Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Film Review: Where the Dead Go to Die [2012]

Where the Dead Go to Die (2012) is a 3D animation film created by Jimmy “Screamerclauz” Kremner.
This film is not for everyone.
It is probably not for you.
It is probably the most alienating film ever made.
A surreal psychotic case-study in psychological disturbance and cognitive dissonance.
But at times, it is beautiful.
I think I’ve watched it around twelve times.
I have never personally been offended or alienated by this film.
I also can’t say that I enjoy watching this film.
I watch it again and again because it is fascinating and there is no other film quite like it.
I know that I have a higher tolerance for disturbing content than other film viewers.
I often seek out films that test my tolerance for disturbing content.
Every now and then I look up lists of offensive, disturbing, and controversial films and more often than not these lists only serve as a review of films that I’ve already seen.
Where the Dead Go to Die is oddly more disturbing, but less offensive than most disturbing films.
I think that the reason that it is more disturbing, but less offensive than most disturbing films is that the film explores content that is usually left unexplored by mainstream films but less exploitatively.
When mainstream films, and exploitation films use plot devices such as incest, child pornography, rape, and murder, the use of these themes seem exploitative.
Hot-button themes that are intended by the film-makers to evoke a visceral reaction by the audience.
For example, the implied rape scene in Leaving Las Vegas (1995), the homosexual clown-rape scene in Vulgar (2000), the explicit rape scene in Irreversible (2002), the “woman in peril” scene from any mainstream horror film, the rape scene in any rape-revenge film, and, in particular, the scene in Murder Set Pieces (2004) where the killer puts a straight-razor against the face of a young girl, all used the inclusion of the event for shock value to accentuate the dramatic events of the film.
To me, this has always felt exploitative and gratuitous and a betrayal of the trust bestowed upon the film-maker by the audience.   The director seems to be saying, “Yes, I know that anal-rape is uncomfortable to watch, and I am going to use anal-rape as a device in my film to make the audience uncomfortable.”
It is not their decision to use the theme of anal-rape in their film that makes me uncomfortable, as a somewhat sophisticated film-viewer I know that a film is a representation of actors performing in a scene and that a film is a form of media intended to convey a message and as such I am not offended.
I don’t find it enjoyable either, but I understand the use of the theme as a device.
For the same reason I am irritated when a gratuitous sex scene is used to stimulate or distract an audience in lieu of moving the story forward in a mainstream film.  The production company casts two attractive actors as the romantic leads in their film so it seems to stand as a tradition and a foregone conclusion that at some point in the film the characters are going to have sex, or at least pretend to have sex, or kiss and take their clothes off in a montage where the act of sex is implied.
Maybe when I was young and sex was an unexplored territory I would have found those scenes interesting.   I remember re-watching the scene in The Fly (1986) when Jeff Goldblum’s character takes home the woman from the bar where he breaks the man’s arm in an arm-wrestling contest and finding that scene quite interesting.
As an adult, if I want to see people having sex, I watch pornography, and I would feel just as alienated if in the middle of a pornographic film there was spontaneously a scene where the two leads put all of their clothes on and perpetrated a jewel heist or a bank robbery followed by a car chase.
It’s not necessary to the plot, and confounds the purpose of the film.
The interesting thing about Where the Dead Go to Die is that it integrates almost every conceivable offensive/disturbing theme imaginable and some you never imagined even in your most awful nightmares.
There is bestiality, incest, child pornography, necrophilia, deformity, prostitution, blasphemy, parricide.
But, in a strange way, none of the preceding themes seems to be used for exploitative purposes.
None if it seems used to intentionally shock or alienate the audience.
Instead, knowing that all of these themes will be explored, these themes become a background against which a compelling story is revealed if you have the psychological endurance and intestinal fortitude.
So although it is true that this is a film about bestiality, incest, child pornography, necrophilia, deformity, prostitution, blasphemy, and parricide, often combining several of these themes at the same time, it is also a film about the complicated relationship between parents and their children and the damage done to a child in a dysfunctional home environment, the irrevocable changes that occur to a child used in sexual exploitation via child pornography, and the permeability of the concept of reality exhibited by children through the use of imagination and “magical reality”.
The entire film seems to occur in a magical reality where dogs talk, and at any moment any character can fall into a nightmarish imaginative reality which is worse than any magical reality you have ever been exposed to through any artistic media.
Why this other reality is so awful is difficult to explain.
Imagine the worst cenobite you can imagine.   The cenobites being the trans-dimensional ambassadors from hell who are the “monsters” from the Hellraiser series inspired by the novel The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker.   Imagine a cenobite whose skin has been flayed, the flaying having been done by rabid dogs with jagged shards of broken mirror for teeth, the teeth in their mouths having been smashed out with a blood-spattered ball-peen hammer, and then the being within turned inside out, hand-painted in interesting patterns using a thick-layer of afterbirth and vomit and human excrement and severed genitals writhing with maggots to apply the excrement paint, then sewn back together using whatever gangrenous pustulous body parts were available, with rusted barbed-wire, using leather made from the flesh of aborted fetuses as its new skin that has been tattooed using ink created from the ash of virgins burned alive depicting every nightmare imaginable.
I’m not doing this right.
My example is exemplary of the kind of excess used to shock.
The creatures in Where the Dead Go to Die are not as contrived, but somehow worse.
Shadowy creatures with writhing skin and unimaginable appendages some of them surgically improvised or naturally misformed that make the creatures in any other horror film seem rational by comparison.
The problem with trying to explain what is so unsettling about the visual experience of Where the Dead Go to Die is that there really is no comparing it to anything else.
The cognitive dissonance of films by Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg come to mind, but it’s not the same thing.
The hellish improvisational construction of the cenobites from Hellraiser (1987), the mutant beings of Nightbreed (1990), or the actual physical oddities in the cast of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) aren’t really a suitable comparison.
The nightmarish paintings of Francis Bacon or Hieronymus Bosch are soothing by comparison.
Imagine all of the preceding but experienced through a fever dream where everything is familiar but strange, a world where there is and is not a God and where everything loves you and hates you, and has your best and worst interest in mind, a world where everything is possible and everything is beautiful and awful at the same time and every dream is a nightmare.
I’m not doing this right.
The reason that it’s so difficult is because there’s nothing else like it, and that alone is a reason that this film is worth seeing.
But is it good?
Yes and no.
It is flawed.
The animation is really hit or miss.
Sometimes it’s beautifully done and sometimes the animation style is somewhat reminiscent of the graphics for early Playstation video games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.
The shading for the characters is sometimes masterfully executed and sometimes inconsistent and the characters sometimes seem to float in their environments, tenuously or altogether disconnected from their surroundings or the items they are interacting with or other characters.
The voice acting and sound design is competently done for the most part although the few false notes are somewhat glaring in comparison to the relative suitability of most of the voices and sound design.
But please keep in mind that this is a feature-length 3D animated film created by one person with the help of a few voice actors with relatively no budget.
If the quality of the animation is really your primary concern, then please, by all means, give this film-maker a million dollars and a staff of assistant animators and let’s see what he’s really capable of.
Will you like this film?
Probably not.   You’ll probably hate it.   You’ll probably be quite offended and may even experience some permanent damage to your psyche and jeopardize your mental health.
Should you watch this film?
Everyone should watch this film at least once so that they can say that they did and know that as terrible a cinematic experience as they may experience for the rest of their lives they have already endured the worst of what there is to experience and everything else can be handled with relative ease.

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