Set against the backdrop of modern-day Gothenburg, Videoman examines the existence of two downtrodden nostalgia enthusiasts and their chance meeting when one of them sells the other a much-coveted VHS tape, one that’s capable of changing his life.
Videoman is based on the life of the owner of a once popular video emporium, Ennio (Stefan Sauk), who clings to the 80s, 90s, and his VHS library at the expense of all other relationships in his life, or any sort of stable income. After finding out that he’s due to be evicted from his basement grotto in three months, and despite advice to the contrary from his ex-wife and best friend, he decides now is the time to get his hustle on, and re-launch the video store. Enter Simone (Lena Nilsson), a single woman obsessed with 80s pop music and Ancient Egypt. After handing over a box full of VHS treasure to Ennio, the two bump into each other at a bus stop, and continue their liaison, railing at a world that doesn’t understand or care about their love for the past, choosing instead to embrace the digital age of social media and Blu-Ray.
The box contains ZOMBIE, a film that (almost) completes Ennio’s collection, and incites contact from the mysterious Faceless (Carolyn Stoltz); an urban legend on the VHS forums, who offers him 10,000 Euros for the video. Which of course, he suddenly can’t find.
For the four days leading up to the arrival of Faceless, Ennio bounces between fear, paranoia, and blind rage, trying to locate the tape by breaking into other collector’s houses, and threatening any associate who knew about his deal. Meanwhile Simone endures the pain of rejection from her daughter, disgust from her remaining friends, and vacant spite from her boss.
The problem with Videoman is that it has moments of excellent comedy, of creepy suspense, of sweet romance, of authentic sadness, and of clever homage to the directors cited in the various arguments between the VHS nerds Ennio invites to his basement for forced movie nights – Giallo and Fulci. But it doesn’t gel. One minute we’re watching Ennio running for his life from Faceless’ sinister shadow gang, the next he’s decided not to worry about it and go over to Simone’s house to have a few drinks and watch telly. The references to Instagram don’t really add much to the storyline coming off as a lazy way to attack the “digital plague” of modern life, and if anything, eclipse the more poignant glumness we get a sense of when Simone is bullied at work, dismissed by her daughter, and told by her neighbour to get help for her drinking problem. Without a deeper dive into anyone elses relationship to the ever popular channel, Simone’s lack of interest in her online pictures ends up just seeming like a very unnecessary and blank way of explaining to the viewer “no one likes her much”, and it’s a shame.
Videoman is a weird little film with a good central premise and is well-acted, has, more often than not, magnetic characters, plenty of cinematographic nods to genre favourites, various cool Easter eggs (the janitor is played by real-life Ennio), a fantastic soundtrack, and is worth your time – but only if you can look past the strange disconnection of the plot and simply…enjoy the parts you enjoy. Sophie Francois