Directed by Jakub Charon | Review by Antonio RozichNo matter if it’s real-life or fiction, often there are situations where there’s no room for remorse and pity. It doesn’t matter if we like it or not, but dog-eats-dog is as real as having the time of your life with somebody you love. Totem by Jakub Charon shows the horror of the first of the two with a subtle mix of the second.
Within the first few seconds of the film, you know entirely the theme of the movie or should I say the mood. The murky lighting, shady characters, and all that stuff tells right off the bat what you’re in for and that’s a good thing. No time is wasted to build up the movie’s construction. Each following scene is another brick that progresses the story revealing the hardship of a life surrounded by crime, drugs, and inability to think about tomorrow as today you might end up dead.
Enter Savage, the protagonist and the anti-hero of the story. If the theme wasn’t what it is, you might describe the film as a coming-of-age kind of flick and to some extent it really is; if the coming of age isn’t decorated with sterile beauty and false safety. Does American History X come to mind? If you, you’re right on the spot. Savage is a young man who’s a mixture of insecurity, inexperience and determination – an unstable mix that can quickly go wrong. He has the will to make something out of his life, but the “life-stage” on that he’s playing isn’t an easy one and most of all, it’s unforgiving. Now, imagine a mindset that’s continuously pushed to prove himself. There’s no time to think everything through; there’s only time to act as choosing between option A, option B and sometimes even option Z can mean life or death. How should a young mind with next to none experience act? He didn’t choose this life; he just ended up here and is forced to play the game.
It’s almost exciting to follow Savage’s decisions throughout the story, especially when he makes the wrong one. You might catch yourself thinking “you idiot, why did you do that?”, but give it a second thought. What would you do when neither option has a positive outcome? The only choice you’re given is to pick between less or more pain. This idea is perfectly presented in his character and although you’ll feel pain and frustration the further you go into the film, it’s a trip worth taking.
Budget but highly realistic. When it comes to the technicalities of the film, the mixture of stable and hand-held filming is nicely used to help the story move forward. By no means is the production top-quality, but oddly enough, that plays straight into director’s hand. The grainy images now and there only amplify the gruesome reality of the plot and are a great example of having what’s considered a “flaw” work to your advantage. Because why not? So often filmmakers think they don’t have the means to make a film, when actually, all it takes is to use the “obstacles” to your advantage. If there ever was a film that proves that, it’s Totem. When you think about it, flaws and mistakes are part of everybody’s life and they are here to be the creative tool, not a ball and chain on your “filmmaking leg”.
This world truly is a mixture of positive and negative and you don’t get to filter the negative out. But why should you? It’s the world we all live in and instead of wishing for the bad to magically disappear, how about accepting it? Both the story and the way Totem is filmed proves the point it’s possible to take even more than you hoped for. So why not giving it a try? You might be surprised with what you find.
Antonio Rozich is a seasoned copywriter and the chief editor for Cult Critic – meaning, if you’re a filmmaker you’ll either love or hate him. Besides his usual copywriting, he also helps filmmakers with their screenplays by editing them and finding the ways to improve the initial filmmaker’s idea. When all of that is done, he turns to his true & original love: writing flash fiction filled with philosophy, life and cake metaphors.