The Illinois Parables ★★★★½

In 16mm

In my early 20's I worked as a merchandiser for a bread company. This job entailed waking up at 4 AM and driving around northwestern Illinois' various suburbs, hopping from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart before the sun came up, to make sure all the racks of bread were full and fresh before the customers arrived. It was eerie to drive down highways surrounded by endless empty fields, only to see the distant beckoning glow of the 24-hour superstore, rising like a temple out of the cold and sleepy Earth. This eeriness was only amplified by the experimental drone music and horror movie soundtracks I usually listened to in the wee hours of the morning.

It felt wrong. It reminded me of when Burroughs talked about how old and evil the country was in Naked Lunch, like maybe destruction-for-profit has been the country's motto from the moment people started calling it a country.

Enter The Illinois Parables. Like Der Todesking writ historic, with an eye to witnessing sites of actual human horrors that all exist within a five hour drive from my home, in the small towns and rural midwest landscapes of my adolescence. To say I'm the target audience for this is only incorrect in that I don't think Stratman consciously set out to make the horror film I so desired.

What are the parables here? What are the eleven discreet lessons to be learned? I must admit my experimental film literacy is weak and I couldn't tell you. But what I did get was a clear sense of the United States (depicted here as the faceless force of evil that imposed it's shapes onto the country, dividing a landscape impartial to human suffering into discreet blocks of homes and agriculture) as an engine of death, forever fueled by the lives and resources deposed peoples.

The film is not without it's hope and humor, it's warmth and empathy. It's not a cold and cynical thing. But as a piece of experimental horror, building dread out of the banality of nature, questioning the karmic connections between piles of dead Shawnee peoples and piles of dead tornado victims, it's impeccably paced and edited. But again, I don't know if Stratman knew she was tapping into a personal horror touchstone of mine. That's ok, though, because as an essay of temporal and geographical intersections, of unspoken connections and underseen stories of life, this is also a staggering work. A

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