Larva Mental (2021)

Larva Mental is a difficult film to talk about. For a lot of people this would be due to the extremely grotesque and graphic content, the mere mention of which is enough to nauseate and horrify the average viewer. I of course am not the average viewer and as someone who revels in the twisted grotesqueries found in the darkest corners of cinema, the content itself is no problem for me. Instead I find it difficult because I am of two minds about this film; one that thoroughly appreciates and champions the use of profoundly disturbing imagery and taboo performance-art and one that views the movie by the caliber of the filmmaking and the quality of the storytelling.

There are only two credited actors in the film, but since neither is given a character name, I will refer to them as The Father (Mikel Balerdi) and The Daughter (Daieri Gadna). Balerdi also wrote and directed, and the special FX make-up is credited entirely to him and Gadna, so clearly it’s a very DIY project. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that but the quality of the footage as well as the reliance on slightly shaky hand-held and static shots makes it very apparent that this was made without the assistance of a professional crew.

There is almost no dialogue in the film but the story is about a father and daughter who seem to have shared a trauma (and have an “interesting” relationship that involves sleeping naked together in the same bed). One day, The Father puts on a collar shirt goes away on what seems to be a business trip (although what business he works in with those face tattoos is unclear) leaving The Daughter at home to snoop around his computer. When she finds an intensely depraved video of him (that really must be seen to be believed) and some sketchy masks hidden away, she is so upset that she brutally kills herself. Upon discovering the body, he is so distraught that it sends him into a spiral of heroin shooting, self harm, and some good old fashioned corpse fucking.

The main draw of this film is clearly the spectacle of the various depraved scenes, but there is so much of them crammed into the short runtime that it starts to feel like a series of internet shock videos strung together with only a vague semblance of a story filling in the cracks. The rough video quality and down-n-dirty feel work well in service of the unsimulated shock scenes and reinforce the fact that this is indeed an example of legit extreme underground filmmaking at its nastiest. Conversely, the seams start to show a bit more when practical effects are involved. The corpse here doesn’t have the same level of high quality realism found in other films that are light on plot but heavy on gruesome body violence like AGP: Bouquet of Guts and Gore or Aftermath, which give the scenes with it significantly less impact.

Speaking of impact, the shock factor of the scenes would be higher if there weren’t so many of them back to back. Early scenes also ramp up the extremity quite high which results in them taking the wind out of the sails of those that follow and dulls their effectiveness. I would have greatly preferred that story and character development were given priority and that the level of depravity escalated gradually throughout to give it a stronger impact. With a runtime of just over an hour, there is plenty of room to weave the same amount of disturbing footage into a well established character arc that would give the scenes far more bite.

Based on the information I could find, this appears to be Balerdi’s first feature length film, but I hope we see more of him in the future. From a performance art standpoint, this film is able to go to levels that are exceedingly daring and bold and if Balerdi is able to put that same fearless, unflinching energy into a more well realized narrative, he could create some dark art that really shakes things up in the world of Extreme Cinema.

Vore Gore (2021)

For the uninitiated, vorarephilia (more commonly shortened to vore) refers to the fetishistic desire to be consumed or to consume another, typically for sexual gratification. As the opening text of this film clarifies, this has less to do with a cannibalistic desire to eat human flesh and more to do with the fanciful desire to be consumed by a much larger entity (human or otherwise), often swallowed whole. There are different types of vore, but as the title Vore Gore implies, this film focuses specifically on hard vore with a series of nine separate shorts all relating to gruesome, oral consumption of some kind.

In an apparent nod toThe Rocky Horror Picture Show the segments are introduced via disembodied lips, which imbue each title with a subtly salacious inflection. It’s the perfect framing device for a collection like this and the fact that the lipstick thematically ties to each film is an excellent touch. Though all segments do relate to the central concept, there is a wide variety of styles and approaches at play here, each reflecting the unique vision of their creators.

