shake its imagery from my head since the midnight screening last night (hint: if you plan on seeing this, don't watch it late at night). Reeder shot the film on 16mm, which fits perfectly with the Northwestern vibe, plaid colors, and stylized visuals. He relies heavily on editing to deliver the most frightening moments, quickly cutting to people (or creatures) who suddenly appear in spots they weren't in a second prior. Sometimes the images only come a few frames at a time - barely enough for us to register them - but providing the disconcerting feeling Reeder is hoping to achieve.

Is this a good movie? Even though I've seen the film, I don't really know the answer to that question. I'd say no, but that's just because it doesn't fit into the description of what a normal movie is supposed to be; this may be the perfect movie for someone out there, but that person isn't me. Perhaps some of you can instantly pick out what you think the insane visual symbolism means, but I consider myself a vaguely intelligent movie-goer and I could hardly get a grasp on anything here. Even what I think I know is probably wrong, but when you have a movie that features a person dressed in a full body green furry animal suit masturbating wildly pressed up against the outside of a hotel window, all bets are off. I wish I could go point by point and tell you the most ridiculous things about this movie, but this review would be 30 times longer since I have a full page of notes of crazy stuff that went down.

Be warned, though - there is some really disturbing imagery in this movie. If you read that and think you might be even remotely offended by foul language or F-ed up visuals, stay the hell away from The Oregonian. As weird as this movie is, I can't recommend it to anyone besides adventurous movie-goers who aren't afraid to be deeply unnerved and see some truly screwed up things on screen. Check out my interview with Reeder and Pulsipher available now.

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