The Sinner – Part 5

USA’s The Sinner
Part 5
Directed by Cherien Dabis
Written by Jesse McKeown

* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 6, click here.
Pic 1Flashback to Mason (Christopher Abbott) and Cora (Jessica Biel), when little Laine was just a baby. “Slept through the night” for the first time. The typical things parents experience together. Just as quick, we’re back to the present with Mason, his parents Ron (Robert Funaro) and Lorna (Patti D’Arbanville) helping around the house. Then comes a call.
Another flashback shows a slightly younger Cora, an older Phoebe (Nadia Alexander), as they were planning a getaway from the ruthless religious household in which they existed with their mother Elizabeth (Enid Graham). They were saving up cash, looking for apartments, trying to find Cora a man. All under their parents’ nose.
Back out at the bus in the woods, Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) looks over the human bones found nearby in the ground. Things are getting more tense in the case. He’s also got state police involved now, like it or not. He and Detective Farmer (Joanna Adler) go to question Cora together about recent developments. Only it’s all hard to explain, to anyone outside of her and Ambrose. Even he isn’t entirely sure what’s going on just yet.
Cora: “I didnt kill anybody
Farmer: “Else. You didnt kill anybody else.”
Pic 1ALooking around a ways off from the body site, Ambrose stumbles onto a piece of private property. He walks in to the gate, around it, and finds a massive estate sprawling over the land. Quite the place. He gets inside, finding a staff member at the place, getting a few answers and hopefully more to come. Wandering around he sees a bit of wallpaper that might just be the kind Cora spoke of before.
A strange twist of fate, as Cora winds up at a religious group in jail. Listening to their prayers she flashes back to being in that place, with the masked man, the wallpaper. She’s under the bed, an I.V. tipped over on the floor. “Howd you get all the way down there?” asks the masked man.
This is the theory I’ve had for some time – she was drugged, forced into prostitution. When she and Maddy escaped from that place, the latter was killed, buried out in the woods. Guaranteed. Or perhaps there are more twists and turns yet.
The Tannetti family are being ripped apart. People are spray painting their vehicles with KILLER BITCH, dumping garbage all over their lawn. Mason’s parents are fed up. He’s barely hanging on by a thread.
There’s also more going on in Ambrose’s life, too. He and Faye (Kathryn Erbe) have a marriage in a death spiral. She regrets their bit of reconciliation, feeling he’s not there even when he is physically. Back at the station, he’s being chastised for “barging in” on the club at the estate, a high profile guy there representing the place and its interests. Oh, you know some shady, fucked up shit is going on up there. YOU KNOW.
Pic 2Dt. Farmer is barging on ahead herself, without consulting Ambrose. She busts J.D’s girlfriend on the drugs, hauling her in for questioning. She’s already pursuing charges against Cora for the dead body. Well, we see that she’s also accusing our detective of being sweet on the accused. I don’t think it’s that, at all. I feel like he genuinely cares and wants to find out what happened to her, to know the truth. He’s got his issues, no doubt. He’s a brutal masochist. But a cop in love with a suspect, no sir.
They do have a connection. It’s one of trust. She calls him, wondering if she ought to take the latest offer. However, he wants her to hold on, so he can chase down his lead on the club.
On the street, Mason’s father is beaten by J.D. with a baseball bat. Holy shit. Then we cut back to see Cora when she first meets J.D. on a dark road, ironically helping her out of a bad jam with a potentially creepy dude. After that it’s off to a house party together. Immediately he’s working his charm, pretending he wants to get to know her. A very Manson-esque personality. All brings us to her losing her virginity to him.
That night when she got home there’s a scene. Mom calls her a “whore” while Phoebe is hyperventilating, worrying over her big sister. Quick cut back to the present, as Dt. Farmer grills Cora about J.D. and the found skeleton. Meanwhile, Ambrose is back up at the club poking around, he finds a staircase leading to the basement; looks familiar, only without the wallpaper. Further in are masks hung on the wall in the dark, ones we can recognise easily.
But can Harry break the case wide open before Farmer uses her fake sympathy on Cora to make a deal? Our girl’s not having any of it. What’s worse is that Mason is heading for J.D. with a gun in hand. Both of Laine’s parents might be in jail soon. Uh oh.
Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 1.56.49 AMEvery episode of The Sinner is heavy as hell. New things come to light with each chapter, the darkness gets deeper and scarier, the emotions more intense. Part 6 is next week, and I don’t know how they’ll top this one. Although I say this every week.

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Animal Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 7: “Dig”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 2, Episode 7: “Dig”
Directed by David Rodriguez
Written by Eliza Clark

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Cry Havoc” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Grace” – click here
Pic 1In the aftermath of Javi (Alex Meraz) attacking J (Finn Cole) and Nicky (Molly Gordon), what will Smurf (Ellen Barkin) do? Will Pope (Shawn Hatosy) and mom join together at least momentarily to take care of this family problem?
Meanwhile, J took a good beating. That nasty wound on his leg got opened up. Just vicious stuff. While he washes off, Pope and Smurf watch the security footage of Javi and his boys raiding the house. At the bar, Deran (Jake Weary) and Craig (Ben Robson) ignore mom’s calls, talking about their new, upcoming job, something they’re keeping secret until the time is right.
Smurf comforts J who’s feeling “shame” for not being able to protect the place, or Nicky. He wants to go after Javi. At the same time, Baz (Scott Speedman) is picking up Nicky over where she was dropped off. She doesn’t blame J for anything, it’s just him being hard on himself. Feeling the traps of faux masculinity knocking at the door. Hope it doesn’t drive him to do anything stupid, anything he doesn’t think real damn hard about first. Grandma’s doing her best to keep a lid on that temper.
Pic 1AFinally, Smurf has to explain to the boys about Javi, his father, all the tragic story from back in the day. Manny supposedly put Javi’s dad out of his misery, then he was buried at a construction site. That’s now on the street where they let Nicky go earlier. So, do the boys ride or die for big mama? Probably not. They aren’t too eager to help mom, particularly not Deran who feels “foster care” would’ve been better than being in the Cody family. That pretty much puts an end to their conversation. Although Smurf cautions: “This doesnt end until we end it.”
While normally I’d say she’s full of shit, J is involved, he was beaten, tortured. Now his uncles aren’t willing to help, when he’s put work in for them, done robberies, so on. Baz and Pope are a little more willing to entertain the idea; Craig and Deran say fuck that. What I see most is the breakdown of loyalty. I don’t know how J will take this going forward. Either way, the boys figure instead of killing Javi, they’ll move the body of his father so the cops can’t put a case on mom. Plus, Craig and Deran want cash. Yikes. The stake is driven deeper.
Furthermore, Baz – after getting pulled over by Catherine’s cop friend – brings up doubts, thoughts about her disappearance, and now thinks she’s dead. When he mentions this to Pope, the latter’s struck very uncomfortable. No telling how long his secret will last, sooner or later it’ll come out. Then there’s the fact Pope and mom have their dark little secret(s) to boot, that’s a dangerous fucking mixing pot.
Pic 2Pope worries that the cops may arrest Baz on suspicion, something he possibly can’t live with, though it’s difficult to know what he can or can’t live with in the end. Then there’s J, constantly worried that he didn’t do right by Nicky, even if she doesn’t actively blame him. Everyone is preparing to go dig up Javi’s dad, as well as figuring out their own shit simultaneously.
Out on the beach, Baz goes to meet Javi, they go way back; Pope, too. Baz tries reasoning with him. Making clear nobody is going to touch Smurf. Javi feels a lifetime of lies bear down on him, having believed his father merely ran off on him ages ago. That’s gonna cost a lot of money.
Javi (to Baz): “Youve come a long way from cryinyourself to sleep and pissinthe bed, man. Good for you. Yknow shit didnt turn out so well for me, or my dad.”
The Cody family archaeological dig’s about ready to happen, no matter if mama’s a tad sketchy on a few details. Everyone is on edge. Things are more tense between Smurf and Baz after he questions her on where she got all the money before to pay Javi, knowing that she’s been skimming on their jobs. Now the two of them opt to use money from the church job to do the payoff. Only hope is Baz can get it back before the boys figure it out. That might not go over so well with the gang.
J and Pope head into the backyard of the house where Javi’s dad was buried years prior. First, they need to take care of the people living there. So they’ve got to fake a gas leak, set things up to get at the old corpse. Outside, uncle Pop tries to steer his nephew away from doing horrible things, like he’s done: “It doesnt feel like you think it will.”
Pic 3Baz goes with Smurf to take care of the drop off and the cash. But I wonder, maybe they’re walking into something bad? Maybe. Out in the middle of nowhere, they meet Javi, who’s brought along a friend. Just seeing Smurf makes the dude’s blood boil.
The rest of the boys get down to business in the basement of the house. They’ve got all the gear to make it a quick, safe, smart job. They get down into the concrete a little ways before it looks like they’ve found the remains. Just boots, a gun, tattered clothes, and a skeleton. Only they’re missing a foot. A bit of extra digging, they locate the tootsie, and then they’re off. Another successful, greasy mission.
In a dumb move, Smurf tells Javi he’s “worthless” and “stupid” among other things. Insulting his dad. Holy shit. When Javi goes for his gun, his own buddy shoots him in the head. Looks like Smurf’s got friends in all sorts of different places. He gets the payoff cash, too. Whoa, what a sly motherfucker this lady is! Doesn’t sit so great with Baz, who doesn’t see that Javi would never stop, he needed revenge. I mean… she’s not wrong, though she is quite cold.
Baz: “I mean, cmon, Smurf, we grew up with that kid. He was like family to us.”
Smurf: “And like family isnt family
After all’s said and done, they have a mini reunion, all together out on the shore. While Javi’s dad’s remains are stuffed into a barrel, ready for burning. A weird moment, sort of bringing them all back together in a way. A fresh start for Smurf, for them all with this chapter behind them.
Pic 4Only problem is there are many bad things lurking underneath, specifically that dark secret between Pope and Smurf, the one that if it’s discovered by Baz the Cody family will be obliterated. I wonder how long more until things start unravelling. My guess is in “Grace” next week, we’ll see a bit of his come out.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Eskimos” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
Pic 1AThere’s a dark secret buried, one that Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) will soon stumble upon. This season we open on someone disposing of a young person’s body, tying them, then dumping their corpse in a lake. Terrible things go on unseen. But it doesn’t take long for them to emerge for all to see.
Back again to the world of the ever fantastic Joe Lansdale!
Hap’s picked up the remains of Trudy; ash in a box. And while he loved her, that’s one less giant mess in his life. Everything for him is messy, from relationships to his piece of shit car door. He gets by for now working as a mechanic. In other news, Leonard’s at home getting a hard back massage from his boyfriend Raoul. He’s got problems with neighbours, too. Nothing that a cane can’t stop, or a bit of piss in the face. What I love about Leonard is he’s gay and black in the late ’80s, so there are bound to be more situations that arise from that, living in the South and all. A little later, he steps through a floorboard in his dead uncle’s old place: now he’s found the secrets long ago covered up, forgotten about.


Leonard: “The dead dont give a shit about what happen toemtheyre dead.”
The two friends go digging under Chester’s floorboards more, inspecting the skeleton they’ve found. It’s a child, a small one.  Same sneakers as the one dragged from the lake. Now Leonard wonders if his uncle knew, especially considering how long Chester lived there and how decomposed the body is currently. So, what next?
A kid runs off with Trudy’s ashes, sending Hap and Leonard on a chase. Then the box gets tossed into a garbage truck driving past. Instead of letting it get away, Leonard stops the truck to get Trudy back.
The boys alert the police to the body under Chester’s house, which marks the place as a crime scene. But you just know them two are gonna get up to something soon enough. The old lady across the street doesn’t believe Chester had anything to do with the body, though the police – Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) in particular – are investigating with suspicion. And someone in a van lurks around the neighbourhood. Very likely the one responsible for that body’s existence.
Leonard talks with Dt. Hanson at the precinct, as Hap talks with another detective. Some uncomfortable conversation comes up when Hanson says “you people” enjoy little kids; he means homosexuals. Nasty. Likewise, Hap faces scrutiny about his status as a conscientious objector during Vietnam, all the mess they got into with Trudy and the rest of her friends. After all that they discover there were no feet or hands or sneakers on the body. Was this the work of the man in the van? Hmm. Either way, a lawyer named Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) arrives to help the boys in their predicament.
Florida: “Dont underestimate mecause Im beautiful, Mr. Collins.”
Pic 2I love watching Hap watch Leonard and Florida pass the hot sauce between each other, putting a load on their food. Such a perfect look, as he tries to get himself a taste and they just keep on shaking the bottle.
After food they start picking through the mystery in their neighbourhood. Meemaw across the street offers what little help she can. Hap and Leonard keep an eye on Chester’s place from hers, and they also have a heart to heart about Trudy. In the morning they meet Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood), who does a bit of preaching, though neither Hap nor Leonard are too interested in religion. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, fittingly foolish with a proud gay man at the table.
When Leonard goes over to check on his house, he finds Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), the kid who stole the ashes. He’s nearly dead from an overdose. Unable to locate the kid’s parents, Raoul convinces Leonard to take care of the boy for now in their place, to which he very reluctantly agrees.
One of the detectives goes to meet Hap at the garage where he works. He wants to know more about the sneakers they saw on the body. On top of that he’s suspicious of Leonard being a “darkie” and all. And you know are man doesn’t approve of that shit, so he dismisses the detective rather fast.
Pic 4Trying to dump Trudy’s ashes off a bridge, Hap drops the box in the river. Like the man he is he goes in after it diligently. Then he scatters them onto the water around him, soaking in Trudy, and strangely happy.
At home, Leonard puts Ivan to bed. When he takes the boys shoes off he sees his name written on them, similar to the BB on the red sneakers. Suspicious? Or nothing at all? Either way, right now Leonard’s being taken in by police. Great, now Hap’s going to have to get his ass in gear while his friend is locked up behind bars.
And outside the house sits the man in the van, watching. Who is he?


What a spectacular start to Season 2! Love, love, love this series. Lansdale’s writing, his characters, the atmosphere, it is all palpable in the adaptation by Damici and Mickle.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 3: “Bad Blood”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 3: “Bad Blood”
Directed by Sarah Boyd
Written by Tom Szentgyorgyi

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Convergence of the Twain” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Hidden” – click here
Pic 1Caleb (Kenny Johnson) is waking up chained to the basement floor after being surprised by Norman (Freddie Highmore), dressed as Norma (Vera Farmiga). He wakes to his sister speaking to him. Only, it’s not, of course. It’s his nephew, dressed as his sister. So awfully creepy. Then there’s whatever Norman plans on doing with his uncle Caleb.
Could be a brutal end for him.
Pic 2And what about Chick (Ryan Hurst)? He knows all the secrets. He’s bore witness to the blonde wig, the odd way Norman sways across the room when he’s in his mother’s clothes/skin. They’ve formed a tenuous bond. I only wonder what Chick is getting out of this, other than maybe a bit of revenge on Caleb along the way. For now, he’s staying at the Bates house to protect Norma/Norman against the nasty uncle downstairs. Hmm. A truly strange situation, all around.
Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is being transferred from prison, and he’s another one I wonder about – he has a card up his sleeve. When they make a stop for gas and a bathroom break, he takes his chance and enacts a plan for escape.
At home Norman and his mother keep on coexisting, as best they can. She takes care of him as usual. In their creepy kind of way. He doesn’t remember that Caleb is downstairs, but she does, and she tries keeping him away from the basement. Always trying to control him. But of course Chick is still kicking around, curious about how Norman navigates his fugue state. He reveals he knows about Norma, and another tenuous bond with the other half of Norman is made.
Chick: “Were all in this sideshow together. And then we die.”
Caleb remembers his childhood with Norma, both of them brutalised by a crazy mother. Trying to survive. They had no one but each other, and despite what came later in their lives I can understand why their bond, for a time, was extremely strong. None of it matters now with Caleb chained in that basement and Chick standing guard.


