In the 1st video for Father Son Holy Gore you get a rundown on five movies Father Gore finds pretty scary himself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are tons and tons of disturbing horror movies out there. I’ve seen plenty of them, but the titles on this list are some of my favourites. Not saying these are the most extreme, the most hardcore, I’m not touting these as the most disturbing horror movies you can watch. Simply, I think these are a good dose of movies running the gamut from thematically disturbing to graphically disturbing, to downright weird.
Without further rambling, here are my picks for a bit of wild horror to throw on this Halloween season, if October really has you feeling like you need to test your limits on film.
For my full review and discussion, click here.
The title says it all.
This is probably the strangest erotic horror-thriller you could ever imagine. Even saying erotic horror seems strange, but god damn if this is not full of both horrific and at times erotic imagery.
You could say this is a character study of two people in a relationship and what the ideas of possession mean for both involved.
To say any more would be to truly give things away. Honestly, go in knowing only a very basic plot – a couple falls apart as the wife seems to be having an extra marital affair, which proves to be something far stranger. Just know that when the horror hits you it is going to smash your face into bits, it may even rock you sexually in the worst kind of way imaginable.
Inside (2007)/ Trouble Every Day (2001)
You can be guaranteed that if Beatrice Dalle is in it, I’ll watch it! So here is an excellent Dalle double feature which you can indulge on Halloween to scare the wits out of you.
First up is the 2007 home invasion horror-thriller Inside, directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who also directed 2011’s Livid which was on another list I did for this October. This movie is just all out horror and highly female-centric: on Christmas Eve, a pregnant woman alone at home is attacked by a mysterious woman intent on getting inside the house, as well as inside that belly. If you’re pregnant, you may want to avoid this movie honestly, or if you’re super sensitive. Because this horror escalates, from a mild creep to a roaring scare. Be prepared. Also, this whole movie’s drenched in blood and gory bits. Excellently disturbing stuff!
Second comes auteur director Claire Denis’ version of the cannibal film, Trouble Every Day. Starring Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle, this is the story of sexual cannibalism in humans, as opposed to insects; starting with a husband and wife travelling to Paris for their honeymoon, the husband investigating a strange clinic, and ending with bloody horror. Hard to explain any of the ins and outs, I’d rather not ruin it any more than I already have with this explanation. Either way, Denis is a master filmmaker, someone of whom I’m a huge, huge fan, and this is a really gripping, unsettling movie out of her works. You won’t be sorry. This is disturbing, but it does have a great script held up by a couple solid actors like Gallo and Dalle in particular on whose shoulders the movie ultimately rests.
This is a solid double feature, which really shows off Beatrice Dalle’s talents. Also, it touches on two pretty touchy elements of human nature: pregnancy and sexuality.
The Devils (1971)
For a full review, click here.
Maybe this might not be totally considered horror. Honestly, though, if you don’t find Ken Russell’s The Devils horrific I’m not sure how your brain operates.
Both Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave give terrific, agonizing performances in their own right; Redgrave particularly gives a transcendent performance full of religious fervour and Satanic mania.
If you’re going to see this, you need to be able to see it uncut, in its entirety, as even while the most attainable version out there is pretty wild, the uncut version of this Russell masterpiece is unbridled psychosexual horror in its finest.
Just to give you a taste: there’s a scene known as “The Rape of the Christ”. Craziest part is that this whole film, the story and its plot, is partly based on a real story. Need a nice dose of disturbing religious horror? You found it in Russell.
Three… Extremes (2004)
With three short films in one, this entire anthology only runs around 118 minutes, so you’ve got a great triple feature for the price of one!
Starting off with Dumplings, from Fruit Chan, the Asian horror gets churning with the story of an ageless woman who makes her signature dumplings for other women attempting to capture the elusive fountain of youth and its secrets. Hint: there’s something in the dumplings that ought not be there.
Cut by director Chan-wook Park is the tale of, funny enough, a film director and someone with a grudge. With a trap-like setup surpassing the interest factor of anything Saw ever had to offer, this short is sadistic and incredibly intriguing.
Finally, the short titled Box comes via notorious (and awesome) Japanese director Takashi Miike. I’d like to say a little, but would rather not spoil anything. Let’s just say it involves two sisters who were contortionists, they belonged to a carnival of sorts doing a trick involving a box, and then something bad happened at the carnival. No more, or you’ll know too much! Go in knowing only this: Miike is disturbing, if you’ve not seen his other work you should maybe get ready for a tense ride. Though, each of these shorts has their own test, I find something unsettling about Miike’s approach to stories, like he knows something the rest of us don’t.
Great watch if you don’t mind subtitles. It’s a really disturbing film all over, but Dumplings and Box particularly have always stuck in my mind.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)/ Tony (2009)
For my full review of Tony, click here.
For a full review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, click here.
