Like the 17th annual Central Florida Film & Video Festival it inaugurates, U.K. export "The Acid House" veers from the avant garde to the accessible, plays out in chapters and displays a youthful enthusiasm as it relentlessly refashions its own identity.
That's what the CFFVF will do this year, eschewing its former 12-day format to present thematically segregated showcases of indie works every month or so. The narratives-only, three-day Phase 1 of the festival commences Friday, Sept. 24, with the area debut of an anthology penned by Irvine Welsh -- the Scottish author whose novel "Trainspotting" became a watershed film for the open-minded audience who is the festival's bread and butter.
It's little surprise, then, that "The Acid House's" three stylistically disparate tales are unified by scenes of dead-end kids drugging, shagging and putting the boot in. You go with what you know, mate.
The first segment in the trilogy, "The Granton Star Cause," brings Kafka-esque imagery to the working class. In one luckless day, footballer Boab Coyle (Stephen McCole) loses his field position, his girlfriend, his job and his home. But his troubles reach their apotheosis when a vengeful God (Maurice Roëves) further punishes Boab by transforming him into a fly.
Set aloft to wreak disease-ridden vengeance, the winged hooligan receives a bug's-eye view of the perversions that lay beneath his daily routine. The ensuing silly tableaus, however, sacrifice much of their interest by stressing shock over credibility.
The subsequent "A Soft Touch" brings the theater of cruelty down from the stratosphere. Human doormat Johnny ("Trainspotting's" Kevin McKidd) is done in not by external forces, but by his inability to protest flagrant abuse.
Johnny's marriage to the town tramp (Michelle Gomez) swings off its weak hinges with the arrival of neighbor Alec Doyle (Tam Dean Burn), a lad's lad who helps himself to Johnny's food, his wife and even his flat's supply of electricity. (A drilled hole and an extension cord are all it takes for Doyle to become an energy-sucking upstairs parasite.)
We're invited to laugh at Johnny, but McKidd's attentive performance reminds us of our own difficulties in walking the line between compassion and masochism. Gomez lends nearly equal pathos to the terminally loose Catriona, who's written as a simple shrew. (None of the three chapters reveal Welsh to be a big fan of the ladies.) Her sad eyes signal that she has no control over her fickle attentions; too bad we're never told why.
The climactic "The Acid House" returns us to the fantastic, profiling a hardcore LSD-eater (Ewen Bremner, another "Trainspotting" alumnus) who trades bodies with a newborn after a portentous electrical storm. The segment leans heavily on visual and audio effects, but they're employed less to convey a philosophical agenda (chemical culture equals infantilism?) than to fill time in a spotty narrative. The payoff is to hear very adult comments pass through a tot's lips -- worth a laugh, but hardly unprecedented. It's "Look Who's Talking" with a brogue.
"The Acid House" is bound to incur the same criticism "Trainspotting" did in some circles: that there's no definable ideology at work beneath its confrontational postures. Producer Alex Usborne will be available for questioning at Friday's screening, giving him a vital opportunity to speak for his and Welsh's baby instead of putting words in its mouth.
One-time-only screening of "The Acid House" and discussion with Alex Usborne, 7:20 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, AMC Fashion Village 8, followed by afterparty (buffet and music) at Go Lounge. CFFVF continues through Sunday, Sept. 26; screenings $5, all-access pass $25. For the full CFFVF schedule, visit the calendar or www.cffvf.org.