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MOVING PICTURES

A house in which a suicide occurred. A room that must not be entered. A guilty memory, in flashback, of a childhood death. A scrapbook of serial killers. If you think you're watching a horror movie, then you've fallen right into the trap that Loaded sets for you. But this 1994 film from New Zealand is about the inexplicable only in the sense that ordinary human passions and behavior can never quite be explained. The setting is a secluded country estate littered with elegiac autumn leaves, where a group of amateur filmmakers has gathered to collaborate on a schlocky horror flick. There are seven of these young people--a problematic number that breaks down into one pair, one near-pair, and a triangle. As the filmmaking proceeds, differences both artistic and personal arise, and the inevitable conjunction of horror and sex slides into place. Then one dark night, in a spirit of reckless experimentation, everybody drops acid.

For writer-director Anna Campion, toying with the conventions of the horror genre is not the whole show (as in Wes Craven's current Scream), but merely a point of entry into something more serious. Loaded is about the way nameless fears can infiltrate ordinary human lives--particularly in the murky gulf that separates motivation from action. Evocative parallels are set up between the movie Campion's characters are making and the movie they're starring in, and the cast turns in remarkably naturalistic performances, far removed from the stylized acting usual to the genre. Campion's first feature demonstrates that she's already a mature, talented filmmaker.

 
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