WHAT. THE. HELL. DID. I. JUST. WATCH. Sitting down to write this review, my mind is still trying to wrap itself around the ninety-plus minutes of the most trippy, bizarre, brain melting film experience that I’ve had in a little bit. Normally with me, that’s a good thing, because I love me some mind explosion, but for The God Inside My Ear, premiering at the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival (PUFF), this wasn’t the kind of brain shattering it should be…
…Written/directed by Joe Badon, The God Inside My Ear stars Linnea Gregg as Elizia, a woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend and isn’t dealing with it too well. At first, she goes through the normal depression. Not eating as much. Not sleeping. Skipping out on work. But soon, Elizia finds herself experiencing strange visions, odd phone calls from creepy telemarketers, other-worldly conspiracies, and a never-ending slew of voices in her head. Is Elizia crazy, or has she suddenly found herself slipping down a deep rabbit hole of self-discovery and horror?
Sorry, I’m not going to spoil that for you. Surprise! But what I will say is that Gregg is wonderfully convincing as Elizia. Maybe it’s that primal urge in me to pounce on the weak that supports the idea that all men are pigs (we are), but Gregg’s initial soft demeanor and punchy sarcasm with a touch of vulnerability is so endearing that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her character. Keeping in mind, this is before she becomes a deranged lunatic, which Gregg also does exceptionally well, including one scene in which she speaks in tongues that I really hope has a blooper reel on the Blu-ray, because I can only imagine how many takes she must have gone through to get it just right. She presents her character as so far detached from reality, that Gregg is a treat to watch, and can often get a laugh with how straight she plays some of the more ridiculous moments in the film (and there are plenty). However, Gregg and her character Elizia become so unnerving as the film moves on, that all of those feelings of wanting to take her out and tell her it’s going to be okay are shut down so fast you can’t swipe left quickly enough, and that’s a testament to her performance. The God Inside My Ear rests solely on the shoulders of Gregg like Christ taking in all of our sins, and she hardly breaks a sweat.
Of course, it helps Gregg stand out in The God Inside My Ear that the rest of the cast is so terrible it’s like they were pulled straight out of someone’s Tuesday night acting class at UCB. It also doesn’t help that a large portion of the dialogue is either too weird, too awkward, or just plain bad. I’m talking cringe worthy bad. In the opening scene alone, when Elizia is going through the breakup with her boyfriend, Fred (Joseph Estrade), Estrade’s delivery, the phrasing, all of it takes us out of the film and immediately reminds us that we are watching a movie. Unnatural dialogue that has no place in day to day conversation will do that. Unfortunately, that’s the case for a majority of the film. The God Inside My Ear is at its strongest when Gregg is allowed to be in the scene on her own, and she could be someone to watch in the near future.
As for Badon, the jury is still out. Together with cinematographer Daniel Waghorne, the two create an odd mix of beautiful, dreamlike pictures, and unbearably bland framing. The God Inside My Ear flip flops back and forth between the visions which Elizia is experiencing, and in those moments, I was stunned by Badon’s ability to awe his audience with what can only be described as art, no matter how nightmarish some of those images may be. So what I don’t get is how the rest of the film is framed and shot with such a painfully average touch. Visually, there is not a single interesting shot I can think of outside of the visions. Perhaps Badon is trying to make a point about reality as a whole, but if so, the message is unclear, and it creates such a wide gap of inconsistency between the visuals that when Elizia isn’t experiencing a vision, the rest of the film feels plain and frankly boring by comparison. I don’t mean to be so harsh, but when the talent is there, the disappointment is so great that Badon and Waghorne don’t seem to be using those talented eyes all throughout.
The inconsistency doesn’t end there though. Like I mentioned above, The God Inside My Ear is the kind of what-the-fuck-is-happening film that leaves you wondering if you’ve lost your own damn mind. It’s a hypnotic descent into madness as we fall ALL the way down with Elizia, and can often leave the viewer feeling pretty disoriented. That’s great. What’s not great is that the film has so many macabre sub-plots and red herrings it’s like Trump’s White House. Just when you think one element is the source of Elizia’s problems, two more pop up. The film hints at everything from cults to lizard people to madness to conspiracies to an actual evil Djinn. Hell, there’s even a crotch-sniffing, food scarfing talking dog! And no, he doesn’t just talk, he also has a lisp! Mind you, said dog isn’t funny at all, but instead is a reminder (as are many aspects of the film), that The God Inside My Ear is Badon’s first feature. In film school, the screenwriters all had the joke that whenever you would pitch a script, producers would want you to include a talking dog, because they didn’t have any good ideas of their own. That may be the problem here. It’s not that Badon doesn’t have any ideas, it’s more so that he’s throwing in the whole kitchen sick, sludge in the drain and all, hoping something sticks without allowing anything to become fully fleshed out. I’ll say this though, whatever Badon is on, I want some. In fact, they should pass it out with screenings of the film, because it may be the only way to get the response that’s intended.
Sticking with the theme of cramming everything Badon has into the script, The God Inside My Ear comes labeled as a horror comedy, but doesn’t do either strongly enough. Outside of childish talking dogs, Badon employs a dry sense of humor that at best might get a soft “heh-heh”, but it’s saying a lot when the contrived talking dog plot device is the funniest moment in the film, and I just ripped on it a moment ago. As for the horror, well, there really isn’t any, at least not in a traditional sense. Elizia does do some regrettable things, and she sees her fair share of horrors towards the end, but the problem is, very few of those moments are treated with the sort of weight necessary to have an impact on the audience. The God Inside My Ear doesn’t play for jump scares or shocks, settling instead on a VERY slow burn that can be uncomfortable at times, but barely reaches a simmer by the final minutes. Badon is like a pseudo version of David Lynch, yet unlike Lynch, who couples oddities with gut-wrenching imagery and terror, Badon’s film comes off as just plain odd, with horror so tame your kids could watch it and have sweet dreams afterwards.
As a first-time director, Badon shows a lot of promise, because despite my criticisms, there is something unique about The God Inside My Ear that has me interested in what he will do next. Despite that, this all too slow and unbalanced descent into madness is best avoided, unless you want it to leave you in a dazed and confused state wondering what happened to the last ninety minutes of your life and knowing you’ll never get them back, in which case, dive in. Just make sure to pack extra shrooms for the trip.
The God Inside My Ear is screening at the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival on Saturday, September 8th. You can get your tickets here.
By Matt Konopka