Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway
"Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway reboots the genre by both using and subverting its conventions." | Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

Well, that was different! At some point in the future, Tallinn, in Estonia, has become a megalopolis managed by computer program Psychobook. But Psychobook is under attack from a virus known as the Soviet Union, whose existence inside Psychobook is represented by an avatar in a Stalin mask.

To repair the damage and get to the bottom of what is going on, CIA agents Palmer Eldritch (Augustín Mateo) and DT Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) must enter Psychobook, engage with Stalin and eliminate the virus.

Copy picture

This is Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway, screening at this year's Fantasia international Film Festival.

Level One.

But once inside, the boundaries between real and unreal quickly melt. Sub-plots abound. Agent Eldritch sets off on a one-man mission to locate 'the substance', which may be a figment of Psychobook's warped imagination or a real thing now loose on the streets of Tallinn. And it looks like Eldritch is more than happy to sell out Gagano for personal gain as well as to get his hands (literally) on Gagano's partner Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas).

Level Two.

Meanwhile, Gagano is captured by Stalin and dispatched to to a reality within this alternate reality, referred to as Beta Ethiopia: there to work out what is going on, obtain the keys to unlock the virus and return to …

Level Zero.

Where Gagano now lies dangerously ill following the failure of his support team to wake him from a coma induced by his entry into Psychobook in the first place.

Along the way he is helped by Roy Mascarone/born again Jesus (Guillermo Llansó) – who also directs the film - and variously helped or hindered by random characters like Batfro, President of Beta Ethiopia and Mister Sophistication (Carlo Pironti).

Confused? I certainly was, for much of this film because the story is neither told in neat linear fashion nor is its own internal logic entirely consistent from one level to the next. In the real world, supervising Gagano's mission inside this dangerous game is Commandant Rebane (Lauri Lagle). Or is he?

The fact that characters seem to flit between levels with ease, and phone conversations take place between Stalin (Level One) and various characters in Level Zero sort of makes sense. After all, phone calls are useful for linking inaccessible places! But how come Batfro seems capable of moving, seemingly at will, between all three levels?

The answer to these and a host of accompanying questions will not become clear until the very last minutes of the film. Or, as one expects a voice-over to add at any moment: does it? If you think you understood what has just been going on, watch the closing sequence very carefully for one small detail that suggests otherwise.

Overall, the basic concept of this film will be familiar territory to all those who have grown up with virtuality: from Tron to The Matrix, the idea of being trapped inside another world is now commonplace, as too the idea that if you die in one world, chances are you die in all of them.

Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway reboots the genre by both using and subverting its conventions. In Level One, live-action and stop motion – actors performing a frame at a time - are combined to emphasise the game nature of what is happening on screen: the fact that they are avatars is denoted by the fact that each player wears a black hood on which is fixed a cut-out paper face mask. Thus Gagano, in Level One, appears as Richard Pryor.

For some reason, this rule does not apply at Level Two, which is all-round smoother than Level One (which, for a game devised in our future, is seriously clunky). Level Two also includes fight scenes reminiscent of early gaming fights, with stylised combat moves and sound effects.

One gets the impression that Llansó enjoyed making this film. For the permission that the world within a world within a world trope gives him to vary styles and play around with audience expectations. Level Zero, for instance, plays a little like Nineties amateur porn: Level One is game-like; Level Two, perversely, the most naturalistic place of all.

And for the opportunity to deliver some very funny one-liners and scenes. Batfro, who appears throughout wearing a batman costume on which the logo is pixelated out for, possibly, copyright reasons, is first introduced to us taking a hit of coke before running after a villain.

Eldritch, on meeting with Stalin, heroically declares: “I don't make deals with computer viruses”. Elsewhere characters question one another's existence: “How do I know you're not a figment of my imagination?”

Or express a desire for a new start: “I want to rewrite my role,” declares another, before being attacked by giant killer flies!

Yes, it is mad, surreal even, apparently lacking in any logic. But stick with it. There is logic. All is revealed. In the end.

Or...

Is it?

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2019
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Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway packshot
Two CIA agents are tasked with the perilous mission of destroying the Soviet Union, but as they enter a VR simulation their mission turns into a delirious trap, with the fabric of reality unravelling around them

Director: Miguel Llansó

Writer: Miguel Llansó

Starring: Agustín Mateo, Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó

Year: 2019

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Spain, Estonia, Ethiopia

Festivals:

Fantasia 2019

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