Oct 27, 2010

The Plot: This film may have the shortest plot summary of any movie gracing the pages of Varied Celluloid, so I’ll try and spruce it up as much as I can. A young man and woman, while walking home from their first date, are smashed over the head and abducted by a psychotic surgeon. He chains them up facing one another, sticks a ball gag in their mouth and proceeds to torture and mutilate them. He explains that he gains sexual arousal through the act of watching others fight for their lives and he promises them that if they can help him reach his sexual goal they will both be allowed to leave. The question then becomes will this psycho reach his goal while these two are still alive? Tune in and find out!

The Review
If I am proud of anything that I have done with Varied Celluloid, it is bringing light to some of the darker and obscure “gore films” that are out there. Although I am sure this gives people the idea that I’m probably some goth kid who wears white face paint and dons a pentagram laden black t-shirt at all times, nothing could be further from the truth. I am consistently drawn to the darkest side of the cinematic spectrum out of sheer curiosity. How far can the pendulum truly swing when it comes to cinematic violence? The answer to that questions is: pretty far. When it comes to gore, I am pretty well versed in the field. Well versed enough to know that if mainstream critics are up in arms over any given film, chances are it isn’t that disturbing of content to begin with. It takes a pretty mainstream effort to even make it to the discussion table when it comes to your general movie critics. Grotesque is another slice of Japanese gore that has made a rather infamous name for itself solely for one reason: it was denied classification by the BBFC. When this news broke last year, audiences were generally very split on the issue. From reading the synopsis, you can tell right away that this isn’t a movie that is going to have an incredible amount to offer the viewer in terms of narrative. What I was surprised to see was the lack of a real uproar over this fact. Many of my fellow UK horror fans simply threw their shoulders up and shrugged as if to say “who cares?”. While I won’t argue that Grotesque is a masterful piece of horror or deserving of widespread attention, censorship in all of its forms is something that we as horror fans should always seek to fight. I don’t care how bad a movie may be, every film that doesn’t break a law in being made (legitimate snuff, pedophilia, using un-licensed clips/music) deserves to be seen. So watching Grotesque wasn’t simply an act of boredom by yours truly, it was my own way of fighting the good fight! Well, that’s what I tell myself at least.

Lets not make any bones about this, Grotesque is a Saw clone from jump street. When I saw the first few clips that came out for it, I knew precisely what I was in for. If you have looked at the images above, you probably know precisely what you are in for as well. I can only picture one of two scenarios leading to the creation of this film. Either the director saw the success of the Saw series and thought “Hey! I can make something even MORE extreme than what those little sissy movies are doing! I’ll show them!” or it was more like “Hey! Those Saw movies sure are making money… I think I’ll try and cash in on that!”. Actually, I see the formation of this movie as being a little bit of both situations. From the incredibly polished look of the production, which uses more filters than you can shake a stick at, it really looks to cash in on the look of the “torture porn” movement. The differences between the two styles are drastically different however and this unfortunately prevents Grotesque from ever catching on with a more mainstream audience. For one, there is no story here. The film tries to weave something for us to grasp on to, but it fails under the weight of these massive torture sequences that comprise the entire production. We have two or three sequences where we flash back to our “lovers” as they talk on their first date, but we have no sense of history with these characters nor do they even have a history with one another which makes the devotion that they share all the more difficult to believe in. Ultimately the only real connection that we have with this couple is through their being human and we don’t want to see other human beings tortured in such sadistic ways. That is about it as far as character development tends to go with this one.

Stylistically, I have to say that Grotesque is fairly well made. The filmmaker does his best to emulate the Hollywood look but on a much more restrictive budget and he is actually fairly successful. The filters, despite being overly done and simplistic (the world is painted in blue until our killer is on call, then life seems to take on a light orange hue and the whites become bleached out), they tend to work fairly well. You get the point and they add a touch of style for what is a very straight forward piece of torture cinema. The performances are fairly awkward for the most part. Stiff line deliveries and strange rhythms are dominant throughout, but it is easy to overlook those things when the movie looks as well made as it does. Yet, it simply misses out on that most important of film devices: narrative. For the most part we’re stuck with a little over an hour worth of torture, cliches and puzzling drops in logic. While watching you will cringe when our killer starts up a CD of classical music while he prepares to torture our two leads. Does the irony of such a situation still even work in modern times? To be honest, at this point anyone who listens to classical music alone seems like they’re living up to the stigma of your average serial killer! While mentioning this, I do have to also mention the masturbation sequence that blows my mind. For one, it’s always strange to see a Japanese film that doesn’t add a mosaic tile over the crotch of an actor/actress so I have to assume Grotesque was saved this indignity by having an eye for the foreign market from the very beginning. Secondly, this entire sequence seems rather childish and lacking any real logic to it. I mean honestly, who is going to even be capable of being aroused enough to achieve orgasm when chained to a standing bedpost with a kidnapper claiming that he is going to kill you after he has already stabbed one of you in the stomach with a massive needle. Either our two leads were into some serious S&M fantasies that they never lead onto, or the filmmakers simply didn’t care and wanted to add some more “shocking” content. Including seminal fluids being projected and one of the first “squirting” scenes I think I’ve seen in a horror title!

After all that I have said and ranted on about however, no one comes into Grotesque looking for decent character arches and narrative ideas. You’re in it for the gore, just like everyone else. So how does it live up to expectations? I have to say, that is one area that the film rarely disappoints in. It comes nowhere near to reaching the levels pf psychosis that Psycho: The Snuff Reels or Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh & Blood does, but this one pushes well beyond the limits of what you will ever see in your average Saw movie. As the movie goes along, things simply grow progressively worse. If you have any issues with sexual mutilation, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Nipples are cut, castrations are had and you don’t even want to know what happens to a pair of testicles during this one. I won’t say that these are horrifying images that will haunt me for a life time, but these are definitely some very sick things that go down. There is also a sequence involving a chainsaw that takes some pretty daring risks and manipulates the audience in an interesting way as you never expect thigns to go quite as far as they do. Still, excellent gore does not make a great movie.

The Conclusion
Grotesque essentially lives up to every expectation set up for it. It is a big dumb ripoff of the Saw franchise, only it is done with the ferocity of Japanese underground extreme cinema. I think that for gorehounds, regardless of what I say they are going to check this out, but for the average horror fan you can probably skip out on this one. If you aren’t interested in the visual FX work involved in these gore sequences you may very well walk away bored from this one. I give it a two out of five. With no story, it relies on its gore to carry it through but the problem is there are gorier titles out there to search out.