The term “expiation” refers to a kind of atonement, the act of making amends or the reparation for some kind of wrongdoing. By its title alone, Xpiation is already tipping its hand to show that this brutal, torture-focused film is about more than simply being a showcase for senseless brutality. How much more and how effectively it’s executed is the real question though and today we’ll peel back the layers like so much skin off the face of a terrified man in the bowels of a torture dungeon.
This 2017 entry from hardcore underground filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo tells the story of an unnamed man, credited as “Latino Guy” (Emanuele D’Elia) who finds himself tied up in a decrepit room being tortured in a variety of ways by a giggling maniac known as (naturally) “Torturer” (Simone Tolu). The event itself is being dispassionately observed by a strange and mysterious woman known only as “Her” (Chiara Pavoni) who sits close by recording it all on her camcorder and occasionally joining in. The graphic and explicit torture scenes are interwoven with surreal moments, hallucinations, and flashbacks that eventually shed light on who these people are and why they are doing what they are doing.
First and foremost, Xpiation is Extreme Cinema and as such delivers on the gruesome violence with excellent practical effects that render the uncompromising brutality in exquisite detail. There’s plenty to satisfy the gorehounds here as the film viciously doles out cutting, burning, beating and even an exceptionally explicit ball smashing scene that’s sure to have every viewer with those parts cringing and crossing their legs. While extreme violence in a film is fun, it can also become repetitive on its own and as someone who has seen a LOT of dirty basement Torture Porn, I was glad to see the film at least attempt to expand on the spectacle of violent titillation through use of surreal imagery.
The attempt was not entirely successful though and the inclusion of these scenes (as well as the flashbacks) made it seem like the film was on track to deliver more of a creative mind-fuck twist on the story than what we ultimately got. I do like how it plays with the concept of perspective and audience expectation but in the end the story itself is quite thin and the success of the experience relies quite heavily on the graphic, shocking effects. I like the violence and the weirdness but I would challenge filmmakers like Cristopharo to bring more attention to character development and story arc to create art that is overall more affecting and ultimately more provocative. As an exercise I would recommend that part of the scriptwriting process should involve removing all the violence, shoring up the story that remains and then adding it back in.
Like the rest of the film, the acting is a bit of a mixed bag as Tolu gives off an energy that is a bit more goofy than convincingly deranged while Pavoni’s stoic presence exudes a more engaging depth of character helped in no small part by her exquisite and unconventional costume design. So while Xpiation may not hit every mark perfectly it’s still an interesting and visceral experience that showcases a level of free expression that you won’t find in mainstream cinema.
Limited copies of the DVD can be found at http://www.tetrovideo.com while supplies last.