Clay’s Redemption opens with a text-info dump, explaining the mythology of of the gods and immortals that this inhabit this ambitious low-budget gangster drama. Think a back-alley mixture of Highlander and Only God Forgives. I rewound a few times to remind myself what what was going on before deciding it didn’t really matter. Clay (Akie Kotabe) is a “sleevewalker,” a breed of immortal who possesses human hosts. Death causes the sleevewalker to transfer between corporeal bodies. Like most sullen immortals, Clay wants to die for real. When another God offers him perma-death if he completes a mission for her … well, of course he says yes. And, of course, there are complications.
I’m not going to argue that Clay’s Redemption is a standout independent film. Nor would I sing songs from the rooftops. The script is hard to follow, and the performances swing between too campy and too serious — both of which are called for by the tenor of the script, but rarely is the right balance found. To his credit, Kotabe nails down the quiet-melancholy stuff popularized by Ryan Gosling a decade ago. It’s the rest of the characters, in particular the villains, that chew the scenery.
That scenery is great, though! Co-writer / director Carlos Boellinger wears his neo-noir influences on his sleeve. The neon-lit alleyways Clay wanders through are well-shot, and the score complements them well. The movie is strongest when it embraces the noir mood. A quiet protagonist walks down a dark corridor, brooding on his lot in life. You’ve seen it before — I certainly have — but it’s always nice to see it done well on such a small scale. The plot lost me, but the setting kept me.
There’s a version of Clay’s Redemption where none of the plot stuff matters because the template is here for what could, with proper choreography, be a satisfying and brutal fight film. A group of immortals who hate one another, mercilessly beating each other up to accomplish their lofty goals? Be still my beating heart. The fights aren’t great, and don’t seem to be the main focus of the film, but there’s such potential in the premise for some real lashing out that doesn’t quite happen the way I hoped it would.
Still, Clay’s Redemption seeks to bridge the gap between fantasy and noir, and it more or less succeeds at the latter through a keen aesthetic eye. On that level alone, it’s a worthwhile watch.