Film - Orion

Ventspleen hunts for a post-apocalyptic fable and watches Orion thanks to Raindance Film Festival...

In a future dark age, after civilisation has collapsed, there are rumours and prophecies of a saviour to come. A maiden, held captive by a cannibal shaman, prays for a saviour. Soon after, an illiterate hunter stumbles upon the shaman’s cottage. The maiden promises to lead the hunter to a city containing the world’s last survivors. With an aid of an urchin vagabond, the hunter plots against the shaman who may not be human at all.

Sounds a good starting point doesn't it? Nothing particularly new here but, in the hands of a competent Director, there is enough to develop into an engaging film. On paper at least, Orion has everything you would need for a great little film and it should work. Asiel Norton received worthy attention after his Directorial debut Redland won the 2009 Raindance Jury award for Best Debut Feature. Norton cast David Arquette, normally good in things, as his lead in a follow up feature with Lily Cole as an able support cast member. All of the signs were good and, even though Orion represents that potentially difficult second feature, Norton seemed capable of delivering a film of similar standard. Raindance had picked it to show at the 2016 festival so all the signs were positive and I do enjoy a good post-apocalyptic yarn. I still enjoy Tank Girl on a regular basis and you can normally rely on a film occupying an Independent film space to be suitably leftfield enough to retain interest.

Orion is a film that disappoints on every level and buckles under the sheer weight of its bloated self indulgence. Norton has delivered a film that isn't even worthy of labelling bad, I would more accurately describe it as mind numbingly boring. So, where do I start in explaining just why I believe Norton needs to seriously rethink for his third feature, if there is to be one? Let me start with the story development, which I find is an impossible place to start because there is no story development. That synopsis at the start of this article IS the story. Arquette plays The Hunter who is tasked with representing Cole's annoying bland and uninspiring "maiden" from the hands of Goran Kostic's bizarre cannibalistic Magician. The Hunter goes through a kind of right of passage that was very reminiscent of that faced in A Man Called Horse but lacks anything approaching a pay off or character arc. It's a half baked idea that is so badly explored I was left grasping for a way in to empathise with or care about any of the characters. Character development is also non-existent and, as Norton has opted to leave out any reason for what world wide tragedy occurred, there is no opportunity given to me to connect with Arquette's character. Putting it bluntly, I just didn't care what happened to him or the object of his quest and, even when he was brutally tortured, I found myself bored into a kind of stupor. The story is so muddied and meandery that Norton shoe horns little tarot card like captions at the beginning of each scene. This is a mistake as it just adds to the overall feeling of laziness and made me feel that he just couldn't be bothered to tell a story properly. You can imagine Orion being shown to the studio's focus group and the loud reports back being of confusion and irritation. "I know," thinks Norton, "I will avoid the expense of re shooting by sticking a load of caption cards throughout so people know what's going on" You could argue that the use of tarot imagery added to the mysticism that runs throughout the film - you could argue that if you were actually led to care enough about it.

I believe that the role of a film maker is to be a great story teller and Norton just hasn't bothered to deliver a story worth telling. My frustration is that Orion could have been so much better if it had been finished. No amount of art house sepia imagery and overblown visual effects can save this from the monumental mess that it is. Just about the only positive thing I can say is that the urban nightmare visuals are striking but this only serves to heighten my irritation with a film that lazily misses every mark it should have hit. Neither can I make any particular comment on the acting on show as the NYPD shaky camera work that Norton has opted for completely destroys any perception of atmosphere and connection. I quite like David Arquette's work but that doesn't mean I want to spend an entire film watching from his left nostril. The film's duration is peppered with camera shots that are far too close to the face in zoom or so shaky that you can't really tell what's going on at all. The music scoring is intrusive and adds nothing to the film's delivery. The film's ending is bizarre and makes absolutely no sense, with a lazy and needlessly Messianic overtone that was achieved far more effectively in Life of Brian.

Norton has angered me because he is capable of so much more and has delivered a film that is so far beneath the standard he is capable of that it is simply an embarrassment. Independent Films are a wonderful opportunity to deliver the sort of storytelling that really engages with an audience. It does so by not explaining every little twist and turn and often refuses to tie everything up in neat little packages. Redland was released in 2009 and, with Orion coming out 6 years later, I am at a loss to explain just what Norton has been doing with his time. He certainly wasn't developing a coherent story to its acceptable completion. I actively encourage not joining up the dots. But it would be nice to know where the dots are.

Image - Raindance
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