By DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Agustín Mateo, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe
Written and Directed by Miguel Llansó
Lanzedera Films/Arrow Video
I don’t usually go in for surreal, psychotropic type movies. I find that they revel in their own absurdity and unapproachable humor, which is something I grew out of when I stopped going to Newgrounds.com. Miguel Llano’s JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY is definitely surreal and hallucinatory, but there at least seems to be a quasi-reasoning behind the madness. I went into this film expecting to not be in on the joke, and while some of the themes and motifs may have gone over my heads, overall I cam away satisfied that I got to see a coherent story get told.
“This is all skinned as both anti-Soviet propaganda while seeming remarkably like Soviet propaganda.”
There are so many layers to the non-reality of this film, so I’m going to unpack whatever I can and just lay it at your feet for you to suss out. The main character is Agent D. T. Gagano, played by the actual Daniel Tadesse Gagano, so already the film is doing its level best to blur some lines here between fact and fiction. His partner is Agent Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo, Pastillas, Hospital Central) who the uninitiated may believe is a reference the character Palmer Eldritch from Chuck Hogan & Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain. I’d counter that by claiming I’m almost 100% certain this is a reference the Philip K Dick novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch since both the book and the film deal with taking drugs to induce a state of shared hallucinatory fantasy from which there is difficulty escaping. It’s that kind of movie.
Ostensibly, the film starts with them on a mission to stop a virus named “Soviet Russia” from infecting the AI that controls their country of Estonia. I should mention that this section of the film takes place in the year 2035 and they both work for the CIA, and at the time of my writing this article, Estonia has no affiliation with the CIA.
Anyways, the two agents zap themselves into virtual reality to deal with the virus, and the virus predictably gets the upper hand, trapping Gagano inside, while also duplicating him. This is doubly upsetting since Gagano had intended for this to be his last mission before running off with his wife to run either kickboxing gym or a pizza parlour. Gagano also constantly eats pizza, both inside virtual reality and out, in such a casual way and rapid way, I believe that it was a parody of romanticized alcoholism in American cinema, but I might be reading too much into it.
While trapped in the virtual world known as Beta-Ethiopia he runs amok of their President, Batfro, who seems to be a Blacksploitation version of Adam West’s Batman which becomes doubly confusing when clips of the actual 1966 Batman are shown on televisions in universe.
I’m so brutally tempted to give away the twist for you all, since it absolutely redeems what feels like unrelenting nonsense and gibberish. In fact, the twist redeems the whole movie, which I was beginning to feel tired of. The poor dubbing, every character’s inability to pronounce “Commandant,” people dressed as flies, supposed immortality, occasional stop-motion, Richard Pryor masks, 1980s technology being utilized in the near future, all of this gets explained away in a fairly satisfying twist, that may ambiguously turn out to be a red herring. Who fucking knows with this movie?
Llano is know for utilizing a style he calls “afrofuturism” which I love since Science Fiction has enough Caucasian lead men. Couple that with retro soundtracks and openly schlocky costumes and set designs, and you have the kind of homage film that Quentin Tarantino can only dream about in his most feverish feet dreams. This is all skinned as both anti-Soviet propaganda while seeming remarkably like Soviet propaganda. It makes sense if you watch it.
JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY is weird, it’s pointless, it goes nowhere, but maybe it goes somewhere, and I think that people who actually enjoy acid inspired films will get something more out of this film than I did, and that’s speaking as someone who actually enjoyed it. It’s certainly worth a watch, just to say you did, so why not check it out on the Arrow Video Channel?