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Modern Arcana

average rating is 4 out of 5


Jason Knight


Posted on:

Dec 26, 2023

Film Reviews
Modern Arcana
Directed by:
Thomas Wingerd
Written by:
Thomas Wingerd, Thea Chard
Serina Ojala, Mariah Salazar, Rico Changeux, Mike Wird

Two people in the afterlife repeatedly live through a series of different lives.


A man (played by Changeux and voiced by Wird) passes away and ends up in the afterlife, which (in this feature) involves being in the middle of a forest and wearing a tiger-like, colourful mask. With him is another deceased person, a young woman named Estelle (played by Ojala and voiced by Salazar), who calls him Leo and is wearing an almost identical mask. She informs him that the two of them have been together in previous lives and that if he wishes, he can return to the world of the living and live the life of whoever he wants and the way to do that is to die in the afterlife. The two of them take turns in living lives they want to, with one person remaining in the forest, waiting for the other to return. As they continue to do this, their relationship develops more and more and they begin to question whether they could do something more meaningful.


This feature is a fantasy story where a lot happens. The majority of the narrative takes place in the forest, with the two protagonists enjoying the afterlife together, growing deep feelings for each other and trying to understand what would make them happy, out of all the lives they are experiencing, what exactly would be the best thing for them to gain out of all this? Basically, the screenplay alternates between the two of them in the forest and the lives they live when they die, which is done by one killing the other (with the other's permission) and the alternative lives are primarily why a lot happens, as they are plenty and diverse, although shown briefly. Between them, Estelle and Leo become a pirate, a whale, an MMA fighter, an astronaut among other things and they sort of become short intriguing stories (from various filmmakers), enabling the film to explore a variety of genres, including horror, sci-fi, adventure and animation.


Of course, a lot also happens in the forest, with the romance that develops between the two heroes, the character development they go through and the dance scenes. The dance sequences turn the film into a musical and their main purpose appears to be to highlight the blooming relationship between the two lead characters. These scenes are accompanied by music that is either gentle or hip-hop and they are very well choreographed thanks to Wingerd, Heather Cino and Sky Shaver and the creative editing by Wingerd and Jesse Rarick adds to their good quality.


Regarding Estelle and Leo, they are people (departed ones during most of the feature) who are struggling with their identity, they are having difficulties comprehending who they want to be and what would be the ideal life for them. However, what they do know is that they care deeply for each other and although they constantly wear those masks, the audience can still sympathise with them.


The mise-en-scene is interesting, with trees covered with colourful handprints, the masks and the clothing, that is the work of Wingerd and Emily Luebcke. Significant praise goes to the creativity that was contributed to the animation during the whale sequence (which is narrated rather enthusiastically by Michael Winslow) and to the magical music by Jordan Polovina.


This film is a fantasy love story with drama, comedy and dancing that explores the afterlife and the meaning of life. It is a journey of self-discovery that looks into the idea of people undestanding what it is that brings them happiness and therefore live the best life possible.

About the Film Critic
Jason Knight
Jason Knight
Indie Feature Film
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