Writer/director/editor Alexander Roman’s Blackmail (ASMR) is a neo noir tale rich in vintage atmosphere that experiments with the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) phenomenon that has become increasingly popular during the past decade. Briefly, ASMR is said by proponents to cause a euphoric tingling sensation, often from the scalp and down the spine, brought on by whispering voices, repetitive sounds, and other auditory triggers. Blackmail (ASMR) uses plenty of sound cues to try to stimulate that effect in viewers as it tells the Paris-set tale of four blackmailers and an unsettling secret one of them inadvertently uncovers.
Perfumer Veronika (Max Reeves), party planner Vincent (Roman), and assistant Vivian (Stevie Vallejo) all work for blackmail-group leader Madeleine (Susan Touchbourne). They use their jobs to try to dig up the goods on rich clients. When Vincent meets a well-off husband and wife who want to throw a shindig with no expense spared, he soon learns of a haunting tragedy from their past and finds himself thrust into the middle of their mystery.
Blackmail (ASMR) is in the art house cinema mold. It focuses more on aural experimentation and accompanying visuals — sometimes mystical, sometimes beautiful, sometimes wonderfully realized by cinematographer Grant Bell, sometimes constructed using stock footage — than on traditional linear storytelling and action. The cast turn in nice performances, highlighted by Reeves’ turn as an enchanting perfumer who entices people into unexpectedly and unknowingly turning over their blackmail money to her group.
The film’s promotional material suggests viewing while listening at a low volume using headphones for maximum experience. Because some people are more susceptible to the effects of ASMR than others, results will vary for each viewer, but Production Sound Mixers Cem Dursun and Max Osadchenko and Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer Chris Orsi have created a unique soundscape featuring soft voices, tinkling sounds, quietly turning pages of books, and other ASMR stimuli. The jazzy soundtrack is a nice compliment to the proceedings and the Paris setting. Personally, I am not much affected by ASMR stimuli, but I did find the sound mix intriguing and the attempt at trying to create a unique soundscape for the visual world Roman has created to be an engaging one. Independent film Blackmail (ASMR) is an experimental cinematic experience well worth trying out.
Blackmail (ASMR) screens on September 28 as part of Mr. HoleHead’s Warped Dimension, the first-ever online film festival to be presented entirely through the Zoom app. The fest runs from September 24th through the 29th. For more information, visit https://www.ahith.com/.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/). He also writes for the film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), Ghastly Grinning (ghastlygrinning.com), and Horror Fuel (horrorfuel.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom).