Fantastic Fest Review: Navigating an Ocean of Emotion with VANISHING WAVES

April romanticizes underwater cave deaths in her review of the erudite amalgamation of genres VANISHING WAVES. 

In a most graceful sophomore effort sweep, Lithuanian writer/director Kristina Buozyte nearly cleared the entire feature competition during this year’s Fantastic Fest Awards with her erudite amalgamation of genres from sci-fi to erotica, Vanishing Waves.
A neuron transfer scientist, Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is at the helm of a research team and corresponding study boasting fruitful results in which one human subject possesses the ability to feel their way through the direct thought process of another. The catch being they can’t and won’t know a lick about each other before venturing forth. To make (gray) matters even more engrossing in this case, Lukas’ mind-mate is simultaneously struggling to make her way through a maze of coma. On the strictly clinical surface this comes as an advantage to the team - the decrease in brain activity on Aurora’s (Jurag Jutaite) end should lighten the node load before it hits his mollusk-like cerebral helmet. And from his new home office (a sensory deprivation tank), he should be able to articulate the experience.

The trials begin with a few fumbles as most do. We float with Lukas through tank time from crest to trough of disorienting synesthesia to more concrete interaction with the physical manifestation of Aurora herself. Let it be said that in this state she’s quite mesmeric, nude, feral even and often writhing around on the floor with zero regard for wayward thumbtacks in a way that sparks a twinge of jealousy. As the time they spend together becomes more lucid, the fear of losing her altogether becomes all-consuming. He consciously chooses to keep these findings to himself and far from the ears of the scientists.

My tiniest bone to pick might be with the latter as their posturing in the story while necessary seems inconsequential. A certain jarring quality takes shape as you’re drifting through these beautiful Escher-like alternate realities in and out of sparse Lithuanian and English dialogue only to settle upon what would appear to be a trippy Windows screen saver while one of them proclaims, “This is the most science-y of the science we’ve ever seen. Mumble grumble the alpha waves are disappearing.”

Being a third wheel to the pair is at once gratifying and horrifying - the deeper we travel alongside the two into the murky depths of Aurora’s psyche through an overcast seascape palette with Peter von Poehl’s score inspiring goosebump after goosebump, it’s a wonder we don’t become equally as submerged. A testament to Buozyte’s talents lie here and when reigns need to be pulled mid-Cronenberg horror orgy or violent gore crescendo they surely are.

When it comes to matters of the heart there are few things more emotionally resonant and capsizing than clamoring to save something or someone just beyond your reach. It's that familiar brand of blatant disregard for the impossibility of a task that borders upon stupidity and in turn connects us. In fact, a great friend of mine refer to them as "matters of the bart" when the head and myogenic muscular organ are so closely aligned. Feel free to adopt that.

I happened upon a seemingly unrelated conversation during the fest around the time I saw the film -- it was one about underwater caving of all things, more specifically a system in Wimberley, Texas notorious for ending the lives of several technical divers year after year. There's a chamber in which the bed of limestone silt is so delicate that one wrong paddle sets forth a "whiteout" responsible for the deaths. Recovery missions are rarely executed on a positive note without an additional to follow and so-on because if they aren't lost in the silt they're falling for false exits in the unexplored chambers beyond. Rescuers will always fall prey because there will always be someone worth rescuing.

At the end of the day, we're all stouthearted, tender humans with limits. And it's a double-edged sword of a life we lead, wherein the choice to test them is all ours.