You’ll always hear about John McNaughton’s 1986 shocker when realistic horror is being discussed – raw and savage, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the most unflinching portrayals of serial killers on film. With a central performance rivalling some of the best in horror, Michael Rooker embodies the loose, fictionalization of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; also included is the recently deceased and wonderful Tom Towles as another loose fictional version of Lucas’ actual partner for a time, Ottis Toole. The very brutal and simplistic style McNaughton uses only serves to unsettle the viewer with such an up close and personal view of the inside of a serial killer’s mind and world.
23 years down the road, after the release of the McNaughton cult classic, filmmaker Gerard Johnson gives us Tony – another film loosely based on a real killer (this time it’s British murderer Dennis Nilsen the Kindly Killer), this 2009 dramatic horror follows the titular character, Tony: on the spectrum, he is quiet, shy, lonely, disaffected and disassociated. However, at home, Tony cuts up the bodies of those he kills, draining their blood down the drains and the toilet, putting body parts and organs into plastic bags which he later casually dumps into the Thames. The reason Tony is so chilling, and why it’s a great double feature with McNaughton’s film, is because the movie takes us right behind the eyes of the central character – the at times sympathetic yet horrible killer – and never once do we make our way out of his perspective. At certain moments, the film is a slow burning character study; at others there’s an ominous sense of terror. Either way, you’ll be surprised as the film goes on just how depraved this quiet man in his council flat is deep down underneath his unassuming exterior.
Put these two films on – one American, one British – you’ll get an interesting look at the two sides of one coin. Dive into the darkness of the murderous mind!
The Last House on the Left (1972)
For a full review, click here.
With the lofty goal of making a horror-thriller version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, itself based on a medieval Swedish ballad, Wes Craven (R.I.P) – at the time a self-professed young and angry man – brought a new style of horror to the screen. There were certainly disturbing movies before 1972, however, Craven effectively brought the ‘rape-revenge film’ to the spotlight with The Last House on the Left.
The first time you see it, something will happen. Regardless whether or not you think Craven’s movie is excellent, mediocre, or not worth the time of day, you cannot deny there is most certainly a lasting impact. After you finish this one, there is a part of you that won’t ever feel the same. I can guarantee you that. Even as, what I’d like to think is, a hardened horror veteran, having seen literally 1,000+ horror movies, there is still consistently something truly disturbing about this one; I own it on Blu ray, though, it doesn’t get played much. Only when I’m looking for a true shock do I throw this on. You may never want to watch it again, but give it one go this Halloween. You may just lock your doors and forget all about the trick or treaters.
For my full review, click here.
You may notice the prevalence of movies based on true stories over the course of this list. And here’s another: based on The Snowtown Murders in Southern Australia, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown focuses mostly on the budding relationship between serial killer John Bunting and one of the sons of a woman he dated at the time of the killings.
A lot of reviews and comments on the internet have stated they find the movie boring, either it’s too slow all around or they feel as if nothing much spectacular happens over the entire course of the film. I just don’t get that. This is a deep character study, once more akin to the earlier Tony/Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and we not only step inside the perspective of a serial killer, we’re bound to the perspective of Jamie – the son of Bunting’s quasi-girlfriend at the time – who did commit horrific acts alongside Bunting in real life. Here, the character of Jamie is mostly seen as sympathetic, both being abused by his half-brother and manipulated by Bunting, and through him the audience is able to both understand and be horrified at Jamie’s new life. Bunting is played amazingly by Daniel Henshall in what is – as far as I know – his first film role specifically; the performance is subtle and extremely unnerving. The whole movie is very involving, if you can forgive it’s at times slow pace. In the end, you’ll be thankful if looking for a disturbing horror, because this is one that really left its mark on me. I’ve forced myself to watch it a couple times and there are scenes in Snowtown burned into my brain; things I don’t necessarily want to see or think about, yet I’m drawn to, as the dark side of reality truly comes out in Kurzel’s film.
Anyone know AnnaLynne McCord? I didn’t, until this wonderfully macabre and disturbing bit of cinema. When I found out who she was, what she normally looks like, I was immediately impressed with her performance in this film – not only does she do a great job in her role, McCord physically transforms into another person. To say anything much would ruin the surprise, the sick, disgusting joy you’ll eventually take out of seeing all the nasty visuals of Excision come alive before your eyes.
Basically, this is the story of a young girl’s becoming – she is turning into a woman, mentally, physically. Yet the bloody beginnings of womanhood translate into something entirely different for this high school girl. She fantasizes about crimson waves, organs, tortured and mutilated male bodies, and so much more.
I’d never seen this movie, yet picked up the Blu ray because I found the description of the film, as well as its cover art, extremely intriguing. There’s not only disturbing horror here, the screenplay is full of sass, wit, and oodles of black comedy. Plus, John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell all show up, so how is that not awesome? Choose this if you want to shake up your expectations, just make sure your stomach isn’t weak because a few moments in this movie really pushed my limit and that rarely, if ever, happens. Still, I love it and could actually throw this nasty little shocker on any time.
Grimm Love a.k.a Rohtenburg (2006)
For my full review, click here.
