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Film Review: Star Leaf (2015)

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SYNOPSIS:

Hikers find a secret grove of extra-terrestrial marijuana and must fight for their lives when they anger the other-worldly forces protecting the plants.

REVIEW:

Three twenty-somethings go into the woods with the intention of getting smashed off their faces on a wunder-strain of marijuana called Star Leaf. Instead, they manage to anger the keepers of the weed – a group of murderous aliens. This film has straight to DVD exploitation written all over it. And yet, putting the aliens to one side, Star Leaf is a surprisingly sober look at PTSD. Didn’t see that one coming did you?

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Julian Gavilanes (Fat Kid Rules the World) plays James; a young marine back from a recent tour of duty in Afghanistan. It’s where we’re introduced to James; on a mission, being given orders to take out a member of a terrorist group. In the terrorist’s arms is a child strapped to a bomb. It’s all very American Sniper, but it succinctly, if not subtlety, paints an idea of the stress James and many others like him go through. A year later and James is in the good old USA, with friend and fellow marine, Tim (Tyler Treraise), and Tim’s partner Martha (Shelby Truax). Since returning home, Tim has followed the path of enlightenment. He has become one with nature, and seeks to find the very essence of what makes Tim. In short, he wears beads, smokes a lot of pot and has lots of tantric sex with Martha.

James, somewhat disgruntled with the world, has been dragged along with Tim and Martha to surf and check out a Twilight sightseeing tour. No really. Clearly not a Twi-hard or particularly fond of his friend’s new lifestyle, James is happy to sit under a furrowed brow and curse every hippy he can see. When the true purpose of Tim’s trip comes to light – to get high on a natural supply in the woods – James very nearly tries to jump out of the car and walk home. However, he reluctantly goes along with the plan and that evening, after some advice from an old Vietnam vet, the trio is getting smashed in the middle of the woods. And that’s when things start to go very wrong. Particularly for James, who begins to experience flashbacks of his time in Afghanistan.

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Whilst it’s hardly Jacob’s Ladder meets Harold and Kumar, there’s enough of a genre hybrid here to keep folks entertained. A reason for the somber portrayal of James’ PTSD may be in part down to director Richard Cranor (The Life and Times of MC Beer Bong) who got the idea for the film as his own brother who was/is suffering PTSD. As such, James believably fluctuates between friendly and shell-shocked at the drop of a hat. Even Tim, for all his bravado, clearly represents the desire to escape from the past through substance abuse. Cranor himself takes a role as the suspicious Ranger Dave who always manages to be in the right place at the right, handing out moments of paranoia and self-doubt like they’re pieces of candy.

You could say, dear reader, I’m overanalyzing a film that contains killer aliens and low flying Asian fairy P*rn. And believe me, I trust your opinion, but I really don’t think I am. Star Leaf could have easily been an excuse for faux-80s sensibilities, ironic dialogue, huge breasts and jokes about weed. The fact it isn’t is to be commended. It’s a hyper realistic story, told through stylized camerawork that’s grounded by some naturalistic performances.

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There will be some for whom Star Leaf won’t be their bag. It’s not that reliant on scares and is more interested in characters than ‘Argh! Ker-splat! Take that ET!’ And to be fair, the rougher elements of the film’s low budget sometimes shine through. However, if you’re willing to buy the ticket and take the ride, you find yourself having an entertaining time.

Brothers and sisters, if you’re looking for a pot film that does something a little different than throw you eyes in the direction of Star Leaf. Turn on, tune in and drop out, my friends. Now, can you dig it?

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