Misha Galkin sees a cow, or rather a red cow. So he kills it. That’s what everyone does when they see red cows. According to legends that predate marketing specialties by thousands of years, killing the animal sacrificially means Galkin can now see the pull of advertisements physically. They’re misshapen beings that kind of/sort of resemble clowns, dragons, and blobs. It’s a manifestation of a person’s feelings towards that brand.

Through this visual methodology, Branded calls people fat, stupid, and moronic. Who wouldn’t want to spend $10 to see this?

Quite honestly, “branding” Branded is nigh impossible. It wants to be all things to all people. Ushering in comedy bloats the tone, issuing a sex scene bumps up the romance, creating CG monsters bolsters the sci-fi quotient, and a crazy Galkin (Ed Stoppard) forces the drama. Through it all, Branded is nonsense.

There is a point to it: Marketing is bad. It creates cravings, needs, and wants artificially. A global conspiracy occurs to convince people that fat is good, all so they munch on fast food without the guilt. Plausible, one supposes, in an era where iOS devices are more valuable to most than gold. Apple’s methods are probably questionable, and Branded scolds them too, although sans brands. There isn’t a company on that planet that wants to be associated with this mockery. It’s quite amazing any actors wanted to be either.

Any imagination was drained at conception. Branded tries too hard to make a point. Instead of Coca-Cola, you get Soda-Soda. Snappy. Forget Google, it’s Oogle now. This isn’t sarcasm, wit, or satire either. Branded plays itself straight.

Cohesion is not a strong suit for this hilariously malformed piece of cinema. It needs 10-minutes or more of droll narration and a talking sky cow to even make a lick of sense. Galkin’s entire backstory is told within a small 4×3 frame and entirely with voice over work. God forbid if that came out through any sensible dialogue. Branded does not have direction., and the theme is botched as you weep for the poor PR person assigned to sell this to a waiting public.

Clearly unfinished special effects clip and shimmer, exposing them for the weird visual manifestations they are. One has to wonder why Malkin (or the audience) needs to see evidence of this problem at all. Branded evolves logos and advertising all over a growing Russia in front of the camera. Burger boxes (yes, just “Burger,” sans King) litter desks and kitchens. We get it: People are being manipulated. The film seems unsure enough of its message to spend money and time on these monsters eating or fighting to no benefit for the audience. Bear in mind this comes after 80-minutes of real world set-up, which creates a jarring juxtaposition for the closing act.

Branded begins with a young Galkin struck by lighting. As he lays on the ground, a woman says, “You’re going to lead a very unusual life.” That also sums up Branded as a whole, which Lionsgate shoved into theaters almost unnoticed with a trailer that was as confusing as the film itself. The entire creative process is unusual, and so is the end product… but not in any positive way. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Movie]

Soda Soda's mascot pulls a King Kong @ 1:30:36

Branded comes from Lionsgate in an AVC encode that tries to contain the erratic imagery the best it can. The source material appears to be a mixture of digital and film, although any splices between the formats are nigh impossible to spot (if they even exist at all; a total 35mm source is possible). Too many inconsistencies mar an occasionally sharp, resolved series of images.

Initial frames are a mess, panning in on weak black levels and dominating noise. If the trailer wasn’t any indication you’re in trouble, the video becomes the second warning sign. Branded clears up from that muddy shot into a superb close-up. Imagery turns clean with a shockingly bright contrast. Branded doesn’t stay here though.

LeeLee Sobieski – who is far better than this material – seems smoothed over on occasion, randomly devoid of facial detail. Post processing can be brutal to any sense of natural definition. Exteriors of Russia are bland, murky with their sharpness and robbing the frame of exceptional depth. The resolution of Blu-ray will only serve to make the clipping polygons within the CG elements all the more obvious, not create any striking scenes.

Compression holds if we’re speaking generally, with a grain/noise structure that remains in the background. A few moments will see it spike into artifacts, hardly the major concern of this film. Color is all over the place with no real baseline to look for. Garish color choices in lighting or timing will sap flesh tones, mute whites, and yellow the screen. Chilling blues that wipe out contrast to the point of coating actor’s eyes in turquoise hues are a distraction, not stylish. Not only is the movie a bizarre occurrence, it’s also a chore to look at. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

Most of Branded’s sound design comes off as artificial. While it uses the stereos efficiently, so many elements are strewn about, their directionality feels false. Galkin is sitting in his office as a drive by shooting occurs outside, the car screeching in, firing a shot, and screeching away all in the right rear. Edits will jarringly shift the location of sounds, which when done right is great. Here’s, it’s too fast and aggressive to be anything other than distracting.

Some credit can be given to thunder and a fire effect late. All of the monster/creature/things are scattered around without focus, drowning out their position and any actual effect on the listener. Max Von Sydow mumbles through his role and there is no audio correction to compensate. Good luck picking up his lines. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]

Writers, directors, and producer Jamie Bradshaw & Alexander Doulerain provide a commentary to explain their work… and do nothing of the sort. They must be baffled by the end product too. Lionsgate packs in a few trailers so you can imagine their marketing team screaming, “What are we supposed to do with this?” as they piece them together. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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