Back once more are we to the reality of killers, the depraved and sick, twisted individuals lurking out in the material world, not simply characters banished to the abstract realm of film and television. 2006’s Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love) examines, not using the real names, the case of Armin Meiwes who was arrested in 2002 after police discovered he found a man on the internet, a willing participant, to eat; together, they attempted first to eat his penis together, after which Meiwes killed his companion, quartered him up, ate pieces and stored the rest in his deep freeze.
There’s a romantic aspect to the main characters of the film, mirroring the real life pair – even within all the sickness, the cannibalism, each of them and their intensely depressed states, these two men connected on a level most of humanity will never know. Still, no matter their intentions, no matter their feelings after meeting one another, these two men were fatally damaged, eternally flawed. While there aren’t too many graphic bits here, it’s the emotionality and intensity of the plot which makes things disturbing, very real. If you’re able to handle such a wild ride into some of the more twisted aspects of the damaged human psyche, then I suggest Grimm Love as an interesting way to spend an October evening.
Audition (1999)/ Contracted (2013)
I want to preface this double feature by saying evil comes in all shapes and sizes, all forms, all ways.
The first of two evils is Takashi Miike’s Audition; not surprisingly, Miike shows up twice on this list, first in Three… Extremes. This 1999 psychological-horror starts off with a recent widow looking to start dating again, so with the help of a friend in casting he arranges to interview (or ‘audition’) women to become his new partner. However, after meeting the supposed new woman of his dreams, the man comes to discover she is not whom she appears to be at first. Beginning with a vague romance, this Miike film typically devolves into pure madness, controlled, but madness nonetheless. With some of the most unbearable torture in film history, this is not simply “torture porn” (hate that label; read other reviews to find out why). Rather, Miike brings psychological fear to life – from the fear of meeting someone new, to the thought of losing someone you love and having to start life over again – as well as touches the deepest, most visceral nerve possible in each of us.
From the story of a female torturer, we move to Contracted, starting its vicious and horrific descent into psychological/body horror with a cold and ruthless act committed by – this time – a man. People criticized the marketing of this film because it says “one night stand”, when clearly the young female lead is actually date raped at the start. However, unless I’ve not heard all there is in terms of press, I don’t think it’s intended this is meant as a LITERAL one night stand; merely, the tagline says “Not your average one night stand” in a dark, acidic way. Because once you get into this movie, you’ll realize England is trying to make you uncomfortable. Not simply for uncomfortableness sake: there is legitimate horror here. There are bits of David Cronenberg in here, with all the attention paid to the lead character’s body deteriorating after obviously having contracted a virus from the man who date raped her. Even more than that, I think England makes a few highly poignant points about the male mind, in terms of both the man who raped the film’s lead and the man who pines for the lead’s attention. I won’t spoil anything else.
This double feature is bound to leave you shocked, in awe, and maybe not in any kind of good way. Miike’s Audition came before the golden age of online dating, so I imagine it might touch more nerves today than even when it came out 16 years ago. Moreover, Contracted is the Eric England rape metaphor film we never knew horror could produce (the sequel leaves much to be desired) and while it has things to say the most of its power comes from the cripplingly nauseating visuals. If you want a downright unsettling double feature for Halloween or leading up to the special night, this one may be your Holy Grail.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
By now, most anyone who is into slasher horror movies, even in the slightest, has definitely heard of the 1983 classic Sleepaway Camp. Not just that, they’ve definitely heard of, or have seen, the outrageous and terrifying twist finale. I will not spoil anything in the way of its big gem.
What I will say is that this movie is one of those genuine ’80s-era slashers which is deserving of its cult following and infamy. It isn’t perfect, nowhere near that, however, I’m a firm believer this is one of those top notch slashers simply because I NEVER ONCE SAW THIS TWIST COMING! I mean, fuck M. Night even on his best twist endings, this one is the RULER OF ALL TWIST ENDINGS. Sorry, I love Memento, I love The Machinist, The Sixth Sense was a whopper in its day, and there are plenty others… but SleepawayfuckingCamp just rocks all of them out of the water. Say no more. Want a good dose of by-the-lake horror and a finale that will haunt your dreams? You’re welcome.
For my full review, click here.
Lars Von Trier is a name you can say in a room and find a hundred different opinions about from just a couple people: some think he’s trash, others (mostly those who’ve only seen his recent two-part Nymphomaniac) say he’s a pornographer, then there are those of us who think he’s full of unbridled, unadulterated genius. Sure, he doesn’t always hit the mark, but what filmmaker ever has? Not a single one in history has made a full catalogue of perfect movies. But Trier, each and every time at bat, steps up and delivers something, at the very least, worthy of endless hours of conversation.
His 2009 film Antichrist is the study of many things: misogyny + misogyny’s affects on womankind, relationship dynamics, parenthood, as well as so much more thematic material. Containing two of the bravest performances I’ve seen in the past 10 years, both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are captivating. Most of this movie touches on subject matter and themes many will find, in moments, almost reprehensible – from genital mutilation on the part of men and women, to the death of a child while his parents have sex. It isn’t all provocation and in your face, nasty horror, Von Trier touches at the heart of issues in all his films, whether people wish to recognize it or not. No matter what, Antichrist will pull you in, chew you up, then spit you out. Then lap you up and chew some more until all the grizzle of your brain is digested. You may never ever forget these 108 minutes, no matter how hard you scrub that grey matter.
