Written by, starring, and directed by Alison Rich, The Other Morgan is the short film that was programmed with Strawberry Mansion. Centered around an absurd premise, the reason Rich’s character is the “other” Morgan, the short blends a twee tone with enjoyable character acting to create a largely entertain film. The ludicrous premise of the short makes it a well chosen pairing for the following feature.
Taking heavy influence from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney created their own take on the surrealist portrayal of bureaucracy in Strawberry Mansion. Set in the 1980’s idea of the near future, the film playfully blends live action with stop motion and animation to create a unique look for the dream heavy feature.
James Preble (played by director Kentucker Audley) works for the government to audit people who have not paid the taxes on their dreams. The eccentric Arabella, or Bella for short, (Penny Fuller) alerts Preble that she has never paid taxes on her dreams, so that he will come out to her home for an audit. Upon arriving at her remote location, Preble is greeted with over 2,000 VHS tapes each containing one of Bella’s dreams. While meticulously viewing each of them, Preble becomes enamored with Bella’s younger dream self (Grace Glowicki) and eventually stumbles into a conspiracy theory within the dream state.
Focusing so much on dreams, Strawberry Mansion leans heavily into a style above substance hierarchy. The plot may be simple to a fault, but the sensory experience more than makes up for it. The production design of each dream looks artificial and cheap but in a way that is endearing. From Preble’s all pink one room home to Bella’s sound studio field, the artificiality enhances the dream aesthetic rather than detract from it. While the mise en scène helps to sell the directors’ unique world, Dan Deacon’s perfect, haunting synthesizer score brings everything together.
Implementing significant homages to many of the 1980’s trippier features, the Strawberry Mansion nails the most important aspects in creating a surrealist cult film. Any widespread adoption or commercial success may be out of the film’s reach, but headlined by a perfect score, it will fit nicely into midnight, cult screenings for years to come.