Former Asheville resident—and now Chicago-based filmmaker—Melika Bass returns to town for the local premiere of her feature film Shoals. She describes the film as a “prairie grotesque” and that, I think, is as good a description as any for this strange and strangely compelling—almost mesmerizing—work. The film runs a mere 52 minutes (which is, in part, is why it will be companioned with one of her earlier short films) and had been described to me as somewhat similar to Terrence Malick, which isn’t precisely true. It’s more like Malick meets David Lynch, if you want a comparison, but in a deeper sense, Shoals is pretty much its own beast. And it is one very peculiar beast. To the degree that it has a story—and story is not its strongest aspect—it follows three women at the Osterider School for Girls, who cut wildflowers and compound them with water (or some undefined liquid), which appears to be intended as part of a treatment they’re undergoing under the guidance of their cultish leader. Or maybe the process itself is the treatment. Shot on 16mm and suffused with glowing natural light, the film’s strength comes from its look, its feel and the sense that it’s a weirdly impenetrable myth. Your feelings will be defined by your tolerance for nontraditional narrative (or experimental) filmmaking.
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