You know the feeling. Enter any pitch-dark room, whether at home, work or even a crowded movie theater, and the unknown inspires a sensory emergency. Your eyes dart around the room, seeking the black smoke of moving shadows, all the walls and furniture feel like snakeskin, and the anxiety is almost tangible.
That’s what watching The Eternal Present is like — wading through the unknown, denying what’s happening. Written, directed and edited by art school drop-out Otto Buj of Windsor. The Eternal Present is a feature-length film about a young man named Tim who moves to an anonymous city and takes a job processing obituaries at a newspaper, making him the creepy guy in the newsroom who is alternately ignored and avoided. One day, Tim helps an elderly woman with groceries cross a busy street. Later, at work, he receives her obituary and realizes he played an accidental role in her death. But things really start to freak him out when he meets a young woman at a bar, who disappears. Tim begins to wonder if he is an agent of fate, possibly even an accidental assassin. And this is when reality begins to unravel. As the film becomes more surreal, it’s unclear whether the twisted events are actually happening to Tim, whose reality is unlike our own, or if they are feverish episodes of his paranoia.
Shot on 16 mm in the Windsor area, the structure and meter of this film are intentionally obtrusive. Director Buj toys with time, the central characteristic of a narrative, in order to amplify the discomfort. He constructs practically every scene as a jumble of “before,” “during” and “after” sequences, so the viewer is never quite sure if any given event is happening, has already happened or will happen soon. In one scene, Tim sits with Maya, a mysterious young woman he’s recently met. Tim smiles broadly as if amused by a punch line, then Buj cuts to Tim questioning, “What’s so funny?” Another quick cut places the pair a few minutes after the fun has passed. Sometimes, the intentional disorder becomes too hectic and seems artificial and superfluous, like technical showboating, but often, it is acutely constructed.
Sound design also adds an element of the bizarre: A bus engine hushes quietly along the road, a dot-matrix printer murderously screeches and a fish out of water gasps for breath. There are also some gorgeously constructed images in this film, the most beautiful of which is near the end: Tim’s hands swim through white sand, seeking a buried gun and finding it, just as the sun finds the weapon’s silvery surface. But what makes the movie great is its uncanny sense of horror, the overwhelming dread of uncertainty that cannot be shaken off, even as the credits flash. One menacing gentleman in The Eternal Present sums it up. He’s speaking to Tim but it’s as though he’s addressing all of us: “Displacement always has and always will be yours.”
Showing 9 p.m. on Monday, May 16, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.