Set in a dystopian future where corporate brands have created a disillusioned population, one man’s effort to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy will lead to an epic battle with hidden forces that control the world.
Advertising Will Kill You
I could not have understood this film until it occurred to me that first and foremost, Branded can be described as They Live as directed by David Lynch. For those looking for the sweet, sweet joys of action and alien invasion that we get from watching Keith David and Roddy Piper fight the hidden menaces in “They Live”, you won’t get that here. If on the other hand you love David Lynch movies and can imagine that “They Live” was hijacked by Lynch and made his own, you might begin to appreciate this film for it’s core aspects. Or not.
Branded is social commentary on the effects of branding and advertising through the filter of fantasy. At least it tries to be. It very weirdly tries to make a very preciant statement about the ills of marketing to an unsuspecting global audience by mixing the real history of the rise and popularity of communism and nazism with fantasy elements involving a greater alien influence on the lives of humanity.
Struck by a seemingly freak bolt of lightning at a young age, Misha grows up to be a master manipulator of the masses through advertising and marketing. He soon discovers however that larger forces are using his gift to manipulate and alter the population to sell them on products they otherwise would not have bought. Misha believes that there is a great conspiracy that has brought together the media and purvayors of “real” news and traditional advertising and marketing techniques in order to manipulate the population into a direction of their choosing. The trouble is, only Misha can see the conspiracy. Understandably, no one believes his crazy sounding theories and the powers behind this conspiracy have turned the public on Misha forcing him into hiding first and then soon after into prison.
You see, the master plan which first appears to be simply to sell the public on fattening hamburgers in an age of healthy eating and calorie counting, is actually set on achieving this goal by first convincing the public that being fat is beautiful again. The way to do that is to make being skinny seem dangerous. It’s all very involved, elaborate, and ridiculous sounding, but apparently it works like a champ. Not before Misha (in a fit of depression) leaves the world behind to live as a hermit in the barren fields of rural Russia.
…Fight Evil With Evil
Time passes and Misha has been living the hermit life as a cow herder. One day he has a strange yet vivid dream that upon waking up leaves him compelled to enact its bloody consequence. He proceeds to build weird structures out of wood and plastic wrapping, slaughters one of his cows, but not until he’s captured a piece of the setting sun in its skin, and finally he burns the whole mess followed by bathing in the resulting ashes. This effectively supercharges his marketing and advertising abilities and allows him to not only understand marketing better, but literally see beyond the veil at the true meaning of things. Then he passes out.
The rest of the film gets weirder and less logical from there on with Misha now having the ability to see people’s desires as strange creatures which look like living balloon animals that attach themselves to people’s brains and actively will their human hosts to feed their compulsions by buying or giving into the whims of the marketing conglomerates. It’s not clear whether the creatures are really real (I’m leading towards them being real) or whether what we see are the result of a psychotic break Misha might have suffered from his isolation and time as a hermit, but what is undeniable is that Misha seems to have the ability to manipulate the beasts indirectly by manipulating the people and companies linked them. It all (frankly) makes even less sense than what you’re reading from me.
The bottom line is that although I could kind of see what the writers and director were trying to achieve with their story and film, the reality of what they end up with is a highly confusing mess. This is part of the reason I compare it to David Lynch. Lynch is notorious for creating films who’s narrative frequently goes off the rails and even more often never finds its way back. With Lynch, however, you get the impression that he’s telling a confusing story on purpose. Besides that, his actors and writing is generally so compelling that you can get past not understanding what the heck is going on. With BRANDED, it seems pretty clear that they set out to make a pretty straight forward fantasy fiction film, but with a strong message about the possible troubles we can find ourselves in when we blindly allow others to manipulate us.
Unfortunately, however, either something was lost in the editing process or obvious explanatory exposition was never included in the script to begin with. The result is an overly long narrative with plots and subplots that are started and never finished or critical moments that go by with no explanation or even road signs to an explanation and in the end, it just wasn’t worth the 106 minute run time (that actually felt like over 3 hours).
The strange fantasy elements of the film that play such a big role in trailers and even the poster above don’t even start until very near the end and by then most of the audience has lost interest in the story-line anyway.
There are moments of beat-you-over-the-head preachy-ness and unnecessary characters who add very little to the overall forward momentum of the story. It’s all quite unfortunate.
I think the message it tried to convey was a good one, but ill served by the creative team. Not much to recommend here. If you simply must see this one, wait for Netflix. You’ll thank me for saving you from it…make your checks payable to….
C- grade for plot
C+ grade for visuals and weirdness
Overall C- grade for a cool looking, but ultimately half-baked presentation.