Phoebe Angle, Mariel Cabral, and Kristen Seltman, a transgressive trio of women who brought us the disconcerting Road Gigs have once again taken us into the darker regions of the human mind, with with “SAD (Snow Apocalypse Disorder)”. There’s no doubt this is an uncompromising, disconcerting reflection on man vs nature, society, and the in-betweens.
Angle start off the film making her way through the frigid, boreal labyrinth that surrounds her abode. You may be surprised to find this wasn’t shot on location in Austria or the like, but the back alleys of Quincy, Massachusetts. Still, the framing and use of special snow effects certainly gives the illusion of a quaint small town being choked by the frigid hands of winter. It’s reminiscent of a twisted version of Bedford Falls from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but not of the decadent, gone-to-seed Pottersville, rather one plunged in the opposite direction–a community made Hellish by its isolation. Angle attempts to take on the snow one-on-one, but her attempts are quixotic without the romance. Rather, her struggle through the amorphous blizzard bring to mind the hyper-reality battle sequences of a RIdley Scott epic. Majestic and electric, but gritty and ugly as well.
Meanwhile, in Cabral’s storyline, she wanders the streets, in all their civilized glory. Gas stations, fast food franchises and parking lots dot the landscape, which doesn’t even have the eerie beauty of Angle’s world, but rather slogs along as an eyesore. A Frankenstein’s creature with an open wound. Still, her world is markedly more convenient, as the snowy mountains she encounters are little more than a background event. But all is not well in civilization, as the mass transit system is discombobulated, and Cabral is left adrift in the urban forest, seeking solace in liquor, one of civilization’s oldest vices, and common denominators.
The third and final storyline is Seltman walking her dogs in a modest neighborhood. If Angle’s arc is how nature overpowers us, and Cabral’s is how technology ignores us, Seltman’s struggles reveal even a compromise of urban and rural life has its own problems. Dogs, in a way, display how we’ve mostly conquered nature, not really. While our furry friends have, vacuum cleaners notwithstanding, managed to acclimate quite well with civilized, the beast will never go away. They’re still led by base characteristics such as the need to drink in all the senses of the outside world, and defcate on their own clocks. Seltman is barely phased, but not exactly happy, either. Movies about suburban malaise went out of style due to the backlash of “American Beauty”, and the 2008 recession that had us playing the smallest violins for the ennui felt by the financially secure, but compared and contrasted with the interweaving storylines, it feels less like a critique of the middle class for “selling out”, but a nihilistic yet salient gasp at the futility of it all.
Throughout the film, France Gall’s “Les Sucettes” plays, a song about the euphoric sucking down of a lollypop. Eventually that piece of candy will dissolve, providing little nourishment, only transitive pleasures that once finished the consumer will go back to the store to begin the cycle anew. We are all lollipops, to be sucked into nothingness by the harshness of nature, the exhausting march of technology, or the numbing pain of routine. Such goes the way of all flesh.