Page 45 Review by Stephen
"A hunt? What a charming idea. Did you know that the first nature photographers were safari hunters?"
"Preservation can take many forms."
As tightly constructed as it is eloquently expressed, SPILL ZONE is charged with a fierce imagination and narrative drive which Puvilland has pulled off with panache. I have some stunning interior art for you following, but for the moment let us stick with preservation.
In Grolleau and Royer's AUDUBON - which captured the pioneering, ornithological artist's awe of the natural world and the plumed beauties which populated it - we learned that he didn't half love to preserve his birds, after shooting them clean out of the sky.
Addison Merritt is preserving her home town too, in photographs taken at extreme risk to her life during illegal excursions undertaken alone and at night on her dirt bike. What she captures in the most radiant colours is both terrible and beautiful to behold. As is her home town which was caught one night in The Spill, transforming the once mundane urban environment into an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of what might be considered ideas, experimentation, self-expression, but also killing almost everyone in its boundaries.
Since then the town has been quarantined lest other lives are lost, which makes it nigh-impossible for anyone to analyse what happened to it.
But Addison's illicit images have become an obsession with elderly art collector Tan'ea Vandersloot, who has bought every shot and hung them in her private gallery in gentrified Harlem. Like most individuals with an eye for the arts Vandersloot is insatiably curious. Unsurprisingly, then, Ms Vandersloot has been conducting her own extensive research into The Spill, and with wealth comes contacts, the ability to acquire information under the counter and, if necessary, trade for it. Her reach is extensive; it is international; and not every country is as safety-conscious as America.
We do not know what caused The Spill, nor the nature of it. It is only via Addison's observations that we can even begin to guess.
"An alien visitation? Something spilling from another world?
"Most of the people who escaped don't say much of what happened that night.
"My little sister, Lexa, hasn't uttered a sound since then."
Lexa is seen clutching ragdoll, Vespertine, who also hasn't uttered a sound since then.
Except to Lexa.
"I'd snuck off to New Paltz that night for a little underage drinking. Lucky me.
"Instead of watching it live, I got to see it on TV.
"My parents weren't so lucky. They were at work that night at the hospital.
"Now there's just the two of us."
This first instalment comes with terrific stage-setting, our entire focus on Addison's P.O.V., hitching along on her ride, but don't imagine she necessarily notices everything which you will.
Our first glimpse of the town is seen at a very late hour from above, black bird-shapes flocking in synchronised flight like a murmuration of starlings, while below the buildings throb in a rainbow of radioactive colours, especially effective as the outer suburb rooftops emerge from the surrounding trees.
Once inside one would be forgiven for forgetting it is night for everything is so Day-Glo bright.
Even looking through the toy-shop windows where some of the former inhabitants hang as "meat puppets", suspended in mid-air as if on hooks, the light is unnatural. Their eyes are empty, a vile yellow mist emanating irregularly from their open mouths.
"Whatever's watching though their eyes isn't them anymore.
Out of respect, Addison won't photograph the dead, but her other rules are born more out of self-preservation.
"Rule Six: never, ever get off the bike. Even in here in the playground where nothing has ever messed with me.
Is the playground empty? Puvilland puts tremendous weight on the springed things, and the swings, they are swinging like crazy.
"Because in the Spill Zone, there's a first time for everything."
Cue 0 to 60 and a full-throttle chase at some excellent angles past Flatsville, a stretch of road where the cars look accommodatingly level with the tarmac so leaving the route unimpeded, but make the mistake of riding over one and you'll join the silently screaming cyclist, also squashed into two dimensions.
Are you beginning to see what I mean by "charged with a fierce imagination" yet? Also the "narrative drive" for the wolf-shadow's pursuit propels Addison where she least wants to go: to the hospital where her parents worked as nurse and paramedic. Far from modern, it is instead a vast, foreboding, neo-gothic affair and if the intense level of dust-devil, geometric activity is anything to go by - both at ground level and spiralling above in the sky - it appears to be the very centre of this unearthly disturbance.
"Almost forgot I was scared of this place even before the Spill.
"And it's not like a generous sprinkling of Hell has improved it much."
As to the tight construction, you'll understand exactly what I mean when you discover that this - for all its unnerving beauty and cleverly conceived, steadily built rules which are never to be broken and some of which I have intentionally left unspoken - is all just a taste and a teaser, a foreshadowing for the first climax upon which Puvilland will provide a walloping vertical spread at exactly the right moment after which my jaw required emergency medical treatment before I could articulate anything again.
Including my jaw.
But that's just one climax, not the cliffhanger, so I would refer you all backwards to infer what you will.
The colouring throughout is phenomenal, not least during one of the creepiest scenes which was so well observed in terms of young behaviour. In it young Lexa has been left alone overnight. Well, left alone with Vespertine, her rag-doll who, I'd remind you, also survived The Spill.
There is something of the ceremony in child's play.
I would assemble all of my Matchbox cars onto a starting line and play out my version of The Wacky Races, an animated cartoon starring Dick Dastardly, Muttley, Penelope Pitstop et al, few of whom were afraid to get their hands dirty in order to win (in terms of our stock, please see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre's PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I'd move all the cars about incrementally, a bit like shooting for stop-animation, and make my own narrative up in my head.
Here young, silent Lexa similarly assembles all her cuddly toys and dresses herself up as the Mistress of Ceremonies for her Royal Dance. She picks her toys' partners for them and then, in the low-lit shadows, she holds one in each hand around their backs in order to make them dance together.
Around and around they go, Vespertine with her handsome pink beau, a bear...!
Then Lexa lets her hands go.
That's not the cliffhanger, either.