aimy_cage_1Year: 2016
Director: Hooroo Jackson
Writer(s): Hooroo Jackson
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 79 mins

Synopsis: A creative teenage girl is placed into a mind-altering procedure to civilise her, while news of a virus epidemic spreads throughout the world. (Source)

Aimy in a Cage is like a rainbow colored bouquet in a world of black-and-white. A wonderfully nightmarish mix of Terry Gilliam, Walt Disney, David Lynch and Roald Dahl, graphic novelist-turned-director Hooroo Jackson has taken his influences and channeled them into a fiercely atypical coming of age story. At its best, Jackson’s debut tries our sanity and questions our grasp of reality, calling out antiquated gender ideals within a deteriorating society, and imagining a nightmarish world propped up on fear.

The story is pretty simple, circling around a young girl named Aimy Micry (Allisyn Ashley Arm) as she comes to blows with her grandma (also acting as guardian), family and friends. After a fight over a doll breaks the camel’s back, Aimy’s family decides to subject her with something called the Wollweurth Procedure, a wildly dangerous treatment involving shock treatment, unsavory chemical modifications and more. It’s a black market procedure, but one that Aimy’s family is convinced will transform her into “a most presentable young lady”. The twist is that it’s Aimy’s family who may be the crazy ones, nonchalantly tossing her free will aside for their own twisted means. To make matters worse, the entire thing takes place as a plague is ravaging the world outside their conflicted home, giving Aimy’s fight for survival a distinct, apocalyptic setting in which crazy and sane are hard to define.

Ironically, it’s the film’s creativity that ends up being its biggest blessing and curse. When is too much, too much? From second to second, there’s so much happening; the pace is frenetic, there’s constant pandemonium as each character bickers endlessly with one another, color-coordinated set designs mimic our characters’ frantic states of mind, the camerawork is restless and immediate action is interspersed with faux news segments and cartoon clips – the film hardly stops to take a break. In and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with each gleefully perverse element, but within the film’s barrage of excess, it begins to feel a little tedious. As the film’s playful tone becomes darker and darker, it would’ve been nice if Jackson allowed the story’s more intimate moments some time to resonate and breathe. Even as the film’s mosaic of chaos flirts with monotony however, there’s no denying the boundless ingenuity and vision at play, shifting visually and psychologically with our character as it explores the feminist themes buried deep within its stimuli.

aimy_cage_3Essentially taking place all in one setting, the cast is appropriately lively, even if their pantomimed delivery begins to feel too similar. As the film’s center, Allisyn Ashley Arm’s Aimy fares the best, lending range to the film’s eccentricity and personifying the script’s broad strokes. She’s definitely an intriguing presence, and capable of standing head-to-head with the film’s loud visual elements. Crispin Glover’s mysterious Claude pops in and out, and he’s always a nice blast of eccentricity, but his character feels more like a cypher or plot device above all else. Michael William Hunter and Sara Murphy are worthy foils to Arm’s Aimy, giving the film its villains, especially in its last act. All in all, each performance stays at constant hysterics, with dialogue usually delivered through yelling and screaming – it can wear down on you, but the cast gives themselves fully to their maniacal characters in a commendable way.

Aimy in a Cage is resplendent spectacle but doesn’t have the dynamic narrative it deserves, a film with genuine talent even if it doesn’t fully connect. Despite its failures, there’s sincerity behind it and a purpose that’s hard to ignore. If anything, the film proves that Jackson is a storyteller that plays by his own rules, and with time could be a real cinematic threat. For now, he’s created an ambitious film that has its heart in the right place, and a fascinating exploration of madness and societal gender expectations.

SG