Even amicable breakups, when both parties are reasonable and agree that things should probably just end, can be messy affairs. They can be downright nightmares though when one partner decides that they need to continue to exert a shitty influence over their ex. Perry Home Video’s Soft Liquid Center is an almost hallucinatory examination of when things go really wrong in a breakup.

           Soft Liquid Center picks up as Brenda is leaving her partner. It’s not a particularly violent scene but it’s effective enough to establish that maybe her partner wasn’t exactly boyfriend of the year. She moves into a new neighborhood, a new house, and begins to establish a new social circle. Things are looking up for Brenda. That is until the, how shall we say, disturbances begin. Soon, Brenda begins to realize that maybe her clean break wasn’t as clean as she had initially believed, and that maybe she has some unwanted guests in her new house.

            The first thing that stands out about this movie is how the director uses audio and very utilitarian but deliberate cinematography to establish a feeling of almost constant unease. The film takes place in the summer, so throughout the entire film there is a subtle background noise of summertime insects. This is normally something of a soothing sound but here it just adds to the atmosphere of “something terrible is about to happen” and keeps the viewer on edge even during otherwise innocuous scenes. The camerawork is…fantastic. So many lingering shots with characters walking in an out of frame past a focal point in the center of a room.  The film makes us of lots of slow zooms in on conversations and characters that only heighten the feeling of there being something unspeakable just waiting to reveal itself. There are even occasional segments that look to be footage shot on 8mm, which really lends a dreamlike feel to the movie.

            The way the “haunting” manifests itself is an interesting choice that I think pays off in making the film seem unsettling in a very unusual way. Sure, there is a scene that feels like something out of an early aughts Blumhouse film that nonetheless was very creepy.  However, a lot of the phenomenon shows itself is so unorthodox and…simple that it makes the rest of the “traditionally” creepy stuff seem kind of blasé. Sure, a character talking about how they feel like they’re being watched all the time is unsettling, but there’s something even more unsettling about another character insisting that that conversation never happened because that character wasn’t even with the two of them at the time. There are also disquieting sequences of Brenda seemingly disassociating in her kitchen in the middle of mundane tasks. Another scene involving a possible haunted watermelon (trust me) gave me Eraserhead baby vibes. Taken as a whole it’s all very effective, and by the end of the film it doesn’t feel so much like we’re witnessing a series of events through the eyes of an unreliable narrator but that we, the audience, are the unreliable narrators.

            I think it’s only fair to say that this movie also involves a very realistic and very upsetting scene involving an ex trying to convince our protagonist to get back together with them. It’s prolonged, it’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward and worst of all it’s not particularly physically violent. It’s just a man trying to exercise control over a woman and growing more and more quietly upset that it’s not working, which is somehow more upsetting than out and out screaming and carrying on. In a movie filled with inexplicable spooky things, somehow this was the thing that got me to squirm the most.

            Soft Liquid Center is a surreal look at the aftermath of breakups that succeeds in everything it sets out to do. It captures the horrid, dreamy listlessness that happens when a relationship ends, the fear and paranoia that an abuser might eventually return, and the desperate overwhelming urge to push through that bullshit and just move on with your life. Oh, and maybe there are ghosts?

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