Tyger, Tyger is released on all major digital platforms on June 28th.
I have a simple policy when writing film reviews, never read anyone else’s review of a film before viewing or writing. For any writer, the act of reading a review before watching a movie can lead to unconscious bias creeping into your final work. After all, it’s easy to have someone else’s words floating around your head as you unpick your thoughts and feelings about a movie. However, a few days after the credits have rolled and my thoughts are sketched out in a draft copy, this policy is lifted, and I spend an afternoon exploring the reviews of others (where available). This act of research never sways or shapes my opinion, but it does give me insight into how the film is viewed from multiple perspectives.
Occasionally this research is revelatory, confusing or fascinating as my view collides with others, and, sometimes, as with Kerry Mondragon’s feature-length debut, Tyger, Tyger, I wonder if I was watching the same movie as my fellow critics. Movies that divide opinion to this extent are genuinely fascinating, highlighting the creative diversity at the heart of the director’s vision; however, it also leads to a chalk and cheese response from audiences. Mondragon’s Tyger Tyger may be a daring, avant-garde exploration of addiction, inequality and isolation, but it will divide critics and audiences.
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Pandemic sits at the heart of Mondragon’s vision as his film opens. Within this dystopian landscape, we meet Blake (Sam Quartin), whose life is spent on the edge of society as she robs local pharmacies. Her mission is to deliver life-saving medication to the people suffering on the fringes in a community and country where wealth and privilege dictate health and life expectancy. However, during one of her armed robberies, Blake meets Luke (Dylan Sprouse), an addict and dealer who ignites her sense of curiosity alongside her mute anarchist partner in crime, Bobby (Nekhebet Kum Juch). After kidnapping Luke, all three embark on a road trip that leads them to an underground world of survival on the periphery of a broken society.
Mondragon’s strange brew of a road trip, pandemic thriller and addiction drama has no intention of playing by the rules. Here its narrative is challenging, loose, and at times incomprehensible. Therefore, for many Tyger, Tyger is bound to leave them cold, confused and frustrated as they bounce from character to character with little structure to guide the way. However, if we look deeper at Tyger, Tyger, we find a range of urgent social themes wrapped in a vivid dream of no escape.
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Filmed before COVID 19 took hold, it would be easy to label Mondragon’s film as a new-age pandemic thriller. However, this distracts from several of the more profound messages sitting under its surface. First, Mondragon’s view of ‘pandemic’ is rooted in a dissection of capitalism and the social inequality it creates. Here, drug addiction, HIV and poverty are all pandemics of modern society ignored and sidelined due to those infected; those suffering are ostracised and discarded unless they carry wealth, power or privilege. The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 245,000 deaths yearly result from drugs. While at the same time, 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2020. Yet, neither drug addiction nor HIV/AIDS have ever been classed as global pandemics.
Second, Mondragon unpicks the growing inequality of healthcare in countries of privilege, where treatment has become a lottery for those at the bottom of the social ladder. These underlying themes are urgent, meaningful and timely. But, they are also too often sidelined by a story that never quite finds its feet in the hands of a set of characters who lack depth.
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While Mondragon’s fever dream of striking imagery and sound is assured, it feels incomplete. His richly textured community sitting on the outskirts of society carries an almost carnival-like atmosphere – a richly crafted dystopian world of creative power. However, this world needed more time to grow on screen, and its characters required more focus and depth. Here Mondragon’s bold, innovative and dreamlike film lingers in the mind long after viewing but lacks any emotional connection. The avant-garde driving force of the film is its biggest downfall. However, as a work of experimental arthouse cinema, it’s full of surprises.