If you weren’t sufficiently disturbed and left sleepless by Lars Von Trier, I present to you the final offering of my list: Fabrice Du Welz’s 2004 psychological horror-thriller, Calvaire.
The movie follows a struggling entertainer, a singer named Marc, whose latest and slightly sad tour takes him out into the backwoods of Belgium. When he breaks down, Marc comes across an inn through the woods, owned and operated by a Mr. Bartel, the seemingly friendly and welcoming host. After the first night, though, Marc discovers Bartel is not as friendly as once it seemed – the man first stalls on fixing Marc’s vehicle like he promised, then when he tears the battery out and other parts, it’s very clear Bartel is up to something more sinister. Trapped at the inn, Marc’s journey falls quickly into a darkness he could never have anticipated, not in a million years, and the stay at Bartel’s inn transforms into a fight for survival.
This is another one I purchased blind on DVD, not knowing anything more than the description and reading a couple reviews online, as well as based on the neat cover art. When I first saw this, I was completely floored and still, even when I’m in the right mood, Calvaire is full of uneasy moments. There’s a slow burn quality to this one and things don’t jump right out, often the pace is snail-like, yet if you can make it through and continue to watch up to the end of the finale. you’ll be well rewarded in terms of disturbed emotions. And after all, that’s why you came to this list, right? Welz’s shocking psycho-horror is full of chills, thrills, and unwanted uncomfortableness. Watch, but only if you dare.
Here ends another list for the Halloween season! I hope those of you who’ve come to find something fittingly full of shocks and super nasty will walk away satisfied. I’m sure many horror hounds have at least heard of all these, most likely they’ve also seen them, too. If you’ve got any of your own suggestions, at 4,100 films watched it may have been something I’ve already seen – regardless, I want to know what everyone else finds disturbing and what you’re watching to get the creepy October-Halloween vibe happening. Let me know in the comments what you think of the list, or if you have suggestions for other nasties I should include in my own viewing list this season.
David Slade's HARD CANDY is a tough walk over a thin line of morality
Ich seh, Ich seh (English title: Goodnight Mommy). 2015. Written & Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz.
Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, and Lukas Schwarz. Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH. Rated R. 99 minutes.
This is a film I’ve anticipated ever since first hearing the premise. Almost had sort of a fairytale-like feel to it. Finally getting a lucky chance, I was able to experience this dark and dreamy feature film. Goodnight Mommy, a superb Austrian film, indeed has atmosphere like that of a fairytale story. Within a horror there is a deep family drama – two boys against their mother, or whoever might have taken her place. Surprising me at nearly every turn, Goodnight Mommy has the ability to shock, but the script is wonderfully complex and the characters just as strong.
While I say that it can shock, I don’t mean that it’s an “arthouse shocker” as it is described on the poster. I think that’s a bit of a misleading label. There’s nothing arthouse about this one. That being said, there are plenty of surrealist moments present throughout, as well as a ton of horror imagery. But I think by calling it arthouse that not only misleads audiences, it also misrepresents this film overall. There is both psychology and horror at play in Goodnight Mommy, and it just so happens there is plenty of atmosphere and style in heaping portions, which helps everything else along quite nicely.
The movie starts as two twins, Elias and Lukas (played by twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz), are about to see their mother home for the first time since her cosmetic surgery. Out from the darkness of her room comes their mother (Susanne Wuest) bandaged beyond recognition, bits of her swollen face showing puffy through the wraps here and there. However, she doesn’t seem to them to be the same mother she always was, and there is something very much Other about whoever this woman might be.
As we twist and turn through the dreamy world of directors/writers Severian Fiala and Veronika Franz, the twin brothers plunge into a world this mother – or Other – and the darkness surrounds them all, leading to a shocking and most horrifying conclusion.
The two male siblings are like inseparable twins out of folklore tales. Introduced into their world is a mother whose face is unrecognizable – at least in the beginning – which begins the film’s exploration of identity, attachment, trust, and truth. Right away the family plays a game – everyone takes turns putting a sticky note on their forehead & trying to guess who they are – which automatically seems to set the two boys in stark opposition with their mother. As if she isn’t even their mother at all, but an impostor. I thought the scene was surprisingly tense for such an early juncture.
There’s an excellent tone from the start, as we’re thrown into a family dynamic which was obviously a little flawed to begin with. However, even before the boys somewhat confirm any supspicions there’s a feeling that something is out of place. Everything feels a bit strange. Helps cultivate a nice mood of dread.
I love when a film can throw me off and subvert my expectations. Around every corner of each frame, it feels as if there lurks the unimaginable. We move along in a feverish dream state, just as the boys seem to; caught between sleep and reality. The boys, outside and free, feel in the land of the living. Their mother looks to be stuck in a nightmare, locked in her room and gazing at her new self in the mirror.
The juxtaposition of the darkness versus the light in Goodnight Mommy is astounding and works perfectly. In the world of those shadows, the boys’ bandaged and Other-ish mother is Queen. Outside in the fresh air and the light, the boys are happy and safe. Inside with their mother and the darkness, the air is threatening.
“Show us your birthmark”
Then comes a beautifully twisted scene in the form of an actual dream. Highly creepy. It involves the mother in the woods; don’t want to say much more, you must see it for yourself. There are several macabre and wonderful dream sequences, spooky bits. What I enjoy so much is that at times it’s tough to initially distinguish between the genuine dreams and the dream-like atmosphere of the film’s reality.
To say any more about the film’s plot would be to do it/anyone reading a disservice. I’d not expected all that came out of Goodnight Mommy, when so much intense and wild stuff did I found not knowing much of anything heading in made the experience much richer. There’s a lot happening here and it isn’t simply a bit of shocking horror, there’s real substance. Above all else, Goodnight Mommy has the earmarks of pure existential horror. What starts as a worry their mother has changed because of her cosmetic surgery becomes, for her sons, an existentialist struggle when they feel under threat.
“Where is our mother?”
The final 30 minutes are certainly disturbing, intense, and downright horrific at times. From a dream-like state we are brought abruptly, raw into a bright and realistic world now where the boys are King, instead of the shadows where they near cowered earlier. I thought that’s one of the biggest strengths of the film. It reminds a bit of Proxy, which in turn reminded me of Psycho, in terms of how the story’s structure and focus almost seems to realign itself over the course of the film. With Goodnight Mommy, we start in one perspective, but by the last half hour we’re ready to switch over to the other side. By the film’s finish, this is a truly effective method which the directors used and I think it ultimately paid off.
Some might believe the end twist is foreseeable. Honestly, I never once saw it coming. Masterful storytelling. While it’s a similar ending to other films we’ve seen, the end is justified by its means. You watch and get sucked into everything that’s going on, then the climax crashes down on top of you. The journey is what it’s all about – the end simply hammers home the psychological reality of all the horror happening surrounding the boys and their mother.
Acting is fantastic, from the boys, as well as the mother.
Especially in the first half of the movie, I thought both Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz did a wonderful job as the confused and fearful twins. They really did great work here, as you can feel the bond between them while also seeing how lost in a confused haze they’re becoming, not sure if their mother came home or if this person really is some Other. This is the only film these two kids have ever done, as far as I know, so that’s something else pretty amazing. I’ve seen reviews say their performances were flat, however, I don’t see it that way. Certainly once the ending hits you, the retrospective look at their characters provides enough to understand why the boys are the way they are. So give it time, they’ll grow on you and get you by the finale.
Even more so, Susanne Wuest is absolutely unbelievable in Goodnight Mommy. Her role, as well as those of the boys, twists and turns. At times, mostly at first, you’re never sure where her character will go. By the middle and a little further, you’re pretty sure; even if you’re not, the results are terrifying. She did a lot of excellent stuff while her face was bandaged, but definitely once they’re off she pulls out an emotional, intense performance to match the plot’s own intensity tenfold.
Hands down, a 5 star drama-horror with some surreal elements.
I’d waited so long to finally see this and it was well worth the wait. Cannot wait until this gets a wider release, as well as a nice Blu ray. I’ll be snatching that up as quick as humanly possible. When I get the chance to see this again, it would be great to examine it more at length, see it a couple times. It’s that great a film. Again, some say the ending is like “all the others”, and in a way it is, but the entire thing is so refreshingly inventive and interesting that it makes the entire journey worth it. An incredible ride, all on “glorious 35mm” as it says in the end of the credits. See this once you can and enjoy every last mortifying second.
Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.
To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.
Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost Children, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to Noah, X-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
This leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.
This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence. 2009. Directed and Written by Tom Six.
Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein, and Bernd Kostrau. Six Entertainment.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
To start, I’m a huge horror fan. Maybe a horror buff, if that’s your bag. I don’t know. I just love the genre, and many of its own sub-genres, as well. I’m no stranger to the really gory stuff, whether it be a slasher movie or something else. Most of my favourite horror happens to be the classic stuff – Don’t Look Now, Psycho, and A Bay of Blood. Those are just a few of my top favourite, there are plenty others aside.
So when I first heard about The Human Centipede: First Sequence, I thought it was a disturbing premise from the sounds of the brief synopsis available. Then once the first trailer came out, I knew it was something I’d at least have to see simply for the sake of being a horror completist. I’m not a fan of gratuitously gory horror when it only happens just to have blood and guts in a movie. Though, I do like a good gorefest if there’s some reason and logic behind things.
