The NEXT category at Sundance is one that defies categorization itself. It breaks conventional molds and introduces out-of-the-box thinking. Strawberry Mansion is a colorful spectacle that fits this definition perfectly. It is a surrealist delight that brings a childlike wonder to the screen.
The film was co-written and co-directed by Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley. This is their second time collaborating on an indie feature. Their newest project follows James Preble (Kentucker Audley). He travels to a remote farmhouse to audit the dreams of Arabella “Bella” Isadora (Penny Fuller). She is an eccentric artist that has been avoiding the taxation of her dreams. As a result, this leaves her with a vast collection of VHS tapes. As Preble dives deeper into the archives of Bella’s dreams, he finds himself discovering that what he has come to know isn’t what it seems.
The attention to detail and the amount of time it must have taken to get the production design just right is impressive. This film wouldn’t work without the proper atmosphere, but Birney and Audley were able to get their vision across clearly. It is also important to give praise where it’s due to the entire crew. Composer Dan Deacon, production designer Becca Brooks Morrin, and costume designer Mack Reyes manage to elevate the outlandish concept into something iconic, entrancing, and magical. Specifically, Deacon’s evocative synths are mesmerizing and aid the viewer in losing themself to the experience. Simply put, it is beautiful and breathtaking in a distinctive fashion. At times, the style feels like a combination of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Strawberry Mansion’s rhetoric signals out how ads manipulate society through the method of inserting them into the dreams of civilians within the film. Ultimately, it is a criticism of consumerism in one of the most original portrayals that have been seen in so very long. Despite said criticism of a manipulative system, the film ends on a hopeful note. Audley and Fuller are delightful together as James and young Bella. While everything else seems unreal and difficult to comprehend, their love story is the only rational aspect of the film. Strawberry Mansion remains a commentary against capitalism, but deep down it is a love story.
The film is, simply stated, a deliciously trippy adventure. The mission of this film was to make it feel like a dream, and Birney and Audley most definitely succeeded. It will most likely become a cult classic down the line.
Strawberry Mansion is pending wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!