Alex steals a car and then runs it off the road when he’s far enough. He makes his way back home, one mile at a time. In the meantime, Chick sits down to dinner with Norman and Norma, or y’know, one of them at least. He also brings a recorder with him. He offers to help them around the house, just for a sense of being with people after living alone so long. And what a conversation they all have together! Surreal, and crafty on Chick’s part, as well.
Later, Norman receives Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally) at the motel. She clearly feels comfortable with him; bad move. But she’s having troubles with her husband, obviously. And this is a way for Norman to worm his way into her life.
In the basement Caleb hallucinates and thinks he’s hugging Norma, then her corpse. Then Norman, upstairs, finds out his uncle is trapped down there. That he’s spoken to Norma. Further than that Norman continues straddling the line between sane and utterly fucking psychopathic, as he doesn’t even understand his mother is literally dead, not just figuratively and pretending. So he heads down to talk to uncle Caleb, where mother takes over. Then both of them are hallucinating, in their own respects.
Norma: “Im sorry, Norman will probably have to kill you. I cant do it.”
Pic 5Pic 5ATrying to steal another car, Alex gets shot in the gut. What a tough, bloody journey!
Chick is continuing to record his story about the Bates family. He goes looking for a typewriter, to type up his novel. Getting ahead of himself a little on the true crime writing, though. I worry that, mixed up with the Bates’, he’s only going to get burned. Or worse.
And Norma, he had a little quality time with uncle Caleb. While thinking he was his mother. So, there are issues with his understanding: what he knows v. what mother knows. Never clear, at least for him. She wants him to kill Caleb and get this situation cauterised. Although her boy doesn’t think he can do that. Tsk, tsk, Norman – mother knows best. She advises a quick bullet to the temple.
Can he accomplish the task? We know murder’s not exactly out of his wheelhouse. He’s done plenty of heinous things before, just not all of them while fully conscious.
The answer is no – Norman can’t kill his uncle. He runs him out instead. Prompting Norma to take over and fire on Caleb. Inadvertently, Chick plays his part and accidentally runs him over in the road on the way back to the motel. Oh, shit.


Another great chapter in this last season. So many strange things converging, and now Caleb’s seemingly been taken out of the picture. Is he dead? Or just fucked up completely? Either way, Chick and Norma/Norman have their hands full with another likely corpse; at the very least, now a vegetable. Thing is, Chick has as much to lose as Norman, and their tenuous bond becomes more concrete, stuck together with blood.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 1: “Dark Paradise”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 1: “Dark Paradise”
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Kerry Ehrin

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Convergence of the Twain” – click here
Pic 1So what’s next for Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore)? He’s done his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) in. But mother will always live on inside him.
Well, Norman continues on much like he did before. Living in mother’s world. Except the delusion’s only gotten deeper, and we’re one step closer to the territory Alfred Hithcock explored nearly 50 years ago at this point. Poor Norma, he acts as if Norma’s still alive and well. They go about their day, eating breakfast, talking about the chores Norman has been finishing down at the motel. He’s convinced himself mother is only hiding, she isn’t dead. She had to get away from all the trouble of her life. Amazing what the tortured mind can do, isn’t it?
Pic 2And then there’s Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell). I guess former sheriff. Now that he’s doing a stint in prison for being mixed up in a little too much corrupt business. That’s one of the great parts about Bates Motel: no characters, even the relatively better ones compared to others, are perfect; none of them are morally superior, they’re merely different shades of grey.
Norman runs into a shop and meets a woman named Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally). He, of course, rambles on about his mother. To anyone who doesn’t know him like the audience it sounds sweet. To us, it’s awfully creepy. Worse, he has some guy’s wallet. A guest from the motel? Or another grave? Hard to tell, though I assume the latter. He doesn’t remember where he got it, so he asks mother. She plays dumb and clearly knows something.
Norman: “Do you ever have the feeling that youve had the same nightmare over and over again, but that you cant remember it, you just remember the feeling of it?”
Norma: “Nope
In their new home, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Dylan (Max Theriot) have a little baby girl, and they’re celebrating Emma’s birthday in their beautiful house. Things are wonderful; Dylan’s been promoted. Then up shows Caleb (Kenny Johnson) at the door, throwing all sorts of emotions into the mix.


Trying to find out where the wallet came from, Norman searches the motel for clues. He keeps detailed records of his whereabouts, monitoring his blackouts. One of which coincides with a receipt from the man’s wallet. Uh oh.
A man clearly at the Bates Motel to have discrete sex checks in as David Davidson. So sneaky Norman puts him in Room 1. You know why, he made that little peephole for himself, when he was spying on mother and Alex. Now he has a front row seat to the sex lives of others. Until mother calls him on the phone, interrupting his nasty little masturbatory fantasy. Even in death she controls his libido.
Added to the fact there’s luminol ordered using his credit card, something else he doesn’t remember; something mother absolutely knows about while acting like she knows nothing. They sit and have nice dinners, but underneath it’s so volatile. He can’t even bring up Madeleine and her help with the paint without upsetting their delicate balance. Knowing where Norman ends up in Psycho, it’s interesting to see things bubbling up right now between him and his dead mother. Because we know it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse.
And scarier still, Norman goes to the basement. To see his real mother, where she stays preserved, or sort of, sitting there like a doll. So at once he’s delusional and also lucid at times – the worst type of psychopath.


