On one hand, writing a screenplay involving mental illness, hypothetically, opens the doors for a massive amount of interesting content. Never mind the story itself, almost straight away there is a certain amount of feelings that come pre-packaged - whenever some form of degenerative disease is mentioned. Sadness. Empathy. Generally speaking, it's all part of the deal. So why not use such content for a powerful story? Right?
On the other hand... it's very easy to get lost along the way. Confusion. Incorrect facts or even, gasp, using some form of illness as a writers cop-out. A lazy way to wrap up a story. Luckily for me, and anyone else who watches "Swiss Cheez Brain" from Pat Campo, there's nothing lazy about this story. A little weird maybe... but it all makes total sense in the end. As for being overly complicated? Not at all. Things end up making perfect sense. For a film dealing with mental illness, Campo has masterfully dreamed up a plot that not only capitalizes on it's "illness" of choice - and all the emotions that come with it - but keeps things simple and to the point. So what is that point? Glad you asked.
Our hero of the story begins receiving video messages from... wait for it... a sock puppet. These are strange and oddly personal messages. As things turn out, the sock puppet, in a round about kind of way, claims to be his deceased child. Right away, Pat Campo had my mind running in the completely opposite direction the story was actually heading.
To make a long story short... these messages form a treasure hunt of sorts, that our starring man needs to track down and ultimately solve. Only then, will the sender reveal their true self and the real motives for the messages. Us viewers get to follow along on this long scavenger hunt until finally, all is revealed. Sounds interesting right? It is... until you realize I've been using words such as "long" an awful lot. More on that below.
"Swiss Cheez Brain" does contain a lot of technical issues. I realize this is a low/no budget film, but most of these issues could have been solved using something as small as a white piece of bristol board. Lots of "raccoon eye" situations - if you're lucky enough to see the actors face at all. Mainly this is during the outdoor shots, but was so easy to fix. However, these common "indie" issues were not where this film lost points in my eyes. Not many anyhow.
The real issue was the length. Twenty nine minutes may not seem like a lot on paper... but this same story could have probably been done in fifteen minutes or under. A lot of repetitive actions and shots. A lot of unneeded ones as well. I don't claim to be a master movie maker. Not even an indie one... but I know how I "feel" when I watch something; and this should have been trimmed a lot. Seeing our hero open a safe works. Seeing him look at the code. Open the safe. Look at the code again... and then close the safe, was overkill. Seeing him open it would have been fine. We didn't need to see all the fill, and then see him close it again. I'm sure I could have figured out that he closed it. If Campo wanted to make "damn sure" I knew he closed it... a sound effect would have been fine.
That is one example. "Swiss Cheez Brain" is full of shots like this... extending the film so much that I found myself starring at the progress bar more than a little. Even a huge chunk of the "interview, therapy sessions" could have been done as a narrative overlay as Campo drove around performing his hunt. A gentle reminder that the narrator was in "session" somewhere, using a few cuts, would have been great.
Where this film earns it's points however, is the story itself. Not the drawn out aspects... rather the clever twist at the end and of course, the misdirection presented during. It was a great ending. It all made perfect sense and was sad in many respects. A great way to raise awareness of this particular mental disease. Clever indeed.
In the end, although a little long winded, "Swiss Cheez Brain" was not so lengthy that it became unwatchable. And the way things turn out alone - are worth investing the time. When it's all said and done, this isn't a movie that slides into a decent two and a half star rating. It's a movie that earns every single star. Nothing wrong with that. Not at all.