dir. Christopher Lee Parson
Utilizing psychedelic visuals, recurring echoes and a whole slew of differing – and at times clashing – themes, Christopher Lee Parson’s feature debut attempts to capture the mental breakdown of a young man recently discharged from the military as he returns to a dysfunctional home, and a society that doesn’t know what to do with him.
Shot partially in faux-documentary style the tone is highly experimental, at times feeling like a corkboard filled with ideas and red thread that never fully connects. We initially meet Paul (Aaron Perilo, True Blood) and his father Gene (John Savage, The Deer Hunter) in their dark, claustrophobic house, and though there are news articles alluding to child abuse that may have been committed against Paul by Gene, as quickly as this is mentioned it’s forgotten. However when Paul and his friend are brutally attacked in a park, something is triggered within him, and he begins a string of escalating crimes in his community.
As Paul progresses from home burglaries to murder, the target of his rage swings from random to intentional – at one point he commits what could be considered a heroic act, before soon after going out of his way to lure a woman to a park to murder her. He sets fires in one neighbourhood, steals bikes in another: there is no pattern to his crimes, only a chaotic string of deviance that is never fully explained.
While there are some compelling and eerie moments in all this, Parson’s film has a stylistic randomness which distracts: repetitious dialogue and imagery take up a lot of runtime, with an unclear focus on what message the director is trying to convey. Paul is a handsome, troubled young man, but his motivations seem to come out of nowhere: it’s fascinating to see how he manages to go under the radar as he carelessly commits his offences, something which seems like a statement on how easily society can overlook a monster, so long as they’re attractive and appear harmless. Another thread sees demonic voices clash with non-diegetic sounds, the same voice that haunts Paul also seeming to speak to his father: it’s unclear however if this is a generational hand-me-down of mental illness, or simply background noise.
A Cloud So High explores a ton of ideas but is unable to nail any one of them down: PTSD, implied child abuse, and a voice-over that calls to mind current incel culture are all interesting themes to tackle, but the lack of clarity and overreliance on repetition makes the film more tedious than engrossing. Performances are solid throughout and Parson makes some interesting directorial choices, but the script has branches that lead to nowhere, resulting in an underwhelming and at times confusing watch.