Star Leaf’s story is centred on James, a former Marine sniper suffering from PTSD after his deployment in the Hindu Kush. His squadmate Tim has buried the same traumas with a carefree hippie lifestyle and Twilight-fixated girlfriend named Martha. The three of them are directed to a secret mountain plantation, where grows a super-strain of marijuana that may or may not have been left there by aliens (which may or may not have actually been Islamic djinn) to open the minds of humans to the secrets of the universe. From then on things just get weirder.
Dating back to the unintentionally hilarious 1930s propaganda flick Reefer Madness, marijuana has a long history of altering the consciousness of cinema screens, often featuring amusingly bemused stoners stumbling their way through improbably elaborate plots. Although Star Leaf might sound like a throwaway sci-fi comedy, it’s actually a lot better thought out than that.
Despite the inherently farcical concept that conjures images of wacky hijinks from aliens and stoners (or even alien stoners), it’s actually surprisingly restrained, and as a result allows us to take its ideas seriously. However, that’s not to say it’s all grim solemnity; it’s fun enough to still be entertaining, and light moments like the hallucination of a sexy fairy or a running joke about a bear-humping moose relieve the weight of the metaphysical aspects.
The characterisation of the central trio is simple but effective and comes through naturally in their conversations, allowing us to properly understand the relationships between them without requiring them to be outright stated. Likewise, the comedy inherent in the bizarre situations is allowed to come through on its own without being coerced by laborious events or dialogue.
The most surreal events occur during the sequences of the central trio being stoned, and with the addition of psychedelic lens flares from a glitterball supernova and music so trippy it’ll lift you up on a cloud of sound, you can’t even be sure what’s actually supposed to be happening, never mind whether or not it’s real. The morning after the night of getting baked, if becomes difficult to tell whether their ensuing panic is due to genuine encroaching danger on account of their inevitably flagrant disregard for the rules they were given before embarking on the journey to the grove, or if it’s a group paranoia hangover from the effects of the Martian maryjane. The uncertainty is confusing but rewarding, and by not following a straightforward path the film sets itself apart from the kinds of movies it will doubtless become compared to. In a short space of time Star Leaf manages to build interesting characters and efficiently convey a number of ideas without glossing over them or cramming them in, thus providing, like the journey of its characters, a slightly bewildering but ultimately fulfilling experience.
Special Features: TBC
INFO: STAR LEAF / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: RICHARD CRANOR / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD CRANOR, HUGH BERRY / STARRING: JULIAN GAVILANES, TYLER TRERISE, SHELBY TRUAX, RICHARD CRANOR, RUSSELL HODGKINSON / RELEASE DATE: TBC