Aimy Micry (Allysin Ashley Arm) is an imaginative teenager whose love of self-expression is driving her family to distraction, not least because when they ask to stop dancing, spinning and generally getting creative with her time she just ignores or acts up towards them. Her guardian is her grandmother (Terry Moore) who she argues with whenever they speak with one another, and today it seems is the last straw as Aimy has broken one of her grandmother’s dolls during one of her artistic turns, which leads the rest of her family to have to make a serious decision about her future. She must now take a special treatment to calm her down, not a lobotomy and not electroshock therapy, but a combination of the two…
Aimy in a Cage was the brainchild of graphic novel artist Hooroo Jackson, adapting his own book for the screen in a manner that he wished to court comparisons to Tim Burton’s creations crossed with experimental films of the nineteen-seventies. It certainly had that appeal to the outsiders in the audience, and that was entirely deliberate: if you regarded Aimy as an encapsulation of Winona Ryder in Beetle Juice and Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands and the like, then you had some idea of what was being aimed for. Yet those characters had the benefit of finding a friend at some point in their story who made them feel a little better about their lack of social acceptance, and poor Aimy never had that at all.
Indeed, she never sees eye to eye with any one person throughout the whole of the eighty or so minutes it took to tell her tale, perhaps indicating that whatever the fairy tales inform you the reality was rather different for the rejects in your community. But then, there was an unreal tone to much of the film that wholeheartedly embraced weirdo cinema, entirely arranged on carefully lit and coloured sets and with a consciously artificial nature to its histrionics, as over the top it really did become. Disney star Arm truly went for broke in a performance that could have been deadeningly fey yet when she began screaming there was nothing about her that was pandering to the viewer at all, and she did do a lot of screaming.
If anything, this was less reminiscent of Burton than it was of John Waters’ Desperate Living, with its antagonistic personality, shrill presentation, distinctively crafted, gaudy appearance on a budget, and clever, brittle lines (“Everyone wants to live and she wants to die – she just has to be different!”), not to mention its own coterie of cult names peppering the cast, with Crispin Glover chief among those. You would imagine he felt far more at home here than he did in one of his pay the bills roles in higher profile efforts, though fans might be a shade let down that his character was not more central to the story, more of a peripheral, sinister figure hanging around on the margins with an insinuating nature as he tries to marry Grandmother for her money, and maybe skip the marriage part.
She was played by Moore in vital manner, eschewing the sweet little old lady demeanour for a harridan effect, and she too was missed when she left the plot at a point some way before the end, though another cult star Paz de la Huerta made up for it as she began to dominate the scenes where Aimy is relegated to a shameful “thing in the attic” in her family, even tied to a chair when the treatment wears off. There was a sense that Jackson was working out some issues with his film, or alternatively helping others work out theirs, as that feeling you didn’t belong with those you had grown up with and were stuck with because you were related to them was shot through every scene – this was not a film for those who had a healthy, beneficial relationship with their nearest and dearest. Or rather it could be if you wanted to dip into a form of pressurised psychosis that a bad family can bring, and there was a danger this could be glamorising that alienation in a rather adolescent manner. But as a plague threatens the society Aimy will never be part of, you could observe she was better off living inside her own head – some people are. Music by Sasha Smith.