Stuff (1999)


Canada. 1999.


Director/Producer/Story – James Dunnison, Screenplay – James Dunnison & Rebecca Dunnison, Photography/Visual Effects – William Morrison, Music – Justin Deneau, Art Direction – Jordan Estall & Sarah Wilson. Production Company – Bullseye Films


Max Danger (Philip Monkroe), Sandra Guerard (Rosie), Joe Sather (Yiorgo), Maureen Burgoyne (Mrs Monkroe), Winston Spear (Sword of God), Russell Oliver (Himself)


Philip Monkroe has a rotten life – stuck in a nothing job as a hospital cleaner and dominated by his hypochondriac mother at home. He falls for Rosie, the receptionist at the psychiatrist’s office where he takes his mother. On the same night that he consummates his relationship with Rosie, he accidentally shoots his mother while trying to stop her committing suicide. A mysterious ring falls out of the sky and hits him on the head. At the hospital, Philip discovers that the ring has the ability to revive the dead. However, he is unable to get it to revive his mother until he revitalises it in ‘the virgin spring’. And so he undertakes a journey into the sewers to purify it. At the same time, he is pursued by an Islamic fundamentalist assassin who is determined to obtain the ring.

Stuff is the debut of Toronto-based filmmaker James Dunnison. Dunnison is clearly one of a group of filmmakers who have emerged out of the same generation as Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith. Indeed, Dunnison imitates the whole style of a Kevin Smith film – his characters are aimless slackers stuck in dead-end McJobs; there is an overriding sense of black humour and irony wherein characters pretensions are punctured and inconsequential details snowball back on people; and both make substantial in-reference to other films and tv series – Smith makes lots of jokes about Star Wars (1977); Stuff has an amusing gag about someone trying to claim that he is watching an episode of The Simpsons (1989– ) while masturbating to a porn video.

Stuff is a film that I wanted and tried hard to like (although my efforts were not exactly helped by the director turning up to the Vancouver International Film Festival premiere with a horde of drunken friends). There are individual elements that are amusing – the blackly comedic moments where Max Danger accidentally kills his mother or when he revives a body for the first time. In the end though, Stuff is a film that seems too politely mannered. Dunnison never pushes any of the scenes to the point of the blackly hysterical the way Kevin Smith does in say the scene with the corpse in the toilet in Clerks. (1994).

The fantasy element of the ring seems too trivial. You keep expecting the film to open up into something like a modernised urban version of an heroic quest or else become a Re-Animator (1985)-esque black comedy about raising the dead. However, almost nothing happens with the idea of the resurrection ring except to arrive at a predictably mannered happy wrap-up conclusion.

Certainly, the film is well made on a next-to-no-budget and Dunnison gets good performances from all his cast. Especially notable here is weedy David Spade-lookalike Max Danger who clearly has a career ahead of him.

James Dunnison subsequently went onto direct several documentaries and now works directing episodes of Canadian series television.

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