I first saw Strawberry Mansion during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. While viewing the very independent, very homegrown feature from co-writers and co-directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, I longed for a serenely cool theater filled with other (probably very stoned) moviegoers. The film is gentle and kooky, set in a dystopic future that aesthetically borrows from the '80s. Demons, Nick Cave-like creatures, VHS tapes, buckets of fried chicken, and fedora hats populate it. It's a world I felt like would be best experienced communally, in the dark church of the theater.
AND NOW! YOU CAN!
Strawberry Mansion follows James Preble (Audley), a lonely government "dream auditor" in 2035 tasked with going through other people's dreams and taxing them. We meet him in the middle of an uncomfortable dream of his own where he's trapped in a pink room and aggressively marketed fried chicken by an annoying dream visitor.
When he awakes, he's assigned to audit the dreams of an eccentric older woman named Bella (Penny Fuller) who has avoided paying taxes for decades and lives in a strawberry mansion (wink) with her pet turtle, Sugarbaby. Preble soon gets lost in the thousands of VHS tapes that hold Bella's dreams and memories, slowly falling in love with the younger version of herself (played by Grace Glowicki), who acts as his guide.
Bella's dreams are fantastical and otherworldly, imbued with a love and curiosity absent in his own dry life. While immersed in her thoughts, Preble discovers that brands and labels are blocked out from her recordings, courtesy of a special dreaming device she developed with her husband.
After the real-life Bella dies and her evil son (Peter Bloom) comes to reclaim the mansion, the film takes an unexpected turn from light twee into an otherworldly and rather dark exploration of consumerism. Bound up in that is what Audley calls a "metaphysical love story" that crosses time, space, and realities with Preble at its imperiled center. If it sounds like a headfuck, it definitely is. Dream logic has no logic but its own, after all.
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