This return from New Zealand director David Blyth (Death Warmed Up, Moonrise, Red-Blooded American Girl) is a little too familiar in its premise (it’s one of those all-in-the head nightmares, though there are arguably chunks of reality in it somewhere) but very well acted (especially by lead Kate O’Rourke, in a gruelling role) and given to quite striking imagery of the ultra-perverse (a close-up penis-scissoring, a two-headed mutant baby being born out of a giant vagina, a tattooed pig-masked rapist, some rigidly disciplinarian bondage games) and ultra-strange (weird roleplay masking, psychedelic/brain-damaged hallucinations) kind.
A New Zealand-born, long-resident-in-England theatrical actor (Brendan Gregory) turns up at his old home to be greeted by his adult daughter Susan (O’Rourke) as if he were to be the lead character – but she bashes him on the head with a baseball bat as payback for his impregnating her when she was fourteen and then leaving the country, ties him up and performs the scissor op, then buries his corpse with what turn out to be her own silver foil-wrapped frozen and preserved turds. It seems Susan is struggling with long-term psychiatric problems and working in a demeaning phone-sales job. Meanwhile, her abandoned daughter Tanya (Te Kaea Beri), a troubled teen, has successfully lobbied to be told who her mother is. Susan and Tanya are both given to taking part in humiliating sex games, Susan with a coolly tyrannical master (Campbell Cooley) and Tanya at a club run by a harridan (Sandy Lowe) who is also the image of Susan’s dead mother (who died when her daughter burned down their house); this is a tipoff that not all of what we see is actually happening – Tanya seems to die a couple of times, committing suicide by lying on the railway tracks and killed when she visits Susan, but sticks around as an increasingly violent presence. Susan is told that her baby was stillborn, but insists her daughter is persecuting her – there’s a good late-film feint as a patronising crisis intervention team show up to section Susan because she insists her daughter isn’t real and are then bloodily murdered by Tanya. Given the two-headed doll fantasy, it’s possible Susan had twins – one stillborn, one not – so the official version that her daugher is dead and her version that she isn’t could both be the case: though the actual ending, which finds Susan slumped dead on her computer keyboard after some sort of brain haemorrhage (earlier on, it had seemed to be a nose-bleed) suggests that the bulk of the film was her dying fantasy, though Tanya was seen in independent scenes before the nosebleed began (maybe she died on the track, and her angry ghost is in Susan’s head as she dies).
The latter stages, which are more surreally odd, recall Stephen Sayadian or – even – the pretentious artfilm afterlife glimpsed in the opening dream sequence of Stardust Memories. Yes, it’s puzzling and never settles all its questions – but it’s mostly provocative and interesting, and not long enough (at 76 minutes) to wear out its welcome. Oh, and bonus points for the title – whether it’s pronounced woond or wownd.