From the very beginning of Aimy in a Cage, you know you’re in for something proudly offbeat. While we try to make sense of the abstract title cards and playful music coming at us a pretty good clip, the film is introduced as “a Hooroo Jackson trip.” These opening moments set an accurate tone for the rest of the film, which disorients and disturbs the viewer using a combination of tried-and-true avant-garde film tactics, non-sequiturs, and abrasive characters.
The titular Aimy (Allisyn Ashley Arm) is a mentally handicapped young woman prone to outbursts. She suffers an abusive grandmother and an extended family that would prefer she stopped existing. We don’t really get to feel bad for Aimy, since she spends most of her screen time screaming and throwing tantrums, but it’s unsettling nonetheless when she’s put under the knife for an experimental surgery to make her more normal. This primary plight feels more urgent than the B story, which involves an epidemic of the “Apollo Virus” slowly bringing the world towards an apocalypse.
Perhaps we’re meant to see this film unfold through Aimy’s eyes. Every character, including her, is a drastic caricature. An abusive grandmother, a clueless benefactor, an authoritarian figure wearing a Civil War-era military uniform, and lastly, Crispin Glover as a gold-digging weasel sporting the type of attire you might associate with a pimp. Other characters appear and disappear without much explanation or purpose – maybe the way people would to a narcissistic child or an adult on some kind of extended trip that’s taking a turn for the worse.
Transitions from one scene to the next, and even within many scenes, often include cutaways to stock footage of old cartoons or abstract compositions, contributing to a sense of delusion and disorientation. Complementing the carousel of characters and chaos is a limited but carefully curated set – the family’s apartment, within which the entire film takes place. Well-executed cinematography helps the film feel bigger than the three rooms it’s set in – forcing us inside Aimy’s head or expanding the space with dramatic angles.
A motif involving an alligator hints at a subtext in the film – or at least a method to the madness. The story suggests themes of futility and existentialism. Aimy is beaten, lobotomized, and held captive while the world falls apart around her.
All in all, watching this film is like watching a calliope roll down a hill. It’s clunky, loud, unusual, and unsettling. If it was Jackson’s intent to make the viewer feel like they were tripping, some might argue he pulled it off, but let’s be clear: that doesn’t make the movie a success. With the majority of its focus on alienating and confusing the viewer, it doesn’t provide sufficient emotional investment to enjoy the ride. Instead, with its cutaways, cartoons, circus music, shouting matches, gas masks, and caricatures, it feels more like an auteur throwing the whole bizarre-movie-cliché book at the wall and hoping that some art sticks to it.