FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS
Sometimes a film comes along that is very difficult to categorise, breaking or bridging standard genre conventions resulting in a production that is both original yet familiar. Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs is one such film.
Set in a moodily atmospheric version of New York, the film follows Atum Vine (Tobias Jelinek), a seedy drug dealer whose clients all reside within the same run-down apartment block. The difference is that Vine and all those who depend on him are demons, feeding on the misery of the humans they co-exist with. To each other the demons appear as they are - some lizard-like, others more akin to a mutated warthog - but to the unsuspecting humans they appear as just that: human. This uncomfortable balance is thrown into chaos when the titular interpreter Cornelia (Danielle Chuchran), a blue-skinned banshee with questionable motives, sees trouble in the near future as the human “suppliers” suddenly all cheer up and stop providing essential unhappiness. It falls on Vine to figure out what to do and ultimately how to restore the status quo.
There are two elements that elevate what is at times a slightly plodding and routine noirish thriller above the majority of similarly themed films. The first is the practical effects. Director Tom Woodruff Jr. has a hugely successful career in this field behind him, having worked on many films from the Alien series to Predator via the hugely underrated Tremors. He was also part of the team that won an Oscar for work on Death Becomes Her, so you would expect the demon design in Fire City to impress. And impress it does. There is a sense of realism to the characters, a feeling that creeps over you that these demons could be your neighbours, hiding their true selves behind a human façade. There is never the slightest hint that these are not real “people” existing in the shadows and feeding quietly on their miserable human counterparts.
The second thing is the cast. From Jelinek’s moody, mysterious depiction of the increasingly moralistic Vine to Keely Aloña as the human Sara, there is never a misstep, with each actor delivering a performance to match their character’s complex and often secretive motives.
There are one or two issues, sadly. As mentioned above, the plot does meander at times, and there is the suspicion that some scenes are stretched or included just to fill out the running time. On more than one occasion the lip-syncing doesn’t quite match with the more heavily made-up cast members, and while not too distracting it does draw you out of the film a little. These are minor complaints though and don’t impact too much on the film’s moody and well-constructed atmosphere.
Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs will not be for everyone, as the slow pace may begin to grate in the final act, but as a spectacle of what can be done visually on a small, Kickstarter-funded budget, it is verging on essential viewing. For anyone with a passing interest in the art of practical effects it is a must see. For this and the performances, a great deal of credit must go to Woodruff Jr. who has clearly demonstrated a talent for being behind the camera as well as creating some of the most memorable images ever seen on it.
INFO: FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: TOM WOODRUFF JR. / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL HAYES, BRIAN LUBOCKI / STARRING: TOBIAS JELINEK, KEELY ALONA, HARRY SHUM JR., DANIELLE CHUCHRAN, KRISTIN MINTER, MAY-MARGARET HUMES / RELEASE DATE: TBC