The next day Madeleine brings Norman some paint and brushes to sample colours. There’s an obvious chemistry between them, though she has no idea how terrifying he is under the facade. I can see a tension brewing, whether that’s sexual I don’t know yet. I’m thinking there’ll be problems with her husband down the line.
Caleb’s trying to do his best fitting in with Dylan and Emma again. Although they’re ready to give him a chance, particularly once she finds out that Caleb helped with money for her surgery. She tells him what it meant, to help save her life. On the other hand, she asks him to leave. Because of who he is, as an uncle and father simultaneously to Dylan; she doesn’t want this affecting her own child. A tough but necessary move.
Mother and Norman have an argument out in front of the motel. She isn’t happy that he’s going out to a small business owner meeting, one that Madeleine told him about. So she hauls him up to the house, to the basement. To the freezer. Where she shows him the body of the man whose wallet he’s been carrying around. They killed him. Even when neither of them fully understand who’s controlling whom in their situation. Regardless, it’s bad.
Norman: “Well, its not like weve never done this before.”


So mother and son go about ridding themselves of the corpse. And while we watch them both take care of business, it’s really just Normal lugging the body around, struggling it into the trunk, and everything else. All to Etta James singing “At Last” during their dark family outing. A nice canoe ride at night, a body dumping. Perfect for the two of them.
Except Norman still doesn’t understand why the man was trying to kill him. Why mother had to take him down. She loves to hide secrets.
Then the man’s cell rings. An inmate from prison calling – it’s Alex. He’s trying to put an end to Norman. Only now, the young man knows.


What a great opener to Season 5! Loving it already. So much in store, including the storyline that will connect us to the Hitchcock classic.
Next up is “The Convergence of the Twain” and I’m expecting big, creepy things!

Man Behind the Sun Begs the Question: Is It Trash? Or Is It Important?

Man Behind the Sun. 1988. Directed by T.F. Mou. Screenplayby Mei Liu, Wen Yuan Mou, & Dun Jing Teng.
Cast: Jianxin Chen, Hsu Gou, Linjie Hao, Haizhe Jin, Tie Long Jin, Yuanrong Jin, Bolin Li, Pengyu Liu, Xuhui Lui, Zhaohua Mei, Zhe Quan ,Jiefu Tian, Gang Wang, Runsheng Wang, Shennin Wang, Jiang Wen, Dai Yao Wu, Guowen Zhang, Yongdong Zhao, & Rongming Zheng. Sil-Metropole Organisation.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
Drama/History/Horror/War

