After last year’s Mickey Reece’s Alien, the director returns for another slice of strange yet great cinema with Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure his Heart. Check out our review.
‘The Velvet Underground’ were a rock band formed by musical maestro Lou Reed and a few of his bohemian musician friends back in 1964. They would go on to be managed by the avant-garde artist Andy Warhol and were destined to become one of the most influential rock bands in the history of rock music.
The band took their name from a contemporary and hugely successful paperback book of the time ‘The Velvet Underground’ which lifted the lid on the secret, sexual and scandalous subculture of the 1960’s. Reed felt it evoked a sense of underground cinema and fitted with a song he had just written ‘Venus In Furs’ – influenced by similar source material and containing sexual themes of sadomasochism, bondage and submission. Venus in Furs’ also contained the lyric ‘Strike, dear mistress and cure his heart’
It is this tenuous link that brings us full circle to the new feature film by award-winning writer/ director Mickey Reece – Strike Dear Mistress And Cure His Heart. A strangely compelling movie that is somewhat unsettling yet quite familiar all at the same time.
Although there is one horrific moment, I would disagree with billing ‘Strike’ as a horror; it is more a psychological drama which is well played by the leads. It tells the story of newly-wed couple David and Madeline Middleston, as they mundanely go through their daily lives without much excitement or individuality. It’s a strange yet somehow perfect partnership. They decide to buy a historic Victorian style hotel, close to where Madeline’s estranged mother Dianne now lives and when she comes to visit, she also brings all of her demons, both real and imagined, to wreak havoc with the minds of her daughter and brand new son-in-law.
Reece’s main influence here is clearly Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Autumn Sonata’. The plots to both films are virtually identical, with some things lifted directly from Bergman’s classic, for example, Dianne is a renowned concert pianist whereas Madeline is not as good and there is also a disabled sister. The comparison is extremely obvious in the scenes between mother and daughter.
What was immediately brought to my mind, were the films of Wes Anderson, particularly in Reece’s direction of his actors. Like Anderson’s ensembles, during the dialogue scenes, the actors speak to each other stiltedly in a staccato style, without a great deal of emotion. While all the characters appear to be cold and distant towards each other as they deal with their own neurosis. However, also like Anderson’s ensemble pieces, these scenes work extremely well.
The actors deserve credit, for their performances are all top notch. Audrey Wagner is a standout, giving a stoic performance as Madeline. In a role that could have been classed as robotic and stiff, she manages with very little movement and intonation to convey a huge amount of turmoil and emotion. With her hair tied back, her face remains constantly open and her eyes tell an entire story. Producer Jacob Stovel is also very good in, what would no doubt be the Jason Schwartzman role in Anderson’s version, playing David, the frustrated married man. Although realising that he may have made a mistake in marriage, he loves his partner dearly and is doing his very best to make everything work out okay.
Meanwhile, Mary Buss has a blast eating up the screen as the aggressive and gate crashing matriarch Dianne. She excels in both Dianne’s quiet moments and her more larger-than-life melodramatic moments. Yet throughout the movie she maintains a menacingly unhinged quality, so as an audience we are never quite sure where we are with her.
The film, thanks to its location and production design, is beautiful to look at while cinematographer Joe Kappa keeps us on our toes with a number of Dutch angles, a cinematic technique that helps portray the psychological uneasiness and tension of the relationships, dropped in throughout the film. With Reece pushing his film into the realms of surrealism reminiscent of Twin Peaks, this all adds to the uneasy atmosphere of the plot.
With the earlier mention of Velvet Underground’s Venus In Furs lyric, I was looking at a way to conclude the review by sharing with you the connection I’d found between both film and song. Initially, I was thinking because both productions were tuned to a similar one-note beat, with bits and pieces of drama added here and there to excite and shock. However, after viewing the movie, it seems apparent that I was looking far too deeply into it and actually the connection is far more literal than I was ever expecting.
Strike Dear Mistress And Cure His Heart is an excellent film which is weirdly hypnotic and something you just can’t take your eyes off. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. If Wes Anderson, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson were to get together and have a collective horror baby, then the results of that copulation would probably be something very similar to this wonderfully and weirdly surreal little movie.