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Ross (Jason Schwartzman) is exhausting. He doesn’t stop. High on speed, he’s hell bent on getting his next fix. Ross arrives at his dealer Spider Mike’s (John Leguizamo) home to score some methamphetamine. However it seems that Spider has lost his stash and Ross gets stuck on the sofa waiting for the drugs to show up.
At Spider’s the ‘traditional’ collection of speed freaks and drug users hang out. Nikki (Brittany Murphy) is a young woman who sits with Ross and the pair watch Spider and his girlfriend Cookie (Mean Suvari) lose their minds to petty arguments, violence, and paranoia. Nikki tells Ross that she has a line on some drugs and she offers to sort him out but there’s more to her offer than it seems.
Nikki’s hookup is a guy called The Cook (Mickey Rourke), a menacing figure who hands Ross a free bag and tells him they’ll be in touch later. Ross drives off, gets high, and cruises through sun drenched city streets. The hectic opening sequence of the film distils into a quieter, gentler, moment. Now almost tranquil, ‘Spun’ quickly establishes the contrast between the highs and the lows of drug use.
Captured on digital film ‘Spun’ seems out of date, and the editing provides a jittery impression of the disjointed experience of taking methamphetamine. There’s a definite low budget tone to Akerlund’s film but that works to its advantage and it comes across as an almost comic glimpse into the mind of a drug addict.
The film also uses animated sequences that further the sense of dissonance. They build on the effect that the editing has on the narrative and combined they illustrate the experiences of Ross and his ‘friends.’
The animated moments also allow the film to show graphic sex scenes that add a sense of Ross’s mind-set. His ‘girlfriend’ (Chloe Hunter) is a local stripper that shares his love of getting high and they go back to his tiny bedsit. Ross however gets a phone call and has to go and pick up Nikki to take her dog to the vet. Before he leaves he ties the stripper to the bed, duct tapes her mouth and eyes shut, and leaves loud music blaring.
The narrative takes place within a three (or four) day period and there are gentle moments muddled in amongst the noise, the jitteriness, and the violence. Ross cruises around in his beat up old Volvo and events seem to just happen to him. He’s a waster with an ex girlfriend that he owes $400 to, a stripper tied to his bed, and a growing drug problem.
Ross takes every spare moment he can to ring the various women he has hurt, taken advantage of, and for the most part none of them talk back. His conversations are notably one sided as he descends ever further into his altered state, and his warped perspective on reality takes a greater hold. This is Ross’s story and no one else can see the world the way that he does.
Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins provides a soundtrack to Akerlund’s underappreciated movie (Corgan also makes a brief cameo). His music slows down the erratic narrative and lets the story breathe a little. It’s an often-overbearing film and the acoustic music from Corgan allows for respite from the jitteriness, from the grubby world, and its unpleasant characters.
There’s no romanticism in the depiction of drug taking in ‘Spun.’ Instead it’s a film that veers towards stereotypes, and on the nose writing. But it’s also a film that has a lot of fun with its material and thanks to Schwartzman’s performance there’s at least a likable guide into this world of drug abusers and their insane ramblings.
There are moments in ‘Spun’ that work better than others. Schwartzman does a good job as Alex, and his pairing with Brittany Murphy adds a sense of humanity to the narrative. The best parts in the film involve Ross and Nikki driving around and talking to one another. Their conversations are sometimes cogent, other times they ramble, and the topics vary depending on how high they are.
Great underrated movies like ‘Spun’ are easily overlooked. And Jonas Akerland certainly borrows from better-known drug movies like ‘Requiem for a Dream.’ But there’s a charm to his film, a kind of childlike cartoon depiction of the perils of drug abuse, the bad teeth, and the colourful visuals that Ross sees as sleep deprivation slowly takes its toll.
‘Spun’ often veers towards ugliness, it’s not a pretty film nor does it contain particularly well-drawn characters. But it’s a film that leans heavily on the screwball comedy genre, it’s never didactic, and it tells a story that’s as heart breaking as it is laughable. It explores the lies we tell ourselves to make sense of the choices we’ve made, and the narrative is paced at a convincing speed.
Underappreciated movies like Akerlund’s tale of speed freaks, paranoia, and confusion aren’t always that palatable. Often they tell a story that’s more off putting than intriguing. ‘Spun’ is certainly not an art house film but its low budget aesthetic, its creative visual approach, and its cartoon characters, provide a unique experience for fans of cult cinema.
Is ‘Spun’ one of the best underrated indie movies?
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