Director: Christopher Louie
Runtime: 92 minutes
Netflix has kicked off its new slate of indie films with XOXO, a film about American dance festival culture. Director Christopher Louie’s first foray into feature film explores the lives of six festival-goers over the course of one night. Bright-eyed new DJ Ethan, played by Graham Philips (The Good Wife), books his very first slot at one of the biggest EDM (electronic dance music) festivals in America. We also meet an old cynic trying to love the scene again, while a couple in their late twenties try to find the thread of their dying relationship. The plot is light and fluffy, a mere device to explore the many aspects of a festival experience. The film is driven by big beats and striking imagery of sweaty dancers, glitter, neon, and hook-up groups. In all the commotion, however, the characters struggle to achieve any depth, preferring to stay in the clichéd arenas of boy-meets-girl, friends-test-friendships, and so on.
While Phillips’ portrayal of Ethan is tinged with an unfortunate blandness, supports like Brett DelBuono and Sarah Hyland really embrace their characters, and bring extra depth to an otherwise thin script. Ian Anthony Dale’s short appearances as a mysterious yet benevolent man in the festival are surprisingly sweet, as he doles out wisdom to the characters around him. Despite this, the script lacks the depth of similar films like Human Traffic or Tonight You’re Mine.
Most of Netflix’s $1.2 million budget went towards soundtrack rights, making for a truly excellent playlist. Veteran music supervisor Pete Tong (Human Traffic, 24hr Party People) was attached to the project early on, and sourced music from big names and small acts alike, from Disclosure to Icarus. Director Christopher Louie, a composer in his own right, worked with music producer Michael Brun to write the film’s lead song ‘All I Ever Wanted.’ It’s a highlight of the film, and you could actually believe it would score a million views on YouTube and secure a place at the biggest festival of the season.
As a seasoned DJ and music video director, it’s obvious that Christopher Louie is passionate about the EDM scene, and that he’s put in a lot of effort to capture it as purely as possible. There’s a devotion that exudes from every scene and while this is a light romp overall, he’s definitely a director to keep an eye on. His choice of anamorphic lenses lends a J.J. Abrams element to the film, with vibrant colours and lens flares galore. This aesthetic works for the film’s atmosphere, with a boldly honest representation of drugs in the festival scene. Christopher Louie has allowed himself to stretch his music video muscles, exploring striking visuals and beautiful hallucinations, to create a stunning, dreamlike world.
XOXO is quite enjoyable, especially if you’re already a loyal festival-goer. It’s unlikely to claim any new converts to the scene, but for those already initiated it will trigger some memories and leave a warm feeling inside.