I was talking to a friend of mine last night about the appeal of gore and violence to the exclusion of all else among some horror fans. Throw enough Christians to the lions and some horror fans are satisfied. I was there once. I was a first class adolescent sadist, and I'll admit that freely, but I grew out of it eventually. These days, I like subtext. I like having at least some kind of reflection of the human condition. Or, failing that, at least, something approaching artfulness (which can't help but reflect the filmmakers' own humanity). It is possible to film gore and violence artfully, or to use it as part of a larger design with a point. It's even possible to deploy it for its own sake and STILL connect it to some basic shared humanity among the audience. Maybe I expect too much, though.
I couldn't help but think about this as I was watching Wilderness (2006, directed by Michael J. Bassett), because its primary appeal to a horror audience is going to come from its gore sequences, but also because this is a movie that understands what I'm talking about when I make more demands of art than just pointing the camera at the bloody thing in motion. There are plenty of gore scenes in this movie and they are brutally executed, if you'll pardon the pun. Seriously, this sucker is red meat city. In spite of this, I don't think this is necessarily a sadistic movie. It doesn't groove on the violence, or, if it does, it doesn't only groove on the violence. It's not meaningless.
The story here is a basic survival narrative. A group of British juvenile delinquents is taken to an island for a kind of Outward Bound experience after one of their fellow inmates is bullied into committing suicide. Character building and teamwork are the watchwords for these kinds of experiences. The kids are accompanied by their bad-ass supervisor. They're supposed to be alone, but they soon discover that there's another group of delinquents undergoing the same punishment/rehabilitation on the island, a group of girls led by their bad-ass supervisor. There's also an unseen maniac with a crossbow and a pack of German shepherds who begins to pick them off one by one. Among the first to exit the stage are the responsible adults, and the film becomes a kind of conflation of Deliverance and The Lord of the Flies, as the more brutal of the kids become just as much of a threat to everyone as the nut with the crossbow.
Obviously, this has a dim view of human nature. None of the kids here is virtuous. This is one of those stories where bad people are put in the crucible to see which way they jump. Some behave better than you would expect, others are worse. This indulges in some unfortunate coding of its characters. The racist is irredeemable. The coward turns out to be working with the bad guy, the slut gets comeuppance for manipulating men. One wishes that the movie would overreach this: find something redeemable in its young skinhead, find some nobility in the slut. But no. It doesn't go there. Sean Pertwee is on the receiving end of this coding, and he gets his usual early death like he's a poor-man's Sean Bean. Alex Reid gets the same as Pertwee's distaff opposite number. This is a genre exercise, after all, and director Michael J. Bassett has a pulp sensibility that uses types rather than characters.
For the most part, this is all about the execution. Bassett stages his mayhem with a clear eye and he deftly edits them so you get a feeling for the reality of the violence to his characters. This isn't a slapstick gore movie, but some of the scenes here have a gallows humor to them. The one that sticks out along these lines is the scene with the bear traps, which had me saying, "Oooh, that's gotta suck." And, ultimately, the movie offers a catharsis. The bad guys get theirs, the "good" guys come out in the end. There's a certain comfort to be had from a movie that imagines the worst and still lets its characters have a chance of survival. I'll take that in change, because too many of these types of movies have the no-exit sensibility of a snuff movie.
Current tally: 23 films
First time viewings: 22
Around the web:
Darius over at Adventures in Nerdliness has Women in Prison Wednesday, featuring the third Female Convict Scorpion movie.
Mr. Gable looks The Devonsville Terror in the eye without blinking.
Lee over at 21 Essays draws a connection between Cocteau and The Golem.
Jenn over at Cavalcade of Perversion is having a good October. Here's her latest film diary.
Finally, a reminder to check in on the links to the Cryptkeepers over at Countdown to Halloween for all sorts of October awesomeness.