Trauma (2018)

__poster-TRAUMA-V3 (002)Incest! Necrophilia! Rape! Graphic murder! Have I got your attention yet? Because as a fan of Extreme Cinema the Chilean film Trauma certainly got mine. Some movies barely cross the line into Extreme Cinema territory, then there are others that grab the line by the fucking throat as they run past it. Trauma is certainly the latter, with certain scenes even echoing some of the most disturbing content from the legendary shocker A Serbian Film. Yet, at least at this point, this film isn’t talked about with anywhere near the same frequency. Hopefully that will change, because love it or hate it, Trauma is certainly a film that deserves to be watched and discussed.

Beginning in 1978 the film opens with text on the screen letting us know that the following is inspired by true events. It then immediately follows that up by gut-punching the audience with one of the most gruesome and disturbing opening scenes ever committed to film, letting the viewer know right off the bat exactly the kind of ride they are in for. The rest of the film takes place in 2011 and follows four young Chilean women who take a trip to a vacation house in a remote part of the country. From there it doesn’t take long before the events from the opening collide with their lives in an unbelievably brutal way.

When viewing Trauma, it is important to have an understanding of where it’s inspirationTRAUMA_Still_2018-001 comes from to truly appreciate what the film is trying to say. While the exact details of the story and the specific characters may not have actually occurred, the film is steeped in Chile’s modern history and very representative of a significant cultural issue that still impacts life today. In the real world, Chile’s democratically elected government was overthrown in 1973 in a brutal coup that resulted in Augusto Pinochet seizing power as the country’s iron-fisted dictator. During this period the country experienced an unfathomable amount of death and real world horror that left it irrevocably changed. This is important to know because at its core, this film is really about the country’s brutal and traumatic past still rearing it’s head in the modern world, and not simply another violent home invasion thriller.

While viewing Trauma, I found a lot of parallels between it and other examples of Extreme Cinema such as the aforementioned A Serbian Film and the gruesome Mexican horror film Atroz. All three are examples of films that draw inspiration from actual violence and trauma from their country’s past (as well as present) and use very graphic and explicit imagery to convey that collective pain. This is essential because it really gets at the heart of expressing genuine emotion through art. I thoroughly applaud these films (and many others) which are willing to make the audience profoundly uncomfortable in order to give them just a glimpse of the actual suffering brought on by real life atrocities.

TRAUMA_Still_2018-004Another similarity between these films is the fact that they are all very well made, which is also what allows them to be so effectively disturbing. Writer/director Lucio A. Rojas has done an incredible job creating a living, breathing world thanks to gorgeous cinematography, top-notch gore effects, and realistic, believable characters. Speaking of characters, while I do want to make special note of the villainous perfection that Daniel Antivilo brings to his psychopathic character Juan, everyone across the board does an absolutely incredible job.

There’s certainly a lot to appreciate here but my one significant complaint has to do with structure of the film itself. There were quite a few times (especially as the film progressed) when the continuation of the story relied too heavily on coincidence, chance, and poor decision making on the part of the characters. While this did help keep the plot exciting, some minor tweaks to the script could have ironed out these wrinkles and helped events unfold in a more organic, realistic manner. Still, these issues are what keep this from being a perfect film rather than the exceptionally great film that it is and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing this modern classic of Extreme Cinema.

4-5-stars-red

Portraits of Andrea Palmer (2017)

PoAPSome Extreme Cinema films creep up on you slowly, holding back their edgiest material to sucker punch you with later on. Other films announce themselves right from the fucking beginning and, with a sexually explicit scene in the first two minutes, Portraits of Andrea Palmer wastes no time earning its Extreme Cinema cred. That’s not to say that one approach is better than the other however, as a “less is more” approach adds more punch to the shocking scenes you do have.

The film follows the life of the titular Andrea Palmer (Katrina Zova) who eeks out an existence as a cam girl to support her drug habit. After experiencing a particularly enraging online encounter, she begins to branch out as she looks for more ways to make money with her body. This sets her off on a harrowing journey, far darker than she could have ever imagined.

Upon viewing, one thing becomes instantly apparent:PoAP is a film that goes all the way. Every one of the numerous sex scenes is completely unsimulated, some of which venture into territory only seen in deviant porn. I can honestly say that even I have never seen a narrative film that featured both genital clamping and a milk enema. While I’m sure there are many out there who would argue that these scenes are merely gratuitous titillation, they actually serve a much greater artistic purpose. This is a raw, gritty film and the real sex on display further punctuates the grimy realism that the filmmakers were going for.

Zova truly gives her all to this project with a performance that is physically demanding and requires a level of uninhibited commitment that most actors wouldn’t dare to undertake. In a world where the MPAA makes a full time job of neutering art for the sake of the public’s delicate sensibilities, it’s always incredibly refreshing to see a film that is an unfiltered, raw expression of ideas. It’s also worth mentioning that, in addition to all the sexuality on display, the film also features some well done violence with one scene in particular showcasing some excellent practical gore effects.

Now, shocking content is all well and good, but the quality of the story is ultimately what matters. To that end, the narrative itself in PoAP is a little on the sparse side and there was certainly some opportunity for character development and conflict that would have given more weight to the edgy visuals. Speaking of the visuals, although I do enjoy the dark, gritty look of the film, there were a few scenes that pushed that aesthetic a bit too far past moody and into “barely visible” territory.

In the end though, none of these issues prevented me from enjoying the film and I was thoroughly invested in Andrea’s grim, downward spiral. A great example of edgy, indie filmmaking, PoAP captures the rough, dangerous feel of Cinȇma vȇritȇ classics like Kids and Gummo. This one’s definitely worth a watch, provided you can find it.

3-5-stars-red

Audition (1999)

audition-cover-11If you’ve only seen one film by the brilliant Japanese auteur Takashi Miike, then it was probably Audition. Not only is it Miike’s most well known film outside of Japan but it is also his most accessible. That’s not to say of course that it’s something that’s easily digested by the mindless masses, it is still a Miike film after all, and if it didn’t have some incredibly violent, disturbing scenes I wouldn’t be reviewing it here. Although, it’s not the violence alone that makes this film interesting, what really sets it apart is the brutal sucker-punch it gives the audience.

After his wife dies of an illness, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) must raise his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) on his own. When Shigehiko becomes a teenager he begins to encourage his father to find a new wife and Shigeharu takes his advice to heart, in a rather unconventional way. By staging sham auditions for a movie that won’t be made, he is able to screen potential mates and quickly falls for one of the beautiful applicants, Asami (Eihi Shiina). But despite her sweet, meek demeanor, Asami is holding a very dark secret that threatens to unravel Shigeharu’s entire life.

Typically, when a film has a significant tonal shift, the end result is a story that feels unbalanced and poorly crafted. However, in this case, Miike uses that very concept to deliberately lull the viewer into a false sense of security before violently pulling the rug out from under them. The entire first half plays out as a well-acted relationship drama with no indication of the horrors that are in store. I can only hope that there are people out there who actually watched this expecting a drama and were scarred for life by what they witnessed in the final thirty minutes.

Audition sittingWhat really makes Audition work is that even with the tonal shift, the two halves of the film never feel like disparate ideas awkwardly stitched together but instead function as one cohesive story that is purposefully and methodically laid out. The dramatic, character-focused beginning fleshes out who these people are and makes the viewer truly invested in their fate. The fact that the violence is intense but used sparingly also gives it a far greater impact when it’s shown.

For the most part, the narrative of this film is quite straightforward and only really veers into surreal territory during a particular montage where a character seems to be aware of details he couldn’t have known without some kind of supernatural ability. It’s possible this may have been a slight oversight in terms of the perspective of the scene but it’s also possible that it was intended to be ambiguous and represent the character’s fears of what the potential truth might be. Either way, the scene plays out incredibly well with some gloriously grotesque imagery that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

As far as Miike films go, this one represents an essential entry into his canon and makes a great stepping stone for viewers into his more unhinged masterpieces such as Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q. It also serves as a cautionary tale that when relationships seem too good to be true, they usually are.

4-stars-red

Murder-Set-Pieces (2004)

msp coverTo anyone who has taken so much as a cursory glance at my reviews it should be abundantly clear that I am an incredibly strong supporter of free speech. I’ve made it my mission to track down and review the darkest and most fucked up films ever made and I revel in witnessing cinema’s most disturbing creations. This is all to say that it’s extremely rare that I come across a film with parts that even I find problematic, but it does happen. A classic example would be the unsimulated animal killing in Cannibal Holocaust whose artistic value is superseded by the real world suffering caused by their creation. It had been a long time since I’d seen Murder Set Pieces, so I was surprised to find a similar moral predicament as I wondered to myself “Wait, is this a fucking pro-Nazi film?” More on that in a minute.

The film itself is very light on actual plot and essentially just follows around an unnamed professional photographer (Sven Garrett) as he brutally murders women in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he’s racking up a substantial body count, the only person who is even remotely suspicious of this obvious sociopath is his girlfriend’s little sister, who is determined to find out what is really going on. MSP 3

Now, if you are going to have a villainous, evil character, a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is certainly a good choice and as such have been used effectively in many other films. In the case of MSP though it feels very…..different and not just because the protagonist is openly supportive of Nazis and screams in German while he kills people. By themselves these traits could be passed off as simply being used to enhance the evil nature of the character, but when you also start your film with a strange quote about “the Jews” and use a production company named Third Reich Ventures (!) shit starts to add up.

To be fair, this film was made in a different time, years before a peaceful frog was co-opted into an official symbol of hate speech by armies of trolls seeking to make racism “great” again. If I was to play devil’s advocate I could say that it is possible that writer/director Nick Palumbo was perhaps using the imagery more in service of shock value than promoting an ideology. MSP 5However, this more generous read of the subject matter is a tough sell considering how the entire film feels like little more than a vicarious indulgence of Palumbo’s darkest fantasies.

In scene after scene the strong, good looking protagonist is able to effortlessly pick up beautiful women and viciously fuck and murder them in a seemingly consequence-free environment. In addition to this, this unnamed photographer uses nearly all his non-German dialogue on misogynistic rants or fawning praise for Nazis. This is of course when he isn’t busy working out while Triumph of the Will plays in the background. It’s really unfortunate that these things had to be so pervasive within the film because despite the numerous problematic elements there is actually a lot that MSP does very well.

MSP 6

From a visual standpoint this film is absolutely stunning and Palumbo makes excellent use of his two million dollar budget to create mesmerizing visuals on 35mm film stock. Side note, this film also has the bizarre distinction of allegedly containing the only known 35mm footage of the WTC towers going down on 9/11, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, horror fans don’t just come for the pretty pictures though, we come for the gore and on that front MSP delivers incredibly well. So well in fact that the film was thrown out of three labs before finally being processed.

Thankfully, it was eventually processed because the director’s cut of this film has some of the most gorgeous and gruesome gore effects ever put to celluloid. Each murder scene is exquisitely crafted to showcase the raw, visceral bloodshed in all it’s glory. MSP 1The chainsaw to the head scene stands out as a particular highlight but whether it’s a brutal throat slitting, bathtub drowning or vicious beating each violent scene is filled with a raw, vicious energy that makes the kills much more realistic and disturbing. Throw in some corpse eating, severed head fucking and a brutal on-screen child murder (!) and what you get is a truly unfiltered example of Extreme Cinema that goes well beyond where conventional horror films dare to venture.

The glorious gore effects were courtesy of Fred Vogel’s Toetag Pictures production studio and Vogel himself even cameos in the film. He is also joined by horror legends Gunnar Hansen and Tony Todd, who’s disgruntled porn store clerk character is a highlight of the film. MSP 2So, in the end there is a lot to like about MSP and if it hadn’t been infested with Nazi propaganda it would be an easy film to recommend to fans of hardcore cinema. Overall I’m left feeling conflicted because as much of a fan as I am of the gorgeous, unhinged violence I just can’t fully endorse a film that seems like it would be a top pick for a neo-Nazi movie night.

2-stars-red

Dreaming Purple Neon (2016)

Dreaming Purple NeonWhen determining how well a film works it’s important to first understand the type of film the director is trying to make and judge accordingly. Dreaming Purple Neon wasn’t released by Troma but given the copious amounts of low budget gore, nudity and general cheesiness, it’s something that could’ve fit right into their catalog. That is to say this is not a film that seeks to astound you with mesmerizing acting or a profound storyline but instead hopes to entertain with over-the-top visuals. This is a perfectly valid position for a film to take and one that is harder to successfully achieve than you’d think. So the real question becomes, does it pull it off?

When Dallas (Jeremy Edwards) threw on his duster and decided to roll back into town to settle some unfinished business, the last thing he expected was to become wrapped up in a crazy scheme involving demons, human sacrifice, an experimental new drug, and a dentist’s office. Now he and his unlikely group of allies may be the only thing standing between a demonic cult and the destruction of the human race.

As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with a film that’s simply over-the-top entertainment, but it’s important that it recognize what it is and commit to it. It’s this self awareness that makes films like Hectic Knife and Father’s Day so successful as they strap the viewer in for their brand of gleeful insanity. DPN does get there, but the first third of the film drags along slowly and painfully until it does. Character development scenes are important, when they work, but in this case neither the writing or acting is up to the challenge of fleshing the characters into empathetic and believable people worth giving a damn about. Writer/director Todd Sheets would have been better served by skipping the melodrama and embracing the drug-fueled demonic mayhem sooner.

Once said mayhem does kick in, the film becomes a lot more fun and really starts to earn it’s Extreme Cinema stripes. The special effects may be low budget but what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity as they assault the viewer with the kind of glorious, explicit carnage you can only see in a non-Hollywood production. Gruesome disembowelments, brutal decapitations and even a graphic crotch-drilling (!) make for a lot of fucked-up fun once it hits it’s stride. In the end this is the kind of over-the-top B-movie that’s best enjoyed with a few friends, and more than a few drinks, by gore hounds who have the patience to make it over the initial hump.

2-5-stars-red

Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs posterOne of the defining films of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs, is a brutal endurance test that is not even remotely concerned with appealing to mass audiences or casual horror fans. Inspired in part by American Torture Porn films of the time like Hostel and Saw, writer/director Pascal Laugier has also credited the severe depression he was experiencing at the time he wrote this for its incredibly dark and nihilistic tone. While the raw, visceral depictions of suffering on display mean that Martyrs easily earns its Extreme Cinema stripes, the more important question is, of course, how well it actually works as a film.

The movie opens with a young girl, Lucie, who is bloodied and clearly abused, escaping from a building in an industrial area and running screaming down the street. She is subsequently rescued and raised in an orphanage but the bulk of the film takes place fifteen years later. Now, adult Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) aided by her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is hell-bent on seeking revenge on those who abused her and believes she has finally found the culprits.

Since one of the best parts of this film is how unconventional and unpredictable the plot is I am going to give an official **Spoiler Warning** here for the remainder of the review. This is definitely a film that is best watched with fresh eyes and if you haven’t taken the time to watch it in the nine years since it’s release you should absolutely stop what you are doing and immediately experience it. As far as Extreme Cinema goes, this one is essential viewing.

Many films depict violence, but what sets Martyrs apart from most is how effectively it depicts suffering. Lucie herself is besieged by a demonic woman, a literal embodiment of her emotional anguish who repeatedly attacks her in viscous, horrifying ways. martyrs2Although represented as a separate entity, the film does eventually make it clear that she is a manifestation of Lucie’s internal pain and Lucie’s desire to be rid of her is the central driving force for her to murder those responsible for her abuse.

Another example of exquisitely represented suffering, comes in the form of the severely abused woman that Anna finds in the secret facility under the house. Seeing Anna trying to help someone whose life has been reduced to a state of severe and prolonged agony is perhaps the most upsetting part of this extremely disturbing film. Even though many films feature kills that are graphic and gory, the fact that Laugier dwells on the aftermath of extended suffering (both physical and emotional) makes the scenes in this film far more effectively disturbing.

It should also be noted that, in and of itself, graphic, brutal violence in a film is not necessarily something that is disturbing to see. When it’s done cheaply and poorly it ends up creating the opposite effect and comes across as laughable and silly. For violent scenes to deliver the proper impact on the viewer they have to be well done and the expert craftsmanship of this film is exactly why it ranks up there with disturbing masterpieces like A Serbian Film and Salo. This is due in large part to the incredible cast, every one of which down to the most minor parts delivers absolutely flawless performances. Laugier clearly understood that, regardless of how talented your leads are, amateur acting from ancillary characters can completely shatter the illusion of reality that has been so painstakingly crafted.

Another major reason that the violent scenes are so effectively disturbing is because Laugier wisely relies on expertly made practical effects rather than CGI. The result is a film that was not only shocking when it was made but still holds up perfectly nearly a decade later, and will for years to come. martyrs 1This is all within the structure of a brilliantly crafted script, which boldly bucks the conventions of a standard narrative, to keep you on your toes as the unpredictable plot develops. It even goes as far as (remember, spoiler alert) shifting protagonists halfway through, a risky move that completely pays off. The script also features one of the best sucker-punches in cinema history when the normal, affluent family is brutally gunned down by Lucie, seemingly out of nowhere. This is an outstanding example of a filmmaker carefully establishing a sense of safety and normalcy for the viewer, only to shatter it in the most jarring way.

As well written as this film is though, there is a glaring issue with the script that absolutely should have been resolved prior to shooting. After Anna meets Lucie at the house where she has just murdered an entire family that she believes was responsible for her torture, the two women don’t leave. I understand how from a plot perspective it was important that they remain in the house, but I fucking wish Laugier had devised a solid, logical reason for them to stay. It just stands to reason that anyone committing a quadruple homicide would try to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible and not, ya know, hang out, make phone calls…..take naps. It’s a baffling oversight in an otherwise incredible screenplay and really the only significant flaw with the whole production.

martyrs3There is just so much to unpack here, especially when it comes to the secret society; their quest for transcendent knowledge through extreme suffering, the casual way they inflict violence like it’s a routine job, and of course the brilliant end when the matriarch is so rattled by knowledge of what is actually awaiting us in death, that she takes her own life. Suffice to say, this film is a unique, complex and exquisitely crafted piece of highly disturbing art that ranks among the most brilliant horror films ever created.

4-5-stars-red

Inside (2007)

InsideThe New French Extremity movement created some incredible and daring films in the early 2000s, one of the most notable being Inside. This film along with Irreversible, Martyrs, Frontier(s) and many others defined the film movement that would give us some of the most extreme, taboo shattering films ever made. Much like The Human Centipede, Inside is a film in which the very concept is enough to make most people’s skin crawl. That alone makes it a must see for Extreme Cinema fans but the most important question is still “is there substance beneath the surface”?

The film starts with pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) getting into a horrific car accident that takes her husband’s life, and things only get worse for her from there. Four months later, the night before she is to be induced, a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) comes to her house with a single-minded purpose……to cut Sarah open and steal her baby.

The two keys things that all of the notable films of the New French Extremity have in common is that they feature gruesome brutality and are very well made. That’s an important distinction to make because if they were a collection of poorly-acted films with laughable special effects then they wouldn’t have been noteworthy in the first place. The fact that these films are so well executed, not only makes them far more enjoyable, but also makes the extreme violence something that is genuinely disturbing rather than laughable.

Inside definitely holds up on that front, with gorgeous shots, brilliant lighting design, and realistic, visceral gore. All of the actors involved do a great job, but Paradis and Dalle are exceptional and both deliver harrowing performances that take the film to the next level. I also enjoyed the simple yet innovative concept that manages to keep the tension high even with a small cast and one central location. It all culminates in an ending that is an absolutely perfect way to cap off this film.

Now, this film does have a great, tightly paced script that is very well written overall. However, there were still a few illogical moments that should have been tightened up before shooting. For instance, it seems very unlikely that a cop would bring a random perp he arrested with him into a house, where a potentially dangerous suspect was lurking, and give him a gun. This doesn’t make any sense, considering the fact that he could have easily just left him in the car. But it makes even less sense to tell the victim to wait alone in her bedroom while he turns the power back on, instead of just bringing her the fuck out of the house! In both cases these are oversights that could have been easily remedied with some logical justification that could have still achieved the same end result.

Regardless, the couple of minor script issues can be forgiven in an overall incredible film, and the fact that the film is so good in general, is actually what makes them stand out. If you are a fan of extreme cinema and you somehow haven’t seen this film yet, drop what you’re doing and fucking see it because this is daring, uncompromising cinema that must be seen to be believed.

4-stars-red

Ichi the Killer (2001)

IchiBased upon the Manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is one of controversial director Takashi Miike’s most well known (and most gruesome) works. Often found on lists of the most disturbing films of all time this is certainly not one for casual moviegoers who require a calm, numbing escape from reality. The numerous scenes of rape, graphic torture, and blood-spraying violence is sure to scare off all but the most hardened fans of Extreme Cinema. As always, the most important question becomes “is there more to this film than it’s graphic content or is it little more than a two hour exercise in shock value?” Well, let’s discuss.

