Open Doom Crescendo

Open Doom Crescendo
July 28th 2023

Angst hangs heavy in the air these days, particularly for young people facing up to a rapidly deteriorating future. It’s something that Terry Chiu, a defiantly DIY filmmaker from Montreal, understands all too well—it’s right there in the name of his production company, Crescendo Angst Cinevision. That atmosphere of hyperactive anxiety bursts out of each frame of his sophomore feature, Open Doom Crescendo (2022), a three-hour lo-fi action-fantasia, which the descriptor “ambitious” doesn’t even begin to do justice. If Chiu’s 2018 debut, Mangoshake—a riotously warped and imaginative vision of suburban anarchy—was his Donnie Darko (2001), then his follow-up is surely his Southland Tales (2006).

Open Doom Crescendo introduces a “destroyed present” wherein a rogues’ gallery of comically volatile warriors traverses an apocalyptic wasteland in search of the Embodiment of Angst, an Oz-like figure who can provide answers to life’s questions. Working with a microscopic fraction of the budget afforded to an industry-connected filmmaker like Richard Kelly, Chiu shot his dystopian epic in a sprawling construction-scarred field adjacent to his suburban Quebecois milieu. Consequently, signs of civilization—or perhaps only its remains—are frequently glimpsed on the horizon, including rows of homogenous townhomes, parked cars, drive-in movie screens, and a conspicuous plane in the sky.

A victim of half-realized suburban sprawl, the no-budget shooting location provides an apt backdrop for Open Doom Crescendo’s ennui-soaked ethos. In between recurrent fight sequences, the characters—from irate protagonist Keikei (Xinkun Dai) and her partner Rev (played in humorously relaxed fashion by Chiu) to the antagonistic Lady Moondrift (Pei Yao Xu) and her posse of grey-leotarded Candy Ass Kickers—spend ample time contemplating the mysteries of existence as if they’re in a bizarro Jacques Rivette film. With English/Chinese subtitles burnt in throughout, these ruminations take the form of absurdly heated debates (“You’re like someone who orders a veggie burger,” one character chastises another, “You want the taste but accept none of the stakes!”) or of meditative voice-over while Chiu’s camera wanders Malick-like over the surrounding environment.

Open Doom Crescendo is just as preoccupied with delivering visceral insanity to rival any massive Hollywood tentpole. As the players punch, kick, and brawl their way through the terrain, the film adopts a style that could be described as a cranked-up live-action Dragon Ball Z episode. Chiu maniacally edits the action together with a plethora of both practical stop-motion and digital effects, while dollar-store Halloween costumes become remarkable otherworldly creatures. But perhaps the most thrilling moments of Open Doom Crescendo are those when Chiu vigorously breaks the fourth wall and exposes the behind-the-scenes workings of his gargantuan creation. It’s where Chiu’s guiding philosophy fully crystallizes—that of community art-making as an act of defiance against life’s boundless uncertainty.

Open Doom Crescendo screens tonight, July 28, at Spectacle followed by a discussion with the director, Terry Chiu.