With The Human Centipede: First Sequence, there isn’t even much gore at all. A bit of blood, nothing serious. So I can’t even try to act like this movie is a big ton of gore thrown in our faces just to have a bit of fun. I genuinely believe writer/director Tom Six does something different and fun (in horror terms – this is by no means a fun watch), especially when you consider how much generic junk horror is flooding the market these days. It’s not like Six’s script is turning the horror genre over on its head. But I don’t think that this film necessarily needs to be lumped in as a bit of “torture porn” (a term I fucking hate and think is stupid) or shock horror. It’s more than that. The shock is there, however, Six allows our own mind to work most of the disgusting and disturbing tricks out. Instead of going all out, Six gives us enough nasty visuals (and they are there – not trying to say they aren’t!) to really work up our inner gross-out, but doesn’t go beyond what some other horrors do simply for a shock effect. Most people can’t get past their own disgust with the idea of the Human Centipede as a concept itself to even treat the rest of the film as a decent horror, in my opinion.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence begins with two American friends, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who are traveling in Germany. They head out in a car and get stranded along a stretch of road. Walking to try and find help, they stumble across a quaint little house in the country. There, they meet Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), former Nazi doctor, who graciously accepts them into his home. The doctor claims to have called a car service, saying they will be there within a half an hour. Soon the girls drop unconscious from the drugs Heiter spiked their drinks with, and he injects them with more from a needle.
When Lindsay and Jenny wake up, they are on medical gurneys and cuffed, unable to move. Another man is present, a truck driver, but Heiter kills him because he’s “not a match“. The doctor finds a new victim, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). Eventually, he tells the three captives he plans on making them into a Human Centipede: he will connect them surgically mouth to anus.
After this, the horrific events which follow scar everyone, very literally, as well as psychologically, and nobody walks away unscathed.
While Six doesn’t do anything super innovative during the setup to all the chaos and mayhem which follows, at the same time he does not seem to fall into anything too derivative. The initial situation is one we’ve seen so many times before: young people have car trouble, get stranded, get abducted and swept off to a house of horrors. Here, the girls wander out from the road to a nearby house after car troubles; there, they meet Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Nothing unfamiliar really. But it’s when the actual plot kicks in that Six avoids being like everything else.
Most of the deterrents concerning The Human Centipede series as a whole is the fundamental and inherent repugnancy of the whole gimmick: (most) people just don’t want to see characters with their mouth sewn onto someone else’s asshole. That’s the bottom line. For all the depraved and twisted and horrific film that’s already in existence out there (I love good gory and fucked up horror but as an example of the terrible stuff I’m going to say… August Underground. Hate that stuff!), the idea behind The Human Centipede movies, that basic concept, is too disgusting for even some big horror fanatics. And you can’t say “You’re a pussy” if someone doesn’t want to see something that’s, not surprisingly, absolutely wretched.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence has become one of those films which truly sets the bar on horror. I don’t mean it’s the most disturbing thing out there. Personally, many Takashi Miike films are what disturb me the most (just a couple are Audition, Visitor Q, his segment “Box” from Three Extremes, & his short contribution to Masters of Horror called “Imprint”).
What I mean to say is that Six has given us a film that has somehow almost become mainstream – an idea so strange has attracted even jokes from late night hosts – and yet it divides horror fans. Some might think it’s just shit horror; pardon the pun-iness. However, I feel like it challenges peoples limits. So many horror fans are fine with the random hack n’ slash of Michael and Jason – I’m certainly one. Then on the other hand, they seem to say this stuff is gross, it’s just for shock value. Maybe the other two films in the trilogy are, but I don’t think this one is, at all. I think this is an awesome part of the sub-genre of Nazi horror films. Dr. Josef Heiter (Laser) is a crazed old member of the S.S (not sure if he says that specifically but he did the Heil Hitler enthusiastically back in the latter days of WWII) who experimented on siamese twins, no doubt others – just like dear ole Dr. Josef Mengele. As an extension of that sub-genre, I think it works ridiculously well. I don’t think the script is perfect – I do think the intentions and the horror Six brings are pretty damn good.
Yet for all the fanfare over how visually disturbing the film is or isn’t, I’m on the side that thinks Tom Six actually could’ve been a whole hell of a lot more fierce, honestly. Not saying he’s a slouch; no sir. Six has, with these films, cemented himself as one of the big game names of shock horror. What I’m saying is that, for all the rotten nastiness he gets up to in this movie, I truly believe Six restrained himself. What he does so well is that he uses the idea of the Human Centipede, gives us a few visuals, and lets our mind do most of the work.
Because let’s face it, as far as horror movie gore goes, I don’t think there’s anything ridiculously over-the-top or super disgusting. Honestly. Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen 1,000 horror movies, who knows. Like I said earlier, August Underground, all those (however many there are – 3 maybe?), they are just trash. There’s a premise all right, it’s just trash. Six goes for a bit of a trashy premise, he just doesn’t let the film itself become pure trash.
There are genuine moments of suspense. When Lindsay first escapes, there is a point you wonder how far she’ll get, but soon it becomes clear Dr. Heiter has the place virtually locked down. I truly felt terror for her, especially when Heiter would taunt her: “You will be the middle piece!” Those bits were truly horrific. I always try and put myself in the place of the characters, right in their shoes; works best for horror, in that sense. While watching these characters, Lindsay specifically, I found my own stomach lurching with anxiety over the thought of being sewn mouth to ass, ass to mouth with two other unwilling victims (like anybody would ever be willing to get this as cosmetic surgery). When Dr. Heiter shoots Lindsay with the dart as she tries to drag Jenny away from the house, I felt downright awful for the girls; then he just steps on her face with this look in his eyes, looking over at the Three Dog grave. Chilling.
