Strawberry Mansion (
written and directed by Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney
starring Penny Fuller, Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Linas Phillips
The future. Everybody’s dreams are recorded and the government taxes them based on their content. A dream auditor heads out to visit an elderly artist (she calls herself an “atmosphere creator”) at her detached mansion. Bella (Penny Fuller) hasn’t filed her taxes in a long time. Her home is filled with 1000s of VHS tapes of her dreams. Auditor Preble (Kentucker Audley) dons an unwieldy headset to check out the recordings. Soon he has entered her dream world and begun to fall in love with Young Bella (Grace Glowicki). Back in the “real” world Bella reveals that she has discovered that the government have been planting adverts into people’s dreams. Preble moves into the house to work on the tapes and she loans him a home-made device that blocks out the adverts. Worried that Preble is going to reveal everything, Bella’s son (the head of an advertising company) sets out to stop him.
The premise is simple. It’s like one tiny thread lifted from a Philip K Dick novel, unpicked and placed front and centre. The capitalist monster invading our last realm of freedom. The plot is simple too. It’s almost an old style Hollywood romance between young Bella and the dream avatar of the tax inspector that soon seeps into the real world where dream/reality, old/young merge. But it’s all about the execution. And this is a lovingly hand made, lo-fi, low budget, practical effect laden dreamscape that comes across like a mumblecore Mighty Boosh.
There’s not much less fantastic than CGI laden “fantasies” where any element of the viewer’s imagination has been second-guessed into obsolescence by a committee lead team of computer wizards and digital artists. There’s also not too much worse than having to listen to other people describing their dreams once they get past the first couple of sentences. In fact aren’t they both kind of the same thing? So films about dreams? Tricky to get right. Strawberry Mansion just about gets it all right. There are some literal nods to classic dream movies like The Wizard of Oz and A Nightmare on Elm Street added onto a touch of familiar children’s movie anthropomorphism (Tales of Beatrix Potter in particular) some VHS era horror and glitchy sci-fi and then a bit of Ray Harryhausen. There is an endearing amateurism to the effects, set designs and props that make them all the more real and believable as opposed to the faux-naïf over-design of the superficially similar The Science of Sleep. Or indeed the mannered tweeness of much of Wes Anderson’s output.
Co-writer/ co-director Audley is great as the downbeat auditor (dressed like he’s stepped out of a Seth comic strip) as are both incarnations of Bella. Linas Phillips shows up periodically as an insidious dream-buddy hawking energy drinks and fast food. Like in most dreams the characters are more signifiers and cyphers than fully rounded individuals but that doesn’t matter so much here. It’s satire. It’s a parable. It’s dream logic. And it’s fun.
Main image on this page Kentucker Audley as Auditor Preble
Strawberry Mansion is release in cinemas and digitally in the UK. It is now available on Blu-ray in the USA.