For two-and-a-half years, Stefan Phillips has been working on his first feature length film titled The Pasta Killer with frequent collaborators that make up his YouTube ensemble ‘UnorthodoxPoppycock’. The project – a faithful film noir – was a labour of love.
For as long as I’ve known Stefan Phillips, the casual filmmaker has favoured absurdity, usually pairing it with historical context. My wife and I once starred as background actors in his short film Schopenhauer vs. Hegel, which featured the two philosophers in a heated competition leading to a Rocky-inspired montage. His off-the-wall material managed to hit a sweet spot for those looking for a throwback to Monty Python-inspired silliness even though the parodied sources were too specific for most audiences.
It was a surprise to finally see The Pasta Killer and witness Phillips distancing himself from his usual absurdity. The film’s title suggests differently, but the filmmaker takes the noir genre seriously – presenting movie goers with a legit mystery in the same way The Artist approached silent films with a straight face. As more of the film’s story unravelled, I also endured a similar switch. I was no longer watching the film as a friend with feedback. I found myself slipping into the mind of an average movie goer watching a clever film wrapped up in a complimentary design using a script that doesn’t drown itself in predictable homage.
Joshua Lambert plays our hero, private investigator Marius M. Quick. Quick is incompetent, but it depends on who you ask. He can shake off a beating and the occasional kidnapping just as quickly as he can light a cigarette. Marius meets with unusual people and probes them with questions to stay involved in his community. It feels as if we should know these strangers already, but maybe it’s because we instantly recognize the character outlines Phillips is lifting from.
When people start dying around Marius, the P.I is spooked and confused. There’s no obvious motive except for Quick’s recent conversations with them. At the crime scenes, Marius discovers trademarks left behind by the murderer – pasta is just one of the findings. With each random killing and signature, Quick begins to lose his mind. Lambert hits all the right notes as a klutzy albeit confident protagonist, and the supporting players around him are just as good.
The Pasta Killer warms up to audiences with its “put on a show” enthusiasm just to coldcock us with brilliance. The film has theatrical roots following a traditional three-act structure and even positioning itself on an actual stage during a climactic battle. However, movie goers are suddenly treated to ingenious decisions that make the movie thrillingly cinematic. The best example I can provide is when Phillips manages to tell two scenes simultaneously in the same room using layered editing and authentic audio filters.
Another strength is directed towards how Phillips builds intrigue through locations with the help from stylistic cinematography. With careful framing and timing, The Pasta Killer makes the world look empty – Northern Ontario hasn’t looked this apocalyptic before. Whether Quick is idling or chasing a crook, the suspense behind the city’s shadows is taut – filling the flick up with the same paranoia Marius feels.
The Pasta Killer’s two-hour runtime may be a dealbreaker for those who are either new to the genre or grow anxious during pages of back-and-forth dialoging. But whether those movie goers are on board or not, The Pasta Killer is bound to be a breakout for filmmaker Stefan Phillips.
The Pasta Killer screens at the Borealis Film Festival on Friday, February 19 at the Massey Winter Carnival. The festival begins at 7:00pm with short films, followed by The Pasta Killer (8:10pm), which is then followed by Bradley Trudeau’s short film O-Getche-Tahk: The Lost Warriors (10:20pm).
Visit the Facebook event for more details.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie