Thursday, November 03, 2011

Come and Get It

About a half hour into The Pack (2010, directed by Franck Richard), my viewing companion mentioned in passing that she was getting a torture porn vibe from the movie. We were expecting a monster movie of some variety, so this was not a good turn of events. Given our druthers, we prefer monsters to torture. We got monsters eventually, but the torture vibe never quite went away. Maybe it's because of the production design of the movie, which is an Nth generation descendant of the grotty interior of the Sawyer homestead in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, including, as it so happens, sliding metal doors that the main villain makes a point of sliding abruptly closed. You can't miss the reference.

Charlotte, our heroine, makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker, then stops at a sketchy diner in the middle of nowhere where, after an altercation with some bikers, the hitchhiker vanishes. Charlotte, being the good Samaritan she is, pokes into the disappearance a little too closely and for her trouble, is captured by Mrs. Spack, the diner's owner, who sticks her in a cage and begins to force-feed her to fatten her up. She's the human servitor, it seems, for a pack of mutants descended from mine workers who have developed a taste for human flesh. Spack's son, Max, is the hitchhiker. He's the bait, though he's kind of sweet on Charlotte. Fortunately for Charlotte, the mutants eat the other captive first and leave her to live another day, during which, the pervy local constable tracks her down and frees her. Unfortunately, the mutants have a whiff of blood in the Earth, Charlotte, Max, and the biker gang wind up barricaded in a shack at the top of a slag heap while the mutants lay siege.

This is all pretty self-referential. The nods to TCM are most overt, but the situation at the end of the movie is yet another version of Night of the Living Dead, while the investigating lawman is a version of Martin Balsam's character in Psycho (he comes to an equally bad end). The Pack's monsters are depressingly familiar, too. I just saw a version of the exact same monsters in The Burrowers, with whom these monsters share habits and visual appearance. When I reviewed The Burrowers, I mentioned that they were another in a line of unimaginative monsters, and here they are again, only made even more generic. The film's production design is something you've seen before, too, conflating TCM's deranged farmhouse with the post-industrial murk of David Fincher's early films. The movie looks like it's set in a junkyard, in addition to being filmed through a dirty shot glass that still has some cheap whiskey sluicing around the bottom.

I will say that I like Charlotte, played by Émilie Dequenne. As torture porn victims go, she's relatively pro-active. When given chances to escape, she makes the most of them. Spack is a pretty good psycho, too, and Yolande Moreau plays her like a weird, distaff version of Lawrence Tierney. It doesn't hurt that the filmmakers go to pains to make her look a bit like Tierney. Benjamin Biolay's Max is pointlessly ambivalent, and he doesn't actually finish a character arc before the mechanics of the film do him in. Philippe Nahon is about the creepiest friendly lawman I've ever seen, though not so much horror movie creepy as stalker creepy. The "I Fuck on the First Date" t-shirt he wears throughout the movie makes it seem like he's one of the degenerates, even after he's demonstrated that he's not. It's a weird choice of wardrobe. The film puts its characters into scenes that always feel uncomfortable, including some tableaux of supreme nastiness. The force-feeding scenes, for instance, recall some of the more sociopathic exploitation films of the 1970s (the one it reminds me of most is Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, in point of fact), while the shots of Spack carving up human remains with a bandsaw seems harsher than the a more spectacular scene might because of its deadpan banality. The movie has an eye for atrocity as something mundane.

Charlotte may be too resourceful for the good of the movie. The filmmakers do a good job of getting the audience on her side, so when the movie reveals her ultimate fate, there's a certain amount of anger involved--for me, anyway. The final image of her hanging upside down without a leg, like so much meat, reveals that our initial impression of the film was right. It is a torture porn movie that has monsters as a side dish rather than a monster movie with a torture porn appetizer. Either way, it doesn't go down easy.

Current tally: 33 films

First time viewings: 30

Around the web:

Mr. Gable over at Mr. Gable's Reality summarizes his October before going on hiatus.

Bob over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind goes old school in his last horror movie diary of the month.

Ashley over at Pussy Goes Grrr is irked at the slut-shaming inherent in criticizing "sexy" Halloween costumes. As someone who owns a latex catsuit and various corsets, I tend to agree with her.

J. Luis over at W-cinema gives October a parting shot with a look at El Hombre Bestia, Argentina's first horror movie.

As for myself, I still have a few movies to review from October. I wound up at 36 movies total, a hair off my pace last year. I managed to get above 31 first timers for the second year running. I may take it easy next year. Later this week, I'll be diving back into other varieties of cinema. My local art house is running a film noir series called "No Happy Endings" right now, though some of the movies they're showing are films I've already written about at length. I'll be able to make good on my vow to see Nightmare Alley on the big screen, while I'll also have an excuse to write about Raw Deal, Scarlet Street, and Kiss Me Deadly (thereby jump-starting my dormant Robert Aldrich project). There's also new Almodovar and Cronenberg looming on the horizon, as well as movies like Tree of Life that I haven't gotten around to yet. Horror movies may lie fallow for a while, but they're never far from my mind.

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