The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - VIDEOMAN | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - VIDEOMAN

videoman review
A VHS collector bonds with an '80s obsessed alcoholic while searching for a missing tape.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kristian A. Söderström

Starring: Stefan Sauk, Lena Nilsson, Morgan Alling, Martin Wallström

videoman poster

For most of us, nostalgia is merely that warm glow we occasionally get when reminded of a positive aspect of our past. For some, nostalgia is a crutch, an addiction. And just as big tobacco exploited nicotine addiction, Hollywood is currently making the most of the current vogue for all things 1980s. It's not the first time Hollywood has gone through a nostalgia mining cycle. In the late '60s and early '70s, every other movie seemed to be set during the American Depression, while the '80s movies of Spielberg and his acolytes drew heavily on the '40s and '50s. It's no coincidence that commercially motivated nostalgia tends to be focussed on three or four decades prior to our present, as it hits the sweet spot of those suffering mid life crises and yearning for their youth.

Writer/director Kristian A. Söderström's Videoman will likely give genre fans of a certain vintage that warm nostalgic glow, but it's also a considered examination of the dangers of clinging onto the past.

videoman review

Back in the day, Ennio (Stefan Sauk) ran Sweden's most respected video store. Now, in the digital age, he lives in a basement surrounded by rare VHS tapes of horror and grindhouse movies. He's lost his livelihood to progress and as flashbacks suggest, he's lost his wife to his obsession. He's about to lose his basement now too, unless he can rustle up 10,000 krona to pay off his overdue rent in the coming week.

When he purchases a box of random VHS tapes, Ennio is surprised to find a rare copy of Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters among the dross. He's even more surprised when he receives a phone call from a British collector who agrees to pay 10,000 krona for the tape. The planets seem to have finally aligned for the hapless Ennio, but the following morning he wakes up hungover to find the tape in question has disappeared from his basement. Desperate to locate the tape, Ennio sets off on a quest to investigate the collections of Stockholm's community of VHS obsessives for the contraband in question.

videoman review

You can tell early on that Söderström is as much of a geek as his protagonist, as his film is riddled with movie references that even Tarantino might struggle to keep up with. If you're a fan of obscure horror and exploitation movies, you'll have a knowing smile on your face throughout, and Söderström mines some hilarious self-deprecating humour from his collection of analog obsessed nerds, the highlight an impassioned argument between Ennio and a Harry Knowles shaped fanboy over whether or not Italian star Rosalba Neri employed a body double for her nude scenes. A great observational touch on Söderström's part is how all the movie collectors have immaculate screening rooms but filthy, roach infested kitchens.

Videoman delves into another form of addiction through a subplot involving Simone (Lena Nilsson), the woman who sells Ennio the Fulci tape, and with whom he embarks on a tumultuous romantic relationship. Obsessed with the past herself, Simone spends her evenings drinking alone in her apartment while trying on her '80s outfits and makeup, and dancing to the pop tunes of the era. At her secretarial job she's treated with contempt and bullied by superiors half her age, and her daughter refuses to hang out with her due to her drinking.

videoman review

Nilsson delivers a very sympathetic performance and Söderström portrays her alcoholism in a far more realistic and relatable fashion than most movies. There's nothing glamorous about Simone's drinking (watching her clean her vomit off her office photocopier is the most pathetic and tragic moment I've seen in some time), and while an attractive woman, she physically looks like someone who doesn't take care of themselves, unlike say Bradley Cooper's abtastic drunk in A Star is Born. When I first left home as a teen, I found myself living next door to a heroin addict who would ask me to store her methadone bottle as she feared she might down it in one gulp, and there's a moment in Videoman in which Simone does exactly the same thing, asking a neighbour to hold onto a bottle of wine for her. Sweden has one of the world's highest rates of alcoholism, and Söderström's film suggests he has personal insights into this form of addiction.

Ultimately, Videoman is the story of two people that have been cast aside by a society that has moved on at a pace they're unwilling to keep up with, but Söderström doesn't let his protagonists off the hook. Ennio and Simone might blame the world for their respective plights, but as they come to accept, they're partly their own worst enemies.

Videoman is on Shudder UK now.