When the head of the Anjo crime family goes missing it’s up to the ultra-sadistic chief enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) to get to the bottom of what happened. As Kakihara begins his brutal investigation, he soon discovers that a mysterious man named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) may be the key to uncovering the fate of the boss. As the bodies begin to pile up, he also realizes that Ichi may also be the only one sadistic enough to prove a worthy challenger.

That’s the plot in very broad strokes but there is a lot more going on here. The storylines of Jijii (Shin’ya Tsukamoto), the head of a body disposal crew, Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka) the disgraced policeman turned Yakuza gunman, and Karen (Paulyn Sun), the boss’ bilingual prostitute girlfriend, all factor heavily into the complex, interwoven story.

At the heart of any film, what really matters is how engaging the story that is being told is and how well it can sustain the viewers interest throughout the runtime. This is where Ichi the Killer really shines because, underneath the gruesome blood and violence, is an incredibly well-structured story that will hold your attention through fascinating and unpredictable twists and turns. As the story goes on, more and more details are revealed, as Miike masterfully unveils the backstory and character motivations in a natural and deliberate manner.

Even after you’ve unraveled the whole story the film remains highly rewatchable and I actually enjoyed it more upon the second viewing. This is in large part due to the highly skilled acting on display across the board, as well as the fascinating characters themselves. It’s always refreshing to see a film where there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” but rather a host of complex characters with a variety of motivations. Kakihara for one, is without a doubt one of the best and most realistic portrayals of a true sociopath that I have ever seen, a dead-eyed, asexual psycho who only enjoys pain and sees no value in human life. However, Ichi himself is the most interesting and unusual character, a craven, whimpering, coward in a superhero costume who unleashes reactionary bursts of ultraviolence when upset.

Since this is an Extreme Cinema film, the gore is naturally an important factor. In this regard the film delivers in many scenes where throats are slashed, limbs hacked off, and of course the infamous suspension hooks/boiling oil scene. These scenes are mostly well executed and feature cringe-inducing brutality, but there were a couple points where the effects missed the mark. The most glaring example of this was when a character is literally split in half and Miike opted to go for cartoony looking CGI, rather than a more realistic practical effect that would have created a far better illusion.

Ultimately, this is a very exciting, interesting film that will be highly enjoyable for those who enjoy challenging cinema and have had enough of Hollywood’s safe, bland, escapism bullshit. It’s also an excellent introduction to one of cinema’s great auteurs, Takashi Miike, whose work is fascinating, unpredictable and completely fucking uncompromising.

4-5-stars-red

Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor QIs it possible to have a film that features incest, necrophilia, rape and a whole lotta violence and still have it infused with genuinely heartfelt sentiment? If you’re maverick director Takashi Miike, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely! Just like other Extreme Cinema films like A Serbian Film or Irreversible, Visitor Q is not actually a horror movie but is an incredibly horrifying drama that goes way beyond the boundaries of most horror films in terms of content. So, how does all this shock value content actually marry with a sentimental core? Well, let’s discuss.

I do want to mention before I start, that while I’m not including spoilers, I do talk about quite a few plot points, so if you want to go in completely fresh, you’ll want to track down a copy and watch it first.

The story centers around the Yamazaki family who, it’s safe to say, has a couple of issues to work out. Patriarch Kiyoshi (Ken’ichi Endô) is obsessed with trying to create a documentary special for TV that takes an unflinching look at what’s really going on with Japanese teens today, especially in regards to bullying. His son Takuya (Jun Mutô) is the victim of severe bullying and takes his rage out on his mother Keiko (Shungiku Uchida) who in turn prostitutes herself to afford the heroin she needs to cope with the abuse. Kiyoshi’s teenage daughter Miki (Reiko Matsuo aka “Fujiko”) is a runaway turned to prostitution whom Kiyoshi interviews for his documentary in the opening scene of the film. After minimal convincing, Kiyoshi is soon fucking his own daughter, and that’s where this film starts. In the midst of all this extreme dysfunction, a mysterious man known only as The Visitor (Kazushi Watanabe) inserts himself into the family’s lives (after brutally attacking Kiyoshi with a rock several times) and begins to subtly influence them in surprising ways to achieve his goal.