It’s once Dr. Heiter starts to prepare and then gets the Centipede in motion that terror really set into me, personally. First, we see him marking away in blue felt tip over the skin of his victims, as if he were a plastic surgeon. Of course, then he starts to remove teeth, and things get sloppy.
When he has them in the yard and he’s trying to get them to be able to “walk”, or crawl, I guess… that whole scene is absolute torture for me psychologically. It’s darkly comic because Heiter is just SO GOD DAMN INSANE, but at the same time I can’t help watching it and being completely gripped with horror.
Even just little moments, like the brief shots/montage of the victims on a surgical table, Dr. Heiter making various creepy faces, then we cut to him in a nice suit and tie, watching as two men put in a new piece of glass in the window he’d previously broken (while chasing Lindsay down). I just imagine how these men have no idea what this crazy fuck has been up to/is still up to, and they’re going about their day, replacing windows, la-tee-dah. Creepshow. Then he surveys his new Centipede as they come to briefly, drugged up and dozy. It is just spectacularly wretched.
I think that’s one of my favourite moments of the whole film – as Dr. Heiter gets the Centipede to “stand up”, it is scary. I mean, it’s really creepy. The way he yells “I DID IT!“, fists clenched in front of him. Then he parades the mirror in front of them, each of the three victims weeping while Dr. Heiter weeps with them; except he does so in joy. God damn. A full-on horrorshow.
Most of what’s wrong about The Human Centipede: First Sequence does have to do with Six’s script. It isn’t a terrible piece of writing, not by a long shot. Certainly not when you look at how many small, independent horror films are out there which truly have terribly written scripts. All the same, there are a few moments in the film where I can’t deny the writing is a bit poor, or more so that it’s not thought out properly.
One example being the part where the two detectives, Kranz (Andreas Leupold) and Voller (Peter Blankenstein), show up at Dr. Heiter’s place. Now, I understand Heiter was able to deflect their sudden questions when he drops the dish towel and it has a syringe inside. I just don’t think it was sensible. I mean, the police were already suspicious obviously, they were at his house. Why would he be creeping around with a dish towel hiding his syringe? If he were diabetic, he’d have no problem whipping out the insulin and shooting up; most diabetics don’t take issue with that, especially if they’re in their own home. I feel like Six grasped at straws here and it was just a cop-out. He could’ve found a better way to go about that piece of the plot, and he went the lazy route. That was one moment I felt came off badly and it affected the rest of the plot. They do show up again, the detectives, I just don’t believe any detective in their right mind would have left that place considering the situation. Alas, such is the case. Doesn’t blow the movie, but it doesn’t help an already mediocre script.
I think that I can easily say The Human Centipede: First Sequence is actually a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film.
Plenty will disagree and try to pass it off as “torture porn”, shock horror, whatever. But it is not just a film relegated to the realm of gore for the sake of shock value, or anything near that. Because while there is definitely a good deal of gross imagery, a bit of blood, there are so many other, lesser horrors out there which go far beyond what Tom Six did here in terms of visuals. He could’ve easily made this into a Dead Alive-level gorefest, but instead there is at least some restraint on his part; not in premise, in execution.
What impresses me most is the horror itself, the blood and the effects. The Human Centipede itself is a good show of make-up effects. The close-up shots (like the one above) on the three links of the Centipede are something else; really disturbing and gruesome. Yet, as I said, there’s nothing that goes far beyond what other horrors are doing. It’s merely the fact of the premise: people are totally repulsed by it.
Give it a go if you haven’t, and maybe you’ll see it how I do, or maybe you will be far too disgusted by it to even care about having an opinion. Either way, I think Six hits the mark. Though I’m not a fan of the sequel, I’m watching these all back-to-back right now, and I’ve yet to see the third – so, onward and upward!
P.S the last shots of this movie are beyond terrifying to me and they really put the nail in the coffin; great disturbing stuff.
Les Salauds (English title: Bastards). 2013. Dir. Claire Denis. Screenplay by Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. Wild Bunch.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Marco (Lindon) is a sailor. A well-known one at that. He’s long cut off any ties with his family. After his brother-in-law commits suicide, Marco’s sister asks him to come help take care of the man who is responsible- a man named Edouard Laporte (who looks creepily like the last pope, the scary German one). So Marco gets an apartment in the city to start investigating things himself. Soon, he begins having a sexual relationship with Laporte’s wife (Mastroianni). Not long after this the real doozy events start piling up.
First is the shocking revelation Marco discovers from his niece’s doctor: her vagina is so badly damaged they need to do reconstructive surgery on it in the near future to have any chance at repairing it. I hesitate to say anything further. Shortly after, Marco thinks he has the truth. Unfortunately for him, and his niece, things are not at all what they seem. For those who’ve experienced the work of Claire Denis before now, Bastards pretty much sits right on par with her most disturbing, unnerving work. Though Trouble Every Day is my favourite film of hers personally, this one comes into the top few numbers.
