Written by: Ron Cotton on November 9th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Festival Almacen de la Imagen, Cuba, Oct 2003
Director: Miguel Coyula
Writer: Miguel Coyula
Cast: Adam Plotch, Talia Rubel, Diane Spodarek, Jeff Puccillo, Limor Shopen
DVD Released: September 27th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Heretic Films
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
In futuristic New York, people are bombarded with the positive commercialization of DNA 21 Corporation while the reality of acid rain and communicable diseases looms over society with a strangle hold. Adam (Adam Plotch) is haunted by a unknown woman who he holds carnal desires for. As Adam discovers his past, his needs know no bounds. With no father in his life and his mother Krista Zarrasky (Diane Spodarek) who coddles him, Krista has an unexpected surprise for Adam.
Red Cockroaches is a movie about incest. However untasteful this subject matter is, what drawn me to this was its low-budget film that has high-budget value. As I uncover more about Red Cockroaches and Miguel Coyula’s work, the more respect I’ve gained about this amazing do-it-all.
“If you explain everything, you ruin the mystery. [...] I want my stories to have a kind of cryptic quality.”
– Miguel Coyula, Commentary of Red Cockroaches
Red Cockroaches production value is quite outstanding and phenomenal considering the meager production budget of two-thousand dollars. I’d be shocked if this figure included the cost of Final Cut Pro or the Canon GL1 used for filming. Coyula’s lighting rig isn’t unlike Rodriguez’s in El Mariachi. Coyula’s utilization of color gels were superior to Rodriguez’s El Mariachi. Coyula’s early embrace to the realm of digital filmmaking facilitated Coyula’s integration of visual effects on a shoe-string budget. Miguel Coyula understood he had more time on his hands than money, making digital filmmaking the more viable choice. The filming locations Coyula acquired are unique, befitting, and visually stimulating.
Coyula’s exemplary sound design goes well beyond the call of duty with no distortion or audible clamping to speak of. I’m still amazed that most of the sound captured came from a directional mic at location. Coyula’s selection of sound effects at times sound amateurish or canned. One distinct example of this is the “swooshing” sound of the high-speed aircrafts. With this complain aside, it’s sound design is hands down exceptional. Miguel Coyula’s casting abilities are astounding, considering that the actors were payed nothing at the time of filming. Although far from the actors being either fair or beautiful, the raw acting talent of Adam Plotch and Talia Rubel was on target. Coyula has cast him before on an avant-garde piece known as ‘Plastic Fork.’ Perhaps the director’s insistence of filming Red Cockroaches chronologically displayed the actors progression into the plot.
Miguel Coyula’s style as a director is not unlike other Europeans whose major focus is on strong set-pieces, odd camera angles, and cinematic clichés. This struggle for art is generally at the cost of the film’s believability and character interaction. At times, Coyula relentless intercuts becomes annoying and not a seamless affair. Miguel’s badge is to never take the same shot twice. Some transitions are intricate to complex and at times overwhelming. The dialog vacillates from the interesting to the completely bizarre at a moments notice. I’m unsure if this an issue of language barrier or if it’s the cryptic nature that Miguel desires to achieve in his films. Red Cockroaches suggests an unsettling feeling of cramming as many cinematic tricks as possible. All of this aside, the individual shots themselves are artistic and near perfection from this low-budget shoot.
DNA 21 Corporation, the Red Cockroaches, and the futuristic backdrop tends to not facilitate the film’s progression or mood. This cluttered and hampered the film with needless detail. This added confusion in an otherwise already sordid tale. In Red Cockroaches defense, these “flaws” might be better explained further along in the trilogy. Miguel Coyula’s post-production work is very polished, mastered with a fine-toothed comb. The colors are both vivid and professional and the sound design is top-notch. Some scenes were put together in layers, creating locals that don’t exist. Others might complain that Red Cockroaches is a full-frame feature, not in traditional “cinematic” widescreen. I’d beg to differ, and Coyula’s use of the full-frame canvas is to its fullest potential and extent. The level of grain during the film varies yet is hardly noticeable.
Heretic films should be congratulated for the extra features found in Red Cockroaches. Perhaps because of Miguel Coyula is a Cuban director, Spanish Subtitles have been included. Miguel’s accent is quite think in the commentary. Adam Plotch, Miguel Coyula, and Jeff Pucillo are round tabling, fighting for time to talk in this dense commentary.
The short film Valvula De Luz (Light Valve) created by Miguel Coyula to gain admittance to the International Film School of Havana was captivating. Behind all the VHS artifacts and tape rolls is an astounding movie directly about holocaust and indirectly about humanity and alienation. Filmed in Black and White, Coyula has used an interesting technique to introduce each actor. The names are printed below akin to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis art deco look. Although mostly silent feature, interestingly some communication takes place via chat on a computer. Again, Coyula has stunning locations and great visuals. Like in Red Cockroaches, Miguel Coyula haunts in the dark foreboding depths of mankind’s fears.
There’s only two minor complaints with the extras. The Bio for Miguel was lacking and question why they didn’t use more information verbatim from the official internet site. The storyboard’s presentation was much to small to be legible and instead should have compared each shot to the scene.
Let me thank both Heretic Films and Miguel Coyula for such a great DVD release that’s worth its retail price. Few films have this many features and few directors strive for the same level of perfection that Miguel Coyula has. For a miniDV movie, it’s amazing the amount of detail captured and how much post improved the imagery.
For more information about Red Cockroaches and other titles released by Heretic films visit their website.