Higher Methods Poster

Higher Methods begins with Matt (Michael Christoforo, Right Song, Wrong Chord, November Criminals) sitting in the glare of a spotlight in an otherwise dark room and exchanging dialogue with an unseen woman. It seems to be an audition of some sort and ends with her leaving the room and telling him to come and find her.

Her name is Shannon (Jamie Lyn Bagley, The Trees Have Eyes, Flesh for the Inferno), and she’s an actress studying under John Edward Marcus (Aaron Andrade, Long Night in a Dead City, Confess, Fletch). And this wasn’t a chance meeting, Matt is an aspiring actor, but he’s also trying to find out what happened to his sister Katherine (Kayla Caulfield, Black Friday, Amityville: The People of New York vs Ronald J DeFeo Jr.) who vanished ten years ago while she was taking lessons from Marcus.

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Director Nathan Suher and writer Lenny Schwartz have worked together on several previous films including The Assassination of Western Civilization, Scary Little Fuckers, and Comic Book Junkies which they co-directed. Here they take a fairly standard mystery plot and give it a few good twists. Not just by setting it against a Hollywood backdrop. Genre films about acting, filmmaking, and how far one will go for success are common enough. There’s been everything from Starry Eyes to Wolf Manor which I reviewed a couple of days ago.

Suher and Schwartz fill Higher Method with a cast of strangely compelling, and rather frightening characters led by Marcus who is introduced telling his cult-like students, Shannon, Muse (Abigail Jean Lucas, Sundown, Tales to Line the Coffin), Shane (Brad Kirton, The Assassination of Western Civilization, Death’s Door), and, Vanessa (Marybeth Paul, A Lost Song: The Mystery Man, Making Mason), “Do not gaze upon me until my face is ready”.

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This group is creepy enough that I almost expected the film to go into Charles Manson territory or become a more conventional human sacrifice tale. Instead, at about the half-hour mark Shannon injects Matt with a strange blue drug, “All the cool kids are doing it’, and the higher gets put into Higher Methods. The film becomes a reality-bending trip through a maelstrom fueled as much by the character’s psychological issues as it is by the substance itself.

Credit has to go to editor Eileen Slavin (Memoirs of a Black Girl, Blood Pi) and cinematographer Ken Willinger (A Life Among Whales, Exhumed) for keeping Higher Methods’ fast cuts and odd angles from becoming headache inducing or disorienting. Actually, I should say from becoming too disorienting because while you never know just what is or isn’t real you’re never left feeling totally lost and removed from the film’s events.

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Similarly, the cast may be playing aspiring performers, but the performances they deliver are anything but amateur. The leads stay believable regardless of how weird the scenes they play out are. Aaron Andrade does deserve a special mention for playing an already over the top character without turning it into a Nicholas Cage impersonation.

While there is a bit of violence, Higher Methods is much more a work of psychological horror. And it delivers quite a lot of mental discomfort as it twists some familiar films about film characters and plot tropes into unpleasant revelations not just about the actor’s life but about life itself. The result is a mentally bruising film and, after LandLocked, the second major mindfuck I’ve seen in the first week of 2023. If the rest of the year’s films are on this level I won’t complain.

Higher Methods is currently available via Vimeo On Demand, you can check the film’s website for more details.

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