Soft Matter feels like a mashup of two separate ideas that never quite mesh into one coherent story. There’s plenty to enjoy from this debut film from writer-director Jim Hickcox but it tends to be a bit soft in the middle. I’ll be honest, that was a poor attempt at using some fun wordplay with ‘soft’ to convey that the film is a bit uneven. It didn’t quite work, but what’s done is done.
The first idea at play here is that of a pair of scientists or doctors — are all scientists also doctors? — are running some very odd experiments that allow them to keep humans “alive” regardless of their current physical condition. They run these experiments in an abandoned hospital and their patients include some sort of blob and man-like thing that sort of resembles the shape of a human but appears to be trash bags filled with goo. This trash bag goo creatures wears a nice pair of Nike and loves to dance. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, this thing performs an entire dance routine but is scolded by one of the Dr. Scientists for ruining their best pair of kicks.
Within this mad scientist world, there is also some sort of sea creature living in a bucket of mop water. The creature is apparently some sort of sea goddess that used to have great power in the ocean but is now trapped in this mop bucket. One of the scientists mocks this bucket repeatedly throughout the film. I don’t know why but that scientists hates that bucket.
The other main idea is that of a street artist who is struggling to have his graffiti be taken seriously by the art world. The artist goes by the name of Haircut (Devyn Placide) and his thing is that he likes to paint ghosts using spray paint. They’re basic ghosts, think Pacman. In an effort to boost his credibility his best friend, Kish (Ruby Lee Dove II), suggests a big venue for something truly spectacular. If you guessed the hospital as that venue, you guessed correctly!
Haircut and Kish head to the hospital where Haircut immediately gets to work. While the artist does his thing, Kish wonders the hospital and stumbles upon the experiments. Somewhere along the way, the sea creature living in the bucket full of mop water transforms into this half woman, half fish hybrid that looks to have been inspired by The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Presumably tired from being mocked, the creature proceeds to wreak havoc on the artist crew and the scientists.
My biggest issue with Soft Matter is that I’m not sure why anything happens. Why are the scientists working on these specific experiments? Is it simply to play god? And how does the sea creature figure into all of this? Are they trying to harness her powers? And how in the world was she contained to that bucket for so long? And for the art angle what is the message? Is this some sort or satire? Is it trying to make fun of street artist? Or is it arguing that street artists should be more respected? Maybe it’s not really trying to say anything or the messages are something completely different altogether? Either way, none of it is very clear.
On the plus side, Soft Matter is a lot of fun. Like most horror fans I am a sucker for practical effects and this film has plenty of them. This film gives us two physical creatures that interact and cause havoc. The film also has a really good setting and feel to it. This is a movie that I believe wants you to feel gross and it certainly succeeds. Everything just feels icky within this movie. It’s all one big, oozing, dripping, slimy mess of fun.
Hickcox and his crew certainly have a knack for effects work. Including on the new Soft Matter DVD, recently released by Wild Eye Releasing, is a short film Hickcox directed called Slow Creep. It’s a fun short about a teenage girl eager to watch a horror movie only to have it come to life. It’s a nice nod to the VHS era and while the effects work isn’t as grand as what is done in Soft Matter, it is a lot of fun. Judging from these two films has been extremely intrigued to see what Hickcox does next. Despite the unevenness of Soft Matter, I’m always on board for indie directors with a clear passion for horror and a willingness to get their hands dirty.
Soft Matter is now available on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing and for streaming on Amazon Prime.