Late in “For the Plasma,” Anabelle LeMieux’s character, Charlie, complains to her employer Helen (Rosalie Lowe) that her job — and her overriding purpose — at the secluded Maine cabin where they’re living and working together makes no sense. Moviegoers are apt to feel likewise about Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan’s indie head-scratcher, which operates according to its own dreamy wavelength, disregarding traditional narrative structure or lucidity at every turn. Equally entrancing and off-putting, this low-budget curio will have more luck attracting a cult audience on home video than in theaters, where its prospects are as murky as its plot.
At a picturesque house nestled amongst towering trees, Charlie arrives to serve as the assistant to longtime friend Helen, who spends her days monitoring the surrounding forest for possible wildfires via CCTV security cameras that feed video to her residence’s bank of computer monitors. While that may be her nominal task, however, Helen promptly informs Charlie that, by staring at her screens’ images of trees for hours on end, she’s been able to achieve a kind of epiphany about spatial perspectives and relationships that, in turn, has allowed her to accurately predict stock market fluctuations — and thus earn her regular checks from (unidentified) employers.
Charlie takes this befuddling, bonkers revelation in stride, as she does her chore of going into the woods to further investigate the area’s trees. There, she discovers white, rectangular frames hanging by wire in front of the cameras — denoting the visual spaces being recorded — though their origins or functional intentions are left vague by directors Bryant and Molzan, who pace their film like a laconic reverie headed toward some indistinct destination. Or, rather, they stage it like a hazy, spiraling hallucination determined to double back on itself, as suggested by a scene in which Helen draws circles on a newspaper to explain how she foresees the financial sector’s future, and Charlie responds by illustrating a tale about a Japanese bug that travels in a circular pattern.
Centered around a remote cabin located in some sort of pseudo-sci-fi-horror netherworld, “For the Plasma” faintly recalls Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s sterling 2012 thriller “Resolution.” Nonetheless, despite talk about ghosts and some faint inklings of outer-space enigmas — the latter via a meeting between Helen and two Japanese businessmen who ask her to study lunar telescope-snapped shots of distant galaxies — Bryant and Molzan’s film exhibits no interest in adhering to, or subverting, familiar genre conventions. Instead, their feature debut (shot on 16mm in a constricting 4:3 aspect-ratio, the better to lend it an ’80s-ish aesthetic vibe) operates as something akin to a uniquely bizarre expression of its milieu, a sleepy New England locale of battered lobster shacks, placid rock quarries, and rustic lighthouses where the salty air seems infused with indefinable but ever-present mystery.
Bryant and Molzan’s off-kilter editorial design is matched by cinematography that’s alternately detached and measured, and up-close-and-personal and handheld-shaky. The effect is a constantly shifting POV that further destabilizes the proceedings. Compounding the impression that the action is unmoored from any firm reality is a score by “Tokyo Godfathers” and “Outrage” composer Keiichi Suzuki, whose synth-heavy music — sometimes bouncy and playful, other times cascading and unsettling — provides jagged, beguiling accompaniment to a story that drifts along to its own blissfully idiosyncratic tune.
Only faintly touching upon notions of intuitive collaboration and inspiration, “For the Plasma” wanders about as if it’s in a fog, ultimately to the point of pointlessness. LeMieux and Lowe’s arrhythmic line readings are exacerbated by (deliberately) shoddy ADR, and as they traverse their rural setting, neither character (nor the actresses playing them) makes much of an impression. The same can’t be said of Tom Lloyd, who as a local lighthouse watchman flashes such overly mannered smiles while speaking in a strangely halting, unnatural robotic manner that he comes across as a quasi-pod person beamed in from an alternate universe. If David Lynch hasn’t yet cast him in an upcoming project, he should.