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Monday, July 10, 2017

The St. Augustine Monster (2016)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Kat Kennedy, Gus Kennedy
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

A doctor discovers the washed up body of a giant cephalopod, and in the course of studying it, he becomes dominated by the creature's evil mind who wants to consume the blood of the living.

Although the plot of this feature may sound inspired by films like The Little Shop Of Horrors and Donovan's Brain, and it may well have been, Kennedy has produced the film as a silent feature with a visual design paying tribute to the 1919 German expressionist classic, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.  Utilizing hand-drawn backgrounds by his mother, Ana Kennedy, in the same way that made Robert Wiene's film so memorable, Kennedy brings to life his story, apparently filmed between semesters with family and friends during his final year at Pace University.

The story of St. Augustine's monster is a true one, if lacking the supernatural overtones Kennedy adds to his narrative.  According to Wikipedia, the remains of a giant creature did wash ashore near St. Augustine, Florida in 1896, and was thought to have been a giant octopus, although later studies have concluded it might have been the remains of a whale.  Josh's creature is certainly the former, and could not have been otherwise given the young filmmaker's fondness for the eight legged marine animal.  The monster is given a three dimensional visage through cylindrical tentacles attached to the drawn body that are animated when the beast regains evil life.  Although these effects are elementary, they fit in well with the film's design and are particularly effective in the dark corners of a lighthouse that becomes the monster's lair.

Kennedy takes center stage as the doctor, who when consumed by the cephalopod's madness, takes on disturbingly obsessive characteristics, well displayed by Kennedy's rolling of his pupils back and forth, a mirthful grin, and dark makeup around his eyes.  There are visual cues back to Caligari in some sequences when Kennedy dons a dark bodysuit like that of the 1919 film's Cesare, but the actor/director brings his own characterization into the mix as well.

Josh is supported by sister Kat Kennedy, as his on-screen sister, father Gus Kennedy as an ill-fated police inspector, Aleyda Aguirre as a female victim of the doctor's evil persona, and Tom Pearson as the priest who will restore order at the film's climax.  Each play their roles convincingly with limited movement, making Josh's exaggerated gestures stand out all the more, effectively displaying his character's madness.

This may be Kennedy's shortest film, at a brief 19 minutes, but feels the perfect length, bridging an engaging narrative across limited sets with a memorable look and feel.  His musical selections are well-suited to the story and help transport us back to not only the period of the 1896 discovery, but the era of silent cinema.  It's a wonderful tribute, but an involving film all its own.

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