★★★
POSTER
In a quest to try and watch any/all disturbing films out there, good or bad, I’ve heard about Man Behind the Sun (the correct translation, though titled most places as Men Behind the Sun) for many years. At an early age, I saw a clip on a website – possibly eBaum’s, or something similar – though, I never was able to find a copy. Living on an island at the far East Coast of Canada, the horror especially didn’t always find its way to the video stores; many movies as I did get to see, the real cult stuff was that for which I had to wait. So in lieu of actually being able to see this one I dove into the actual history behind Unit 731 – during World War II this particular unit lead by Major General Shiro Ishii committed heinous war crimes testing tactical biological warfare (resulting in small outbreaks of plague and cholera), which includes attacks via airplane on localized areas, later escalating to injecting plague directly into live subjects, among many other atrocious experiments such as infecting Allied POWs with glanders (a disease that primarily affects horses, donkeys, mules), dissecting POWs and other citizens, they even subjected women to rape and forced pregnancies, among too many other hideous things to list.
So straight away, you know Man Behind the Sun is not to be trifled with, neither should you assume it’s not as bad as people say. It is, absolutely. Now I can still sit and watch it, managing to get through. Regardless, this is one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen in my life. It is brutish, ugly. You’ll think twice about going on. There’s no shame in not making it all the way. However, I have to say that there’s an almost important merit to this piece of cinema. While I do not condone the use of real corpses (both human and animal; the film’s most controversial ‘cat scene’ is actually a practical effect, albeit an impressive one that involves a real cat covered in honey being licked by rats), director T.F. Mou argues that we must try confronting the past, no matter how disgusting, no matter how bad it feels or looks. There’s an exploitative aspect to the entire film, no doubt. Foolish to say otherwise. Although I can’t discount the merit which lies beneath.
If you do venture ahead to watch, please know – only the hardcore horror hounds are likely to handle what they’ll see. That’s no joke. If you’ve got the stomach, hang for a ride.
Pic1
There’s not a whole lot I have to say about the acting. It isn’t much good, at all. Though there are moments. On the whole this film is all about the hypnotically shocking gamut of realistic horror through which it grinds the viewer.
One scene that’s just downright unsettling is the drinking glass. You’ll know what I’m talking about. I won’t spoil it for those who’ve not yet seen the film. Rest assured, as someone who considers himself a hardened horror movie watcher, this even felt nasty to me. Specifically because the actor doing the drinking from said glass plays the moment so well. A creepy, brief scene. There’s not much good acting from here on in, aside from the young boys watching on under command of the General, as well as some of the victims in the experiments.
Later, the scariest element to so much of the horrific imagery we see is the fact these high-ranking men are training a bunch of young boys, they’re having the fact engrained in them that certain people they deem lower are considered not even people, as fodder for experimentation. Despite the graphic, visceral images, the disturbing part is this brainwashing, and if it’s at all possible this actually makes the nasty bits even nastier.
Maybe the most disturbing to me is the frozen arms of the woman, her reaction. It’s of note that those arms are actual corpse arms. Yes, you got that right. Real, dead, human arms. Only person willing to hold them was the director’s own niece. So they really froze them, she held them. It’s insanity. You always hear people rag on Ruggero Deodato for his filming of the natives killing animals, nobody’s over here worried about the dead bodies Mou used for his horror flick. Good lord. There’s one scene Mou claims is actual autopsy footage of a young boy. Not sure if this is true. If so, I’d hope there was some form of consent in order to use that. But then again, I highly doubt it. Turns out that the autopsy is real: the parents signed over consent to let the autopsy be filmed, and Mou dressed the doctors performing up like they were from the WWII era. There are huge questions about morality concerning whether Mou ought to have made the film this way. Apparently the special effects industry in China at that time did not exist, essentially. So partly he had to resort to what was available, which meant using connections of his with local police to inform him of cadavers matching the descriptions he required. Part of me then wonders if this was necessary. At the same time, was that maybe his aim? In confronting actual atrocities committed in the past, does something sickening like real corpse parts in a film about said atrocities somehow make the realism better? Certainly makes it real. Just not sure if it makes anything better. In the end, I’m conflicted.
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Respect must be given to the legitimate practical effects in this movie. Forget the rats and all that controversial stuff. The practical special effects accomplished here are terribly impressive. They’re even able to surprise and disgust someone like myself. For instance, as I wrote this the scene where the guy’s intestine pops out made my eyes go wide. I didn’t get sick or anything, but I mean, it gave me pause. That doesn’t happen often. All I could do was stare a moment, horrified at the scene. They put him in a sort of audio chamber, jam on the high frequency until the guy can’t do anything but lay in pain on the ground, and then BAM – intestine, right out his asshole. I know that sounds cheesy, and rightfully atrocious. It is the latter. Unfortunately, it’s too well executed for me to say it has a cheese factor. The effect is ghastly.
Don’t believe it stops there. So much of runtime is spent in an endurance test as the audience. Rarely do we get time to break from the hideousness and settle our stomachs. Only now and then.
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It’s hard for me to give this 3 out of 5 stars by saying the film is good. In terms of technical aspects, some of what Mou did as director works in the name of realism. In other ways, Man Behind the Sun is purely an exploitation flick, a torrid bit of hardcore genre filmmaking. Again, I’m completely conflicted when all is said and done. One side of me thinks what Mou did, in terms of using real corpses and animal parts, is downright despicable. The opposite side insists there’s value in Mou’s confrontation of a dark period in Japanese (and Chinese) history. Somewhere in the middle of the road lies an understanding.
If you want to test your ironclad stomach, do so at your own peril. Like I said, this didn’t make me sick. It did actually make me question, for the first time in 4,200 films: why am I watching this? Could be awhile before I figure out the answer to that one.