Until I came across Strike, Dear Mistress, And Cure His Heart, I had never heard the name Mickey Reece. However, the indie auteur has apparently made something of a name for himself over the last decade or so, writing and directing an average of two films a year on minimal budgets with a fervor that even directors with notably consistent outputs would find grueling. Supposedly inspired by Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata and borrowing its title from "Venus in Furs" by The Velvet Underground, Strike, Dear Mistress, And Cure His Heart probably draws more direct influence from the works of Yorgos Lanthimos and David Lynch, playing with surrealist direction and abstract representation to convey a story of familial discord that's going to push more than a few audience members' buttons.
David (Jacob Snovel) and Madeline (Audrey Wagner) Middleston are a married couple with designs on remodeling a small town hotel as a historical landmark. However, this hotel is not far from where Madeline's mother Diane (Mary Buss) lives, who just put her newly deceased husband to rest. Diane attempts to reconnect with her estranged daughter, but years of neglect and abandonment weigh heavy on their relationship, even as Madeline starts to make the lapses in judgment that her mother once did.
What will be immediately apparent to most viewers is the stilted, farcically unnatural dialogue and delivery that characterizes Reece's mouthpieces. It's a clearly purposeful choice - there is a sick humor to how alien Diane and the Middlestons are to emotional interactions and the basic social niceties of hosting company - but it's hard to pinpoint what Reece is attempting to communicate. Is he commenting on the artificiality of social convention and its disconnect from real feelings? Or is he using this cold, robotic direction to highlight the toxicity of Diane and Madeline's relationship? It's beyond this writer to adequately say, but there's a certain hostility in Reece seemingly keeping the full meaning of his narrative to himself, which is assuredly going to frustrate and anger many a viewing audience.
Just as artistically gifted but paradoxically oblique are the moments of self-indulgent abstraction peppered through Reece's film. Madeline's mentally ill sister (Elise Langer) lingers in the background as a mute, dehumanized object, staring into the middle distance from a wheelchair with a bandage wrapped so large around the back of her head as to appear like a damn Xenomorph. Flashes of nightmare intensity frame Diane and Madeline as black-clad figures on a black background, melding into their environment and into each other. A monolithic fur-coated monster haunts Diane from a doorframe, draped in shadow and invisible to everyone else. These sequences are shot with a marked eye for composition, but again, their oblique symbolism walks a fine line between encouraging audience engagement and creating idiosyncrasy for its own sake.
Is Strike, Dear Mistress, And Cure His Heart a good film? This writer isn't sure they can answer that. It is certainly well-made, an impressive spectacle on no budget at all, and there are moments when the absurdity of Reece's vision provokes a bewildered laugh. But there is also the distinct impression that Reece, at best, doesn't care what you think of his film, and at worst, is actively hostile to outside interpretation of his personal vision. Your tolerance for such egotism is likely the measuring stick by which you will enjoy it.