While Mouth, The Egg, and Infernal Gluttony 2 all take an abstract, experimental approach, other segments like Please, Not in My Mouth and Italian Ladies do it Better are more narrative focused horror shorts that bring their story arcs to a clear resolution. Other segments like Sweet as Honey, Finger Licking Good and Stretching take a more meditative (although no less gruesome) approach that falls somewhere in the middle. As I’ve now come to expect with anything relating to the band White Gardenia, their segment Yummy Fur belongs in a category wholly unto itself, but more on that in a moment when I delve into the individual segments in a little more detail.

It can be hard to maintain consistent quality when featuring a collection from various directors, but fortunately the segments in Vore Gore deliver high quality pretty much across the board, with each one bringing something interesting and different to the table, albeit with occasional mixed results. For instance, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about relatively cheap looking special effects and seemingly simple concept behind Infernal Gluttony 2, but in the end, was won over by the sheer audacity of the engaging, surreal spectacle it created. Conversely, Finger Licking Good stood out as an incredible piece of work with its deliberate pacing and gloriously gruesome effects, but eroded some of the goodwill it achieved by tacking on an ending that feels like a bit of an unnecessary cop-out.

While there were a few minor missteps in some of the films, the only one that overall just didn’t work, was Italian Ladies do it Better. I hate to call out a single film like this, but in addition to having the least to do with the subject of vore itself, the highly telegraphed ending of the rather ludicrous plot simply doesn’t deliver in any kind of satisfactory way. The film also has trouble adhering to the rules of the world it creates and would have benefited from putting the script through another draft (or two). Stretching, on the other hand, was a highly satisfying and meticulously crafted piece of filmmaking that did an excellent job visually articulating the emotional experience of having a fetish. Though strikingly different in tone, another standout was Please, Not in My Mouth, a fun, nasty little film that I actually reviewed on its own back in 2018 but thoroughly enjoyed and was more than happy to revisit.

Speaking of films I’ve reviewed, anyone who has read my review of XXX: Dark Web knows that the film contains a segment in which Daniel Valient, of the band White Gardenia, completes an act of gruesome performance art that is fearless, shocking, and brutally real. In Yummy Fur, it’s Daniel’s turn to step behind the camera as the woman who filmed his segment in XXX: Dark Web (Cher Nevin) takes the spotlight for her own piece of hardcore performance art that threatens to outdo even that incredibly shocking scene. This is an amazing thing to witness, and my only complaint is that a unique, irrevocable act like this deserves really thorough and precise coverage to ensure no part of it is lost. Still, the erratic hand-held camera and occasional loss of focus actually work quite well with ambient music and cosmic-themed voice-over to give an unsettling, surreal quality to the segment.

Vore Gore may have a couple of chinks in the armor, but overall remains an overwhelmingly positive experience that I could continue talking about for pages. This is an excellent example of bold, unfiltered Extreme Cinema by a collection of brave artist who dare to push the boundaries of the medium in creative and provocative ways. Connoisseurs of authentic underground cinema take note, this is one twisted treat you’ll definitely want to devour.

XXX: Dark Web (2019)

When you’ve seen as many extremely fucked up films as I have, you start to feel like you’ve seen it all. After watching A Serbian Film, Atroz, Cannibal Holocaust, all the Guinea Pig films, and countless others, what can an extreme film bring to the table that I truly haven’t seen? Well, that’s where XXX: Dark Web comes in and with a name like that, it’s already setting the expectations quite high. No, Vin Diesel isn’t taking his impotent, PG-13 action franchise in a bold new direction; what we have here is far more interesting (although I am now more than a little curious about what that would look like). Rest assured fellow sick fucks, this is a legitimate underground film and the very definition of a piece of truly Extreme Cinema. There’s even a scene toward the end that blew my mind and showed me something shocking that I’d definitely never seen in a film before, but more on that in a minute.

The film utilizes a standard anthology format with five separate segments, each by a different director, plus a wrap-around story to tie it together. The framing device here is a nameless young man (Franz Dicarolo) who is searching the Dark Web for twisted shit to jerk off to and each segment is a different video he clicks on. It’s a clever format for a film like this and pays homage to the inherently voyeuristic role the audience itself is playing as we wait for the next shocking segment to come on and try and outdo the depraved insanity we just witnessed. This also adds an ingenious layer of discomfort for the viewer as we see the audience surrogate eventually taking on a more interactive role in the twisted entertainment he is consuming.

There isn’t a lot of “story” to speak of within this film as each segment plays out with little to no narrative in service of moving along the gruesome visuals as quickly as possible. That’s not a knock against it though because by its very nature, the Torture Porn subgenre tends to be pretty light on story and at no point did I really feel like I needed more character development to keep my eyes glued to the screen in rapt anticipation of what would happen next. In fact, even for seasoned veterans of Extreme Cinema, this is perhaps the most squirm-inducing film I’ve ever had the twisted pleasure of sitting through.

Graphic, unsimulated sex and gruesome Guinea Pig-style evisceration is just where the depravity starts and before you know it you’re seeing dicks being bitten off and sewn back on, vomit blowjobs, knives in bloody assholes, nutsacks full of needles, people jerking off to pics of (probably) real mutilated corpses and so much more. Obviously the bulk of the film is made up of well constructed and convincing special effects (otherwise you’d have to find it on the real Dark Web) but the final segment brings it in a whole other direction with a bit of gruesome reality.

In it we see a real video of musician Daniel Valient (of the band White Gardenia, who also do the music for the scene) and a young woman with black lipstick (Allison Simon) engaging in actual cutting and drinking of each other’s blood. From there we see Daniel turn it up to 11 in a scene that I don’t want to spoil but suffice to say it blew my fucking mind! It would be disturbing either way but the fact that it is 100% real (trust me, I looked into it) officially makes it one of the craziest things I have ever seen in a feature film.

Clearly, this movie has a lot going for it in terms of being an effectively shocking piece of underground cinema. Still, there were a couple of minor tweaks that I wish had been made to really bring it home. There are a few instances where characters speak in another language or text appears on screen but there is no subtitle translation option, which is unfortunate because I was really curious about what was being said. Also, the actual title of Daniel’s blood drinking segment is “Allison’s Mouth fills up with Blood and Semen” and despite seeing his blood-soaked boner, the actual blowjob is more implied than explicit. Not a big deal but given the segment title and the precedent already set of explicit sex, it felt like a situation where edgy material should have been leaned into rather than shied away from if it was to be presented at all.

Regardless, this is an incredible piece of dark art with brilliant, realistic performances and special effects punctuated by moments of visceral reality. It really is some of the most brutal and disturbing footage you’re going to see outside of a real world shockumentary like Traces of Death and frankly, real death compilations are nothing but cheap, artless, shock-value trash anyway. I’d take the brilliant special effects work and hardcore performance art of XXX: Dark Web any day!

Begotten (1989)

Begotten PosterI’m no stranger to abstract filmmaking. From Jodorowsky to Lynch and many others I have certainly seen my fair share of films that eschew standard narrative conventions. Often times these films are so laden with symbolism and metaphor that the story itself can be incomprehensible upon initial viewing. The best of these have meaning behind each image and in-depth examination can peel back the layers to uncover the profound truths that the artist has hidden within. The worst of these are simply a nonsensical series of images that are nothing more than weird for the sake of weird, occasionally containing meaning that has been so obscured by the filmmaker that it is utterly indecipherable. Begotten is definitely abstract, so the question now is where along this spectrum it falls.

There isn’t much to go on as far as a standard plot, but I’ll do my best to summarize it in broad strokes. The credits alone give you a pretty good idea of the kind of film this is and the entire credited cast is as follows: God Killing Himself (Brian Salzberg), Mother Earth (Donna Dempsey) and Son Of Earth-Flesh On Bone (Stephen Charles Barry). The grainy, high contrast, black and white film starts with God Killing Himself living up to his namesake via a brutal disembowelment with a knife. Mother Earth emerges from under his corpse and after some postmortem masturbating of his erection is able to graphically inseminate herself with his cum. She becomes pregnant and before long Son of Earth is born fully grown and spends most of the remaining runtime being tortured by mysterious people in long, hooded robes.

