“For the Plasma” immediately throws its viewer into the deep end. Unique beyond measure, its mumblecore, indie affectation is contradicted by a bold ambition in the form of big, complex ideas which don’t always make sense in reality, but pave the way for some interesting insights.
Helen (Rosalie Lowe), who sits in a small house in Northern Maine, isolated between coastline and forest and equipped with surveillance equipment, takes on the hefty job of staring at nearby foliage in order to watch out for forest fires. In her observations, she discovers patterns that deal with the rest of the world, and soon after recruits her old friend Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux) to be her assistant. Deciphering financial stocks by examining the forest, the peculiar house of a dead artist, the prevalent power outages, or the zany, creepily monotonous lighthouse keeper who speaks as if he’s reading from a script (portrayed hilariously by Tom Lloyd) — this is all merely the tip of the iceberg for a film that defies easy explanation. No matter how outlandish and confounding the events of the film become, however, what really lies at the forefront is the relationship between the two girls caught in the middle of it, as well as that fascinating contrast between nature and technology.
Directors Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan have created a delightfully strange film brimming with off beats that will surely frustrate some but charm and perplex others. Music cues begin moments after you would expect them to, edits are occasionally jarring and reminiscent of early jump cuts, and the characters all speak with a solemn monotony as if emphasizing a similar disconnect via screen that the characters maintain while looking out at the natural world painted in pixels and static. The film’s opening moments — in which Charlie arrives at Helen’s home and is battered with complex science pertaining to the trees and predicting the future of the stock market — seems to mean nothing at all; that the film would devote a handful of minutes in its short 94-minute runtime to such profound nothingness is merely a testament to its embrace of ambiguity. Though because of this, the search for immediate takeaways feels fruitless.
With a constrained 4:3 aspect ratio, filmed on 16mm, and an almost entirely pastel color scheme, the film’s aesthetic is to die for, really resembling a beautiful pastoral painting, soothing and therapeutic. This, when paired with the aural sensation that is Japanese composer Keiichi Suzuki’s enchanting score, and the hushed voices of Anabelle LeMieux and Rosalie Lowe, gives the enigmatic musings a zen air.
Simultaneously, there is an eeriness in the background. Suzuki’s score and the various gadgets littered around the forest and the house are alien, and occasionally, the sci-fi genre seems to invade the screen. The two girls are fidgety as well, occasionally breaking character to react to their surroundings, offering further hints that all might not be calm and tranquil.
Comparisons can be made to 2015’s “Queen of Earth” in how the film cryptically charts the relationship between two women in isolation, though its execution feels entirely different. Extremely funny at times, light and breezy throughout, the film eludes but never fully discourages its audience from following along. Seeing “For the Plasma” once may not be enough, but a rewatch does not seem like such a tall order. [B+]