If there was ever a time to inject a psychedelic explosion of color into an afterlife-themed film, Modern Arcana calls its shot and dives headfirst into the zany and romantic side of life beyond death. Multiple lives even. Thomas Wingerd’s fantastical tale about love is bursting at the seams with creativity, even if the end result might be a little jumbled and rough around the edges.
A man we would come to know as Leo (played by Rico Changeux and voiced by Mike Wird) awakes in the middle of the woods with a rather vibrantly painted lion mask attached to his face. Not far away is Estelle (played by Serina Ojala and voiced by Mariah Salazar), a young woman whose soul has also arrived in the forest, her visage covered by a mask similar to Leo’s. The two are linked by previous relationships from past existences, but this forest paradise offers them an intriguing proposition. They can die there and return to live a life of their choosing, one at a time. Leo and Estelle repeat the process several times over, alternating between who gets to go. It’s these individual journeys that eventually bring them back to each other, shaping a budding romance over time.
The film is a colorful cavalcade of masks, magic, and more. It leans into the supernatural with a digestible, uncomplicated approach. It also mixes genres surprisingly well, jumping from animated chapters to sci-fi space adventures. Wingerd, who also penned the screenplay, is very adept at leapfrogging between different tones and concepts, a skill that many mainstream directors frequently struggle with. Sometimes, though, you’d wish he’d dial it down just a couple notches to focus on telling a more focused story. The plot is all over the place, with dancing and even maritime escapades peppered throughout, sometimes dwarfing the characters with their ambitous execution.
That’s not to say the writing isn’t up to the task of exploring Leo and Estelle. Through some well-choreographed dance sequences and solid work from Changeux and Ojala, the couple comes alive in a uniquely endearing way. If only the sound design could have been a bit better to make their dialogue more convincing.
Modern Arcana is a sprawling genre cocktail skillfully mixed by filmmaker Thomas Wingerd. Its ambition certainly acts like a double-edged sword at times, but fans of indie projects will find this madcap love story an enjoyable watch.