This joint has a score ripped from a 2007 era video game and an a look to match. Afghanistan. I’m sure there’s plenty of original material left to be dredged up from the war there, but Shape-Shifters, the first of this series to care to contextualise its action within a specific culture, does not. It tells a thin story about werewolves and revenge. I’d honestly reckon your average 2007 video game would be a step up.
The American military, as I’m sure is the case with most militaries in general, has not had a history of being an accepting workplace. You’re allowed to be gay and in the army now, or so twitter seems invested in routinely reminding me — in spite of how many times I tell it not to. I still can’t imagine that it’s a very nice place to be.
Even then, it was almost two years ago that Trump tweeted his ban on allowing trans soldiers to serve. This series dropped just about a month after the supreme court decided that it was constitutional. There’s things that it could have talked about, things that are relevant, things that are important. The two men at the front of this film are openly discriminated against by literally everyone, and only have eyes for each other.
That couldn’t possibly mean anything though, could it? The script’s fuckin terrified of the proposition, it opens with one of the delivering a monologue about banging a girl, like very deliberately, and later cuts to a bunk house with a wall literally full of pin-up posters. Just let them be gay. You only have fifteen fucking minutes. If you want it to have some subtext about gay soldiers, just LET THEM BE GAY.
Either this joint is risibly shallow, or it’s made the choice not to say anything at all. It certainly doesn’t with it’s aesthetic. This anthology is most boring when it’s attempting realism and this is perhaps the worst fitting. The way that Kathryn Bigelow shot The Hurt Locker irrevocably changed the look of war on film, this is like the sub sub sub version of that. Bigelow apparently returned from that shoot with about 200 hours worth of footage that she could create a tense, realist, disorienting thriller from. Animation works in just about the exact opposite way.
It’s vision of Afghani streets is small and generic and there appears to be no life being lived. It appears a space created for the military to occupy, without their presence it would be completely devoid of meaning. Netflix name drops the setting in its description, the film honestly, it would seem, doesn’t give a shit.
The film seems to be most proud of the sequence where one of the werewolves explores, in human form, a base which has been destroyed by hostile werewolves. They’re not really werewolves btw, they can transform at will and still have superpowers while human, it’s just a useful descriptor. Director Gabriele Pennacchioli, decides to capture this in a single shot and boy is it painful.
I have spoken before about how I am distrustful of crane shots but this thing takes that to a whole new level. Nothing interesting is done with the virtual camera, it just moves and focuses in a disconcertingly unnatural way, and what with it being purely action it’s clear that the animators don’t quite have the hang of crafting an emotive physical performance. Worse, the two elements — camera and character — are wholly disconnected. They barely exist in the same world, and the space is so deliberately constructed to make the sequence possible that the artifice is palpable.
That shot is once of the least human pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time.
Anyway, the one werewolf goes and finds the bad werewolf, against orders, and kills him. That’s the film, that’s it, and there’s literally nothing left that’s interesting to say. Fuck it. One star.
Love, Death and Robots is currently available to stream via Netflix.