Denis focuses many of her films around violence, however, it’s not often she indulges the imagery in full force. Much of the imagery she chooses to use, while disturbing, is usually subtle, subdued. Denis understands the less is sometimes more. Certainly, when dealing with rape, and particularly here in Bastards a really vile sort (if you can imagine categorizing such a thing by its level of heinousness), it’s easier to let the audience conjure up their own, often more personal, images of these things. That eats at the core of an audience more than anything, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Denis does this in Bastards.
In particular, one specific image dominates the entire film. It happens just before the 45-minute mark, as Marco is shown around what looks to be an apparent backwoods porn studio of sorts, which caters to people who like to ‘do their own thing’. First, we’re treated to some horribly candid shots – cumshots. Denis lingers on Marco as he eyes the filth in thie place. Then, on the floor, Marco sees something. Something which I, on the first viewing, had to rewind just to see. I couldn’t believe it. I knew, knowing Denis and her work, this would probably end up being disturbing, or shocking in some sort of way. But I was definitely surprised, and sufficiently disturbed, once I saw what Marco saw himself. I won’t reveal it – let’s just say, he leaves with more knowledge and more anger than when he’d walked in there. Also, it calls to mind the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
There’s another moment when Marco’s niece runs away from the hospital that really gets me. It isn’t graphic so much as it’s there, present, in your face, while Denis shows it to us in shadowy darkness, as if to say “imagine what else you can’t see right now”. We get glimpses of the niece and her vicious injuries, but only in tiny snapshots, barely enough to really register. Maybe that’s a good thing. The story is not for everyone. It’s not graphic visually, but once you put the pieces together behind the plot you really bite your fist a bit. And not in a good way. It will make you cringe. I feel I’m desensitized, mainly that’s as far as horror imagery goes. When it comes to subject matter there are still things which really bother me. For instance, rape, and even worse the rape of a minor. There are tough bits in here. Then of course the finale really blows your top off. And not in a good way.
The final shot is beautiful, dark, disturbing, and Denis sets it to a Tindersticks cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Put Your Love In Me” – this will haunt me to the end of my days. The song itself is haunting, but coupled with the images Denis shows while it plays, just long enough before the credits eventually cut in to roll, this is absolutely crushing. It is amazing. Yet a terribly powerful moment that really had an effect on me. The way it’s shot, the music, what’s actually happening in the scene – remarkable. Possibly my favourite part, although highly unsettling, in the entire film. Denis is a master of her craft.
If you’re not into disturbing subject matter, if you can’t enjoy a plot laden with both sex and some graphic themes centered on sexual violence, then I suggest you take a pass on Denis’ Bastards. This is a challenging film. There are even bits you might feel a little conflicted towards. Marco’s relationship with Laporte’s wife gets into some very deep and murky territory at points. The ending of the film got to me, I must say. For me, the film was wonderful.
I dig the way Denis approaches tough subject matter. I also admire her talent as a director. There are very beautiful shots here amongst all of the misery in Bastards. It isn’t all a pit of despair. Not only that, but Denis always manages to find a good performance. From the likes of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo to her regular work with Alex Descas (here as the doctor to Marco’s niece), there is always great work in her films. Here, Vincent Lindon really does a phenomenal job as the male lead. He is a bit mysterious, even dangerous. He’s got a bit of dirty side to him. Nowhere near as dirty as the people he investigates during his own little trip into the underworld, in search of whoever it was that hurt his niece. His performance really carries a film that could easily be dragged down by its intense and disturbing subject matter.
All in all I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a fantastic, yet grim, work by Claire Denis. She continues to make challenging films. Most of her work is not easy, and maybe not totally accessible. But when you sit through one of them and really absorb things, they get under your skin. Denis has caused many nights of wondering for me, particularly with her film
Trouble Every Day, as I mentioned earlier being my favourite work of hers. Bastards is almost neck and neck with that one. Hard to choose between. Very different, but also both very amazing pieces of work. The only reason I don’t give Bastards a full 5 star rating is because I wish there was a little more SOMETHING to it. I’m not sure what that something is, but I just know there’s a tiny little bit of something, whatever it may be, missing from this film. Not that it detracts from the rest of it. I was just left wanting more at the end. Not in a way that excited me, but a small disappointment, as if I’d been waiting for one other thing to leap out at me. Regardless of that, I think Bastards is well worth watching. Not only is it challenging, it’s just a well-written and well-acted film. Denis’ films are all visually interesting, no matter what their subject. This is no exception to that rule. If you’re ready for something fairly dark and stormy some night, pick up a copy of Bastards, and you won’t regret it even if the story is tough to chew at times.
But one thing’s for certain – don’t count on the ending to cheer you up and band-aid those emotional cuts and bruises. It’ll only beat you up some more.
A modern, dark rumination on fame.
You will never be the same again once you've seen A SERBIAN FILM.