It’s best to think of Begotten not so much as a movie but as a visual experience. There isn’t any dialogue or a linear plot to follow and the various gruesome scenes are accompanied only by ominous music or sound effects, such as the droning buzz of flies. To really get an understanding of what is going on (and what any of it truly means) would require a great amount of rewatching and dissection, for anyone who would be so inclined to do so. What I was able to deduce is that the piece seems to be a representation of the creation of humanity and our inherently violent, destructive nature with a heavy dose of religious allegory thrown in.Begotten Son3

More important than what it all means is what the viewing experience itself is like and in that regard it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are some very interesting visuals here, the suicidal god being the most recognizable and iconic image from the film, and the gore and suffering on display is well-crafted and convincing. From the grainy black and white footage, to the atonal music and disturbing imagery, everything about Begotten feels like it was carefully engineered to try and set a record for creating the most uncomfortable and upsetting viewing experience possible. Watching the film start to finish is somewhat of an endurance test of nightmarish imagery and that is what I liked most about it. This isn’t a movie to be passively watched but rather an art piece of unconventional expression to be studiously observed.

Not every art piece has something profound to say however and while the lack of dialogue and conventional plot help to successfully create the immersive, nightmarish atmosphere, it is also the film’s weak point. Absent a compelling narrative you are left with only the visual experience which starts out bold, shocking, and intriguing but soon gives way to long scenes that feel repetitive and dare I say, boring. I enjoyed the moments of harsh, upsetting imagery found occasionally within this film and while the surreal journey is a unique one that’s worth taking, it ultimately felt too meandering to be fulfilling.Writer/director E. Elias Merhige has an interesting and provocative short film here, it’s just unfortunately buried within a feature-length runtime that doesn’t sustain it.

3-stars-red

29 Needles (2019)

29 NeedlesAs anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, it’s my mission to track down and review the most fucked up films ever made. Because of this, my idea of what truly constitutes Extreme Cinema may be a bit …..different than many people’s so I’m always at least a little skeptical when filmmakers contact me out of the blue and claim that their film is shocking and edgy. Still, I went into 29 Needles deliberately knowing nothing about it and keeping an open mind. Within the first few minutes one thing became perfectly clear, this is one film that DEFINITELY belongs in the Extreme Cinema category!

The story follows Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry), a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to help abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. He is beginning to lose hope as his self-destructive coping mechanisms are becoming less effective and his strange hallucinations more prevalent. When a mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) offers him an invitation to secret society where there are no sexual limits it may be the cure he’s looking for….or the beginning of a whole new nightmare.

One thing viewers should know going into this is that it’s the very definition of “not for everyone” and if copious amounts of unsimulated gay sex is too much for you to handle then this is probably not going to be your particular brand of vodka. However, for Extreme Cinema fans without such hangups this proves to be an interesting and unique ride into some very dark and depraved territory.

My favorite thing about this film and something that is unequivocally true is that it does NOT hold back. 29 Needles is a great example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives zero fucks about appealing to a mainstream crowd or worrying about who’s 29 Needles Bathoffended in the process. Rape, mutilation, watersports and bloodplay are all on full display here as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (I have two words for you, eyeball tube). Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and takes a punk rock, no holds barred approach to executing it.

So, clearly the film has balls, ones that it’s not afraid to literally skewer with needles, but there’s still the question of how well it’s made. On that front it’s a little bit of a mixed bag as it does fall pray to some of the common shortcomings of indie films such as a flat, digital image quality and some supporting actors whose performances fall well short of convincing. However Berry more than makes up for this with his fully committed, method performance that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. There is also some great practical effects work in the form of a giant sentient cock that looks straight out of Cronenberg’s golden era.

Ultimately this film is an endurance test of shock and depravity and one that real fans of genuinely edgy cinema won’t want to miss. An interesting and engaging plunge into darkness that’s completely fucked up, in the best possible way.4-stars-red

 

Madness of Many (2013)

Madness CoverIf you like your torture porn with a hefty helping of pseudo-philosophy, then Madness of Many might just be the film for you. At least, that’s what Danish filmmaker Kasper Juhl is hoping you’re into because his 2013 feature packs a surprising amount of both into its scant 73 minute run-time. Is this an effective combination? Should voice over be used in more than 90% of a film? Who the fuck are all these people being tortured and what exactly is going on here? Read on, for the answers to some of these questions in the review below!

