The last film we’ll be reviewing for the 2014 Fantasia Film Festival is certainly a weird one. Imagine a Soviet-era village in a town where the residents work in this dark and oppressive factory. You probably think this is some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia where these workers are slaves to this evil dictator. You might stop thinking that when you see one of the workers rip a screaming baby out of a head of cabbage. Do I have your attention now?
Well, that’s the stuff you’re going to see in Craig Goodwill’s Patch Town, a film where living babies are harvested from cabbages, frozen as dolls, and eventually rounded back up again to be used as slave labor. It also describes itself as a musical and a comedy.
The film follows Jon (Rob Ramsay), who is one of the workers in the sadistic toy factory. He keeps having dreams about his lost life as children’s toy. He remembers the soft voice of his “mother” and her touch on his frozen skin. He’s the only one that has these memories, and he is even unwilling to share them with his wife, a former doll herself. Wanting to raise one of the cabbage babies as their own, they escape from the tyrannical owner of the factory, The Child Catcher (Julian Richings). They go off into the world and try to make a life for themselves in a place they don’t fully understand. All the while, Jon still dreams and searches for his mother.
It’s obvious Goodwill wants to make a statement on mass consumerism and its impact on our culture. The problem is that the film gets lost in its generic plot and overall weirdness. The horror, comedy and drama elements don’t work well together. The drama falls flat constantly, but the horror and comedy work well when they’re on their own. Goodwill’s choice to combine everything mutes what the film’s trying to say.
Patch Town likes to think it’s a musical, but in reality, it barely qualifies. There are only a handful of songs, none of which are particularly memorable. When there is singing, it feels painfully awkward, even more so when some of the actors are barely able to carry a note themselves.
The acting is also a mixed bag. This is Ramsay’s film debut, and he tries his hardest to work with already thin material. While he excels at the more comedic scenes, the dramatic parts of the movie are a slog to get through when he’s involved. Even Richings’ villainous Child Catcher goes through an unexplained change. Originally shown in a flashback, the Child Catcher speaks with a thick Eastern European accent, yet Richings chooses to use his own native British accent for the entire movie. It’s a minor quibble, but it does take you out to wonder why that change was even made.
Thankfully, the film features two supporting actors that provide the reason to continue to stay with the film if you choose to. Patch Town’s comedy is strongest when professional improviser Ken Hall, who plays the Child Catcher’s vertically inclined henchman, and Suresh John, a hilarious Indian escapee from the factory, are on-screen. They go over the script and make scenes work that probably wouldn’t have had they not been there.
Patch Town is trying to be several different things at once, and it fails because it wants to be all of those things. Had Goodwill solely focused on the comedy in Patch Town, it would have probably been a solid movie with a good social critique attached to it. Sadly, the message gets lost and distorted along the way. If you want a few laughs, Patch Town offers enough, but you need to wade through the rest of the movie to get them.