Lung II (2016) Review

Phil Stevens’ FLOWERS, which was given a proper release on DVD earlier last year by the ever-reliable Unearthed Films in both single and three disc editions, remains one of the more interesting films I saw in 2015; immediately registering as the kind of bold and almost dangerously personal introspective cinematic odyssey that could only have come from a singularly creative conscience. Hot off the heels of his marvelous debut comes LUNG II, which the director himself describes as a prequel of sorts as well as the middle child in a proposed trilogy; and we all know how difficult it can be to be the latter. Is this a sophomore slump or merely an extension of Stevens’ uniquely disturbing vision? Let’s jump into this autopsy immediately and find out.
As with FLOWERS, LUNG II is on the short side – both films running around 75 minutes. This ends up working out in their favor, seeing as neither has a word of spoken dialogue and the “plot” is decidedly slight: an anonymous male (played by none other than Stevens himself) navigates an urban landscape whilst being plagued by disconcerting visions which seem to allude to a dark, sadistic past. The killer from Stevens’ debut makes several appearances, the suggestion being – at least in my eyes – that he and this new character are either in cahoots with one another or sharing an identity.
By design, even the smallest of details seem to mean something in relation to the protagonist and his relationship to anyone or anything in FLOWERS; for those who enjoyed that earlier film, this one will be an even bigger challenge than to the uninitiated. This is mostly due to Stevens’ desire to be the gatekeeper of all the secrets, which I can imagine will turn a few heads (though in varying directions), but it is what keeps his latest offering from wandering too far off the beaten, battered, and bloodied path. LUNG II is consistently intriguing, even when it appears stagnant.
One of the most striking qualities to FLOWERS’ name was its near-perfect balance of the vile and the exquisite. In this sense, Stevens has not lost his touch; his eye for genuinely striking compositions remains in-tact and this time the supernaturally talented Marcus Koch is along for the ride, providing the already overwhelmingly hallucinatory proceedings with an extra dosage of madness. In the world of Phil Stevens, flesh lives, breathes, pulsates, ejaculates, and even speaks on its own accord. Disconcerting voices from beyond haunt broken minds, courtesy of Ronnie Sortor’s exceptionally disorienting soundscape. The filmmakers’ commitment to their own insanity is certainly at the very least commendable.
Before being picked up by Unearthed, FLOWERS had been distributed through Phil’s page on manomatulart.com; the same goes for LUNG II (though it is now listed as “SOLD OUT”). The disc itself is bare bones, though it does come with a beautiful high-quality still as an insert. I have to imagine this release is an accurate representation of how the film is supposed to look; micro-budget, of course, but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing. This time, Phil opted to shoot the entire film in black-and-white, which I think compliments the borderline experimental nature of his latest quite well. It looks and sounds quite nice, and I can imagine some months down the road Unearthed will give it the same treatment they gave to FLOWERS. For now, this will do just fine; but you can be sure I will be picking up the later edition for the sake of additional extras and insights.
While I was, understandably, a bit more surprised by its predecessor, this does not dispossess LUNG II of its abstract pleasures. Phil is one of the more genuinely interesting minds actively working in the genre – and beyond – at the moment, and I personally cannot wait to see where his art takes him in the near future. He continues to sift through the darkest corners of his mind and emerge with material that is simultaneously disturbing, ravishing and provocative. If ever there was an American successor to the likes of German splatter maestro Jorg Buttgereit, it would be Phil Stevens. Seek this one out once it is back in print, whatever the circumstances.

-Ryan Marshall