“This film is based on a true story…” declares text at the beginning of Egomaniac, about a female, independent filmmaker driven murderously crazy by her own cottage industry.
The suspension points coming after that quote represent punctuation’s equivalent of a nod and a wink – a sly acknowledgement by writer/director Kate Shenton that initial claims of veridicality are already an integral part of the fictive games that genre films play. Suspension of an altogether different kind, however, is Shenton’s trademark: her feature debut, the documentary On Tender Hooks (2013), examined both the practice of body suspension and the subcultures built around it. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, On Tender Hooks is also the feature debut of Egomaniac‘s anti-heroine Catherine Sweeney (Nic Lamont), who in one scene is shown vainly hunting for a copy of it in a DVD store, and lamenting the film’s critical reception. For Egomaniac really is a work of (meta)autobiography, as well as a Pirandello-esque exercise in postmodernism: it is a low-budget film about a low-budget filmmaker (clearly a figure for Shenton herself) trying to make the low-budget film-within-a-film Zombie Apocalypse: A Love Story – and the more Catherine fails, the more Egomaniac itself succeeds.
Not only must Catherine contend with a witless producer (Adam Rhys-Davies), a clueless festival programmer (Tom Crowley), a hipster photographer (Patrick Fysh) and totally miscast actors (Laurence R. Harvey, Loren O’Brien), but she also enters a succession of Faustian pacts with artless executive producer Derek (Simeon Willis) – who as conditions of his elusive investment first imposes a supposedly voguish talking dog and 3D (“It’s easy, you just need to chuck a few bits at the camera”) on her ever-evolving script, and then insists she sleep with him. Meanwhile, the unraveling of Catherine’s deeply compromised creative process is presented as imaginary conversations with her zombified romantic hero Kevin (David Wayman) – who is endlessly frustrated by his author’s lack of commitment to already wobbly ideas. As reality retreats and the conflicting inner voices of Catherine’s psyche take over, the madness inherent in movie-making comes to the fore – and creates a rather specialised film.
Making a hilarious virtue of its own manic amateurishness, Shenton’s self-conscious satire serves as a “director’s commentary” (as Catherine styles it) on the abject awfulness of a business that has little interest in creativity, originality or art, and that regularly exploits, abuses and objectifies the women who work in it. Anyone who knows the industry will be able to confirm that as essentially a true story.
© Anton Bitel