What’s clear from the start, is that Miike set out to utterly shatter as many taboos as possible, which he does in a variety of bizarre, grotesque and extremely shocking ways. What’s perhaps most shocking to some, however, (although not surprising to fans of Miike’s work) is how well he is able to incorporate these extreme elements into a nuanced story about a disintegrating family unit. Rather than being gratuitous, the shocking scenes are an integral part of the story and work perfectly within the heightened reality of the world Miike has created.

Despite the fact that this film features a scene where a female character literally coats a room in a seemingly endless supply of her own breast milk, the part that struck me as most bizarre when I first saw it years ago, was the fact that people’s genitals are usually blurred out. Of course this has to do with Japan’s incomprehensible anti-obscenity law that allows graphic necrophilia, incest, and unsimulated oral sex, but draws the line at showing a flaccid penis. Being that Miike is known for pushing artistic boundaries and advocating for free speech, the extreme content in this film was no doubt a commentary on the ridiculous and arbitrary nature of censorship in Japan.

Overall, this is an incredibly interesting, engaging film with an unpredictable storyline that must be seen to be believed. For fans of Extreme Cinema this is an absolute must watch, especially if you enjoyed Miike’s more well-known films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. So gather your dysfunctional family around the TV and enjoy the most unique depiction of family dynamics you are ever going to see.

4-5-stars-red

Frontier(S) (2007)

FrontiersThe New French Extremity is the term used to describe a particular subset of films within the Extreme Cinema category, that were made by French directors around the start of the new millennium. Artforum critic James Quandt coined the phrase but, just as with the invention of David Edelstein’s term, Torture Porn, it was used in the pejorative sense. Regardless, both terms have been subsequently embraced by fans of boundary-pushing cinema, and it wasn’t long before the labels were worn like a badge of honor. Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is one of the most recognizable films of the French Extremity movement and certainly earns its stripes with graphic, visceral violence. But that aside, the real question becomes “how does it actually hold up as a film?” Well, let’s discuss.

The main story is set against the backdrop of a controversial election in France where rioting has broken out after right-wing extremist politicians have seized power. Alex (Aurélien Wiik) and his gang of young thugs need to get out of the city with their bag of ill-gotten money as soon as possible, so they divide into two groups to meet in an inn outside of town. Unfortunately for them, this particular inn is run by a sadistic family of neo-Nazis that is determined to make their lives a living hell.

It makes sense that films, especially horror, typically build in intensity as they move towards the climax but one of the most notable aspects of Frontier(s) is how it takes that concept to the extreme. While many horror films will start with a horrific scene establishing the tone you can expect throughout the movie, this does not and for a significant amount of viewing time it plays out as more of a crime thriller without any horror elements.

But rest assured, the horror does come, and by the time we reach the climax, we’ve been treated to numerous scenes of gruesome violence that (in true French Extremity fashion) lead to characters being literally blood-soaked . Ultimately, this approach serves the film well as viewers unfamiliar with what they are getting into will no doubt be taken by surprise and it makes the violence that does happen, all the more shocking. It also serves the narrative well to have the film become more visceral and gruesome as the situation worsens for the characters.

The film itself exists in a world of slightly heightened reality and, at times, the characters (particularly the villains) come off as just short of cartoonish. Regardless, the acting is actually very well done and Karina Testa especially shines as Yasmine, the sole female member of the gang. In this role she is exceptionally effective at physically conveying the mental toll that an ordeal like this would take on a person.

Social commentary plays a big part in the story and Gens has revealed in interviews that the 2002 French presidential election, which had an extreme right party in the second round, was a direct inspiration for this film. Certainly the subtext can be read as a manifestation of the fear and anxiety caused by the thought of right-wing extremists in control of the country, but the execution of the concept manages to be both superfluous and slightly heavy-handed. Even though the idea feels incredibly prescient to those of us in the US right now, it still neglects to really get at the meat of the issue or bring something new to the conversation.

In the end, Frontier(s) succeeds in being a fun, bloody, survival horror film that draws more than a little inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With a runtime of nearly two hours it does take some time to get where you’re going but is worth the trip when you arrive.

3-5-stars-red