I have sworn off live action movies for a number of reasons, well really just one reason: the mainstream. In my experience as a consumer, you do not get aggressively bludgeoned nor pressured into any media more than live action movies. It feels like these movies—specifically ones of American origin—are given more clout than anything else, and if you don’t fill up that laundry list of films that come out faster than what you can possibly keep up with, you risk being alienated (for the record I only watch three theatrical releases a year at most just by following Disney alone).
However, there is a whole other side to movies that goes beyond Hollywood. There are markets all over the world and in the underground. One such underground movie is an avant-garde little fella I happened upon on Kanopy… and you already know what it’s called since that’s in the title of the post. Neptune Frost is a relatively recent live action movie that actually looked good, and this is me we’re talking about. Eff it, I might as well!
Normally, I’d start the next passage with “In [insert title here]”. However, I did refer to Neptune Frost as an “avant-garde little fella” before. Ergo, this is not a movie where I can do that. Nothing in it makes sense, so it’s natural to write a review that makes no sense!
Anyway, the first thing to compliment is how it’s visually presented… for once. Like, these actors are wearing actual costumes. Use of CG is relatively light. Furthermore, the costumes are phenomenal. I’ve never been to Africa, but I’ve seen authentic African art at Disney, so I can tell how good of a job they did integrating that fashion statement with wires, circuit boards, and whatnot to adorn the main protagonists. I didn’t think “on location sets” (it was filmed in scenic Rwanda) and “costumes” existed anymore, so it was a welcome sight to see them in this century.
Additionally, this is a musical. Traditional African chants mingle dissonantly with darkwave, EDM, industrial, and all sorts of electronic music to make some strange and gripping numbers. These songs are, naturally, where Neptune Frost is at its finest. The way they filmed and edited these sequences were really good; going all-in on weirdness without overwhelming you with excessive jump cuts and whatever you call that shaking thing they do in modern movies these days.
However, that’s where the positives end… maybe? Well, the plot of the movie is a mixed bag. The basic idea is that a man named Matalusa(?) ends up joining a group of cyberpunked-out abolitionists who go against the status quo, and a lanky person named Neptune eventually follows suit. The structure, for the most part, is experiencing how crappy the world is, and then getting to see the far better pocket of space occupied by the cool kids on the block.
It seems straightforward, but it isn’t. Or is it? Neptune Frost is packed with strange edits and cutaways that scratch the avant-garde itch mentioned twice already. It’s engaging, but leaves you wondering what’s even going on. The content on screen often switches from rural Africa to a neon fever dream in an instant.
Conversely, it gets more and more straightforward the further in you get. The takeaway of the movie will be blatantly told instead of shown, specifically in later musical numbers. It’s one of those plots that’s more confusing on the surface than when looked at with scrutiny.
And… well… look. Okay, this technically counts as spoiler territory, but it’s basically telegraphed by the official product description telling you that this all-Black population is slaving away in a mine at the beginning of the movie. This is yet another one of the thousands of allegories to all the bad -isms in the world, that reviewers will be like “Hey, that’s an allegory to this and that!”, but then they just go back to their lives the next day and nothing changes. I admit I’m probably going to go back to my normal life as well. Look… As someone who worries about civil rights issues to the point of being prone to anxiety attacks daily, I must say that—as a reviewer—that Neptune Frost is a heap of often-used allegories with a novel paint job. The dialogue ranges from esoteric and abstract, to a guy saying “F*** Mr. Google”. It’s unremarkable yet remarkable at the same time.
Originally, this paragraph was about me wanting to call Neptune Frost pretentious but then me denying that very claim. Well, just because it’s not made by Hollywood doesn’t give it an excuse. It is quite literally a textbook example of a pretentious movie: it blatantly telegraphs allegories that the masses generally already know, but through an abstract lens that feigns intellectualness. Take that lens away and it’s just The Hate U Give clone number forty thousand. It’s almost too on the nose, like how they reference White supremacy when—as far as we know—the Authority who torments them are as Black as they are. Its creator—Saul Williams—goes through all the trouble to fly to Africa and convince locals to stick wires up their noses… for something this lacking in originality?
For the sake of thoroughness, I suppose I should discuss the characters, despite them always feeling more like plot devices as a consequence of the feature film format. The actors, for the most part, are quite talented. However, the roles they play are underwhelming outside of the top-billed characters. It all revolves around Mata and Neptune, with the latter basically being the only one capable of doing anything in the movie. As pointed out in the official product description, she is intersexual, which—according to the Internet—means having an unconventional combination of reproductive organs. From various context clues, it seems that Neptune has both boobies and “the boys”. However, this doesn’t seem to be pertinent to the plot whatsoever. Neptune literally wanders in and—through a seemingly unexplained connection to Mata—is able to hijack the Internet. That’s… basically the gist of her character arc. She can also sometimes possess a bird?
Before getting to the final score, I must stress that I am not really a movie expert. This is my first live action film since Mary Poppins Returns. I have no clue what any shot is supposed to invoke, or why they do this edit or that cut. All this has been speaking from the gut. If you want a more in-depth review, there’s probably one somewhere else on the Internet.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Neptune Frost—regardless of how smart it is or isn’t—at least taught me one thing: that even in my least favorite entertainment medium, there are still hidden treasures that exist beyond the mainstream. Hollywood churns out its endless cycle of big productions, while elsewhere, independent films come out in droves, only achieving underground success at best. That’s where movies like Neptune Frost exist; in that unpredictable territory meant for the adventurous. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but I can at least respect it from an artistic standpoint… if I give it a MASSIVE benefit of the doubt. If you really want to see it… just keep in mind that subtitles are only in English (the actors speak in Kinyarwanda and other African tongues for the most part).
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