Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Colin Hodson is an axiom of Aro Valley no-budget cinema. The male half of the Uncomfortable Comfortable couple, and director/star of Shifter, now adds a third closely observed portrait to his gallery of passive aggressives. In .OFF. which he directed and on which he shares the script credit with a cast and crew that include several other film directors, he plays Ben, who might be best described as a user. First seen as a shadow moving down the passenger concourse at Wellington airport, Ben arrives from parts unknown, heads into town, and moves into the comfortable apartment of absent friends. Stashing his passport and his next airline ticket, he hits the street in search of his drug connection Graham (actor and filmmaker Greg King), whose idea of catching up is to ask ‘How do you think I’m looking?’
Soon Ben is installed in Graham’s kitchen, propping up the chair next to the electric stove, as if he belongs there. Regular visitors to Graham’s flat include Julie (Helena Nimmo) and Peter (George Rose), a garrulous old reprobate, who drop around for cups of tea – and to get off. Mocking café culture or Graham’s New Age reading material, the snarkily self-congratulatory Peter is the film’s livewire. The presence of veteran filmmaker George Rose in the role is like a shot in the arm from the godfather of Wellington do-it-yourselfers. Ironically both Peter and Julie rely on Graham to shoot them up. They’re scared of needles. When Ben steps in to help Julie out, Graham, defensive at the best of times, feels excluded from his own the circle of dependency. As the paranoia spreads, Ben grabs what he can use and prepares to slip away.
Though not shown in the unbroken takes that distinguished the earlier films, the intimate transactions of drug use and the self-centredness of the users are divulged in long, absorbing sequences that preserve the unscripted texture of real time. In the most startling sequence, the house-proud Graham, completely fucked up, brings a new dimension to kitchen-sink drama in an epic struggle to do the dishes. Drama, though, is what .OFF. simultaneously avoids – in Hodson’s close adherence to his teflon-coated protagonist – and aspires to. As quick, subjective flashbacks cut us into Ben’s temporarily rattled brain, .OFF. samples telegraphic narrative techniques the earlier films eschewed, leaving us wondering about where Colin Hodson and Gordon Productions might venture next more than we ever need wonder about the future of Ben. — BG