The plot (such as it is) centers around Victoria (Ellen Abrahamson) who we first see walking in the woods in the beginning of the film. We are told through VO that she is 23 and has grown up in the most horrifically abusive home possible. After years of rape and starvation she has recently escaped and now we see her make friends with someone off-screen who brings her back to their home. Things seem to be going well until she is bludgeoned unconscious and spends the next year being held captive and tortured. The bulk of the rest of the film depicts seemingly random other women being tortured who (I think) are meant to represent her inner anguish through depictions of physical torment…..and puking up blood every five minutes.

I’m only pretty sure that’s what’s going on because despite the fact that nearly the entire film contains VO, it seems less concerned with illuminating the details of the plot and more concerned with incessantly repeating its theory that suffering is a transcendent experience that leads to enlightenment. This concept worked in Martyrs several years earlier but that was because it was bolstered up by an excellent plot and a sparing but intense use of violence. The brutality here is certainly the best part but the overuse of it without a solid foundation to stand on makes for diminishing returns. I mean, once you’ve watched someone puke up blood for the fifth time in an hour it’s kind of lost it’s effect.

The fundamental problem here is a real lack of prioritization of the story elements. Sometimes the information is maddeningly sparse, such as how did she get from spending her whole life in tortured squalor to just kind of strolling around in a nice outfit, looking normal and put together? Other times it feels like it’s compulsively berating you with the same information, prattling on about enlightenment and suffering like stoned freshman around a bonfire. This all results in a lack of emotional investment with the events of the film and an attempt at a profound ending that falls flat because it’s not even remotely earned. Madness blind.jpg

This is unfortunate because despite its flaws there are definitely some things that the film does very well. First and foremost, I have to commend the numerous actresses who fully commit to their roles as torture victims and all deliver genuinely great performances. This, coupled with the well crafted gore, makes for some glorious and authentic depictions of violence that are well worth the watch. Additionally, Juhl brings a visual artistry to many of the shots that elevate them from mere set pieces to visually arresting works of macabre beauty.

If only he had spent as much time crafting the story then the end result may have felt more like a provocative art film and less like something made by a film student who took took SFX and intro to philosophy in the same semester.

 

2-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Aftermath (1994) Duration 30 min

AftermathAhhh corpse fucking, a taboo subject that even the most hardcore of Extreme Cinema films rarely delve into. Sure, directors are willing to mutilate teenagers with chainsaws and machetes all day but once you add in a touch of deviant sexuality it goes to a whole different level for most people. Obviously you’ve got your underground classics like the Nekromantik films or even a bizarre romantic drama like Kissed, but all in all it’s a pretty short list of films that make necrophilia the central focus. Of course, an essential entry to that list is Nacho Cerdá’s ultra twisted mini-masterpiece, Aftermath.

There really isn’t that much to say about the story beyond the fact that it centers around a deviant forensic surgeon (Pep Tosar) who has his way with the corpse of a young woman in one of the more shocking and disturbing sequences ever put on film. The fact that it’s light on story really doesn’t matter much in this case since it’s the incredible visual style that does the heavy lifting in this dialogue-free film. Much like A Serbian Film, the thing that makes this so effectively shocking isn’t just its subject matter, but also that it’s just so goddamn well made.aftermath cameraEvery detail inside the surgeon’s lab is so meticulously created that it gives an incredible level of authenticity to the overall film. This is helped greatly by the fact that it was filmed within a real forensic institute in Barcelona and that Cerdá had the chance to witness an actual autopsy prior to filming.  While the little details are great, the real showstoppers are the corpses themselves, masterfully crafted by special effects studio DDT. Each cadaver has such brilliant attention to detail that they come across as genuine characters right down to the tracks in one man’s arm that were probably the cause of his death.

Speaking of genuine characters, Tosar does more with his incredible eyebrows and menacing stare than many actors are able to accomplish with two hours of dialogue. Added to this is the fact that every shot is expertly crafted and the whole thing is scored to Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Requiem in D Minor. It’s these small but significant touches that really elevate Aftermath beyond just a shocking video into the visually arresting and provocative art that it is.

5-stars-red

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