Derek Smith’s review published on Letterboxd:
In this age of digital representation and virtual worlds, it becomes even more crucial, from both a historical perspective and a lover of film as an art form, to acknowledge the properties of actual film and the various aspects that differentiate from not just other visual art forms, but digital films as well. Not to lament too much about the casualties of the post-modern condition and the loss of the original amongst a sea of increasingly "accurate" copies, but it's at the very least a loss worth considering. I for one do not believe film is dead, because the thinness and superficiality of the digital image simply cannot compete with the rich, pulsating vibrance of film. Andre Bazin famously wrote about the spiritual nature of film and how it's chemical properties contain the imprint of reality itself. Where the digital image is akin to tracing an image onto a separate piece of paper, film is like silly putty, not merely copying an image but absorbing what it photographs. Where one is a copy which can be endlessly replicated, the other retains a connection to world it records, albeit one that can be diluted and even disappear over time.
Bill Morrison's Decasia combines decayed footage from various sources to explore these physical properties of film and the nature of aging and time. Opening with a slow-motion shot of a dancer spinning, we see the beauty of film's ability to capture bodies in motion combined with decaying patches containing reminders of the fleetingness of the moment and the unavoidable tyranny of time. Morrison carefully balances the image and decay - a necessary yin-yang relationship that poetically conveys the transformative nature of film and reality and the tragic beauty of man continuously fighting against his own demise. The industrial-style soundtrack gives the film the atmosphere of a horror film, changing the swirling chemicals, scratches and holes into an all-encompassing villain against which the on-screen characters battle. There is one particular sequence that is poignant and amusing where a man on the left side of the screen appears to be boxing against a completely destroyed right side, as if to reverse time, remove the decay and reclaim the truth contained in the original image.
In seeing this highly damaged and distorted footage, Morrison allows us to ponder the delicate beauty of the film image and the dire need for preservation and restoration, while also finding lyricism in the destruction itself. Even as the original characters are stretched, skewed and sometimes lost, ghostly images are formed in smears, suggesting the depth of reality contained within and the inability of time and neglect to destroy everything meaningful. As horrific as these elements are, the film remains hopeful in its elegy and a standing tribute to the art form.