In “Neptune Frost,” Neptune (Cheryl Isheja) is a young non-binary adult who, after running away from their enslavement in a mining camp in Burundi, joins a hacker’s collective looking to survive on the outskirts of an oppressive society. This dystopian, Afrofuturist musical feels more like a dream than a straightforward journey, but that never takes away from the beautiful imagery and message that the film portrays.
Written and directed by American musician and actor Saul Williams (with the help of Anisia Uzeyman co-directing the project), “Neptune Frost” is a surreal examination of gender, sex, capitalism, oppressive police forces, and technology that weigh on the minds and bodies of society’s lowest rung. Unfortunately, it only almost is able to express its message for this overflowing plate of ideas. While concepts like the fluidity of gender and the dark side of the technology that surrounds us every day are captured beautifully in song and neon lights, I was left wishing that the film had further explored some of the ideas it introduced.
The structure of the movie was disorienting, with the first half playing out in an almost dreamlike state with little dialog and shifting perspectives, while the second half became more story focused, almost as if it were jammed in at the very end. While I appreciate both strictly narrative focused films and films that enter more into the surreal, I would have been able to follow the story a bit more if it had just stuck to one.
This is not to take away from the beautiful visuals of the film, however. The cinematography is gorgeous throughout, and the use of in camera lighting effects looked amazing. In the beginning of the film, in the scene that introduced a character named “The Wheel Man,” neon paint is splattered on set and body alike, creating an almost techno-heavenly aura. And speaking of The Wheel Man, the costumes and character designs were a delight, with coats made of keyboard keys, old computer monitors turned into helmets, and beautiful flowing dresses. However, the out of camera effects left much to be desired, particularly the shots of “the internet,” that almost reminded me of “The Matrix” if you replaced green with red.
The music is also amazing throughout. Williams (who also composed the music for the film) blends rhythmic beats on old plastic gas cans with futuristic synthwave sounds creating a beautiful landscape of sound that made me wish I had watched this in a theater with surround sound. With great performances from the entire ensemble, my only disappointment is that it does not appear to have a soundtrack released with the film.
Although I was left confused and disoriented with the plot of the film, the amazing visuals and soundtrack gets the film a hearty recommendation from me, though I suggest seeing it in a theater if possible to fully enjoy the film.