Friday, October 21, 2016

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #7: Little Deaths

‘Little Deaths’ is a British portmanteau film – though without the usual hokey framing device that ties the stories together – which pertains to explore the relationship between eroticism and horror, sex and death. The clue’s in the title: la petite mort, y’all.

The first story, ‘House and Home’ is directed by Sean Hogan and starts with a snapshot of moneyed middle class couple, Richard (Luke De Lacey) and Victoria (Siubhan Harrison): their marriage seems brittle, Victoria doesn’t like Richard touching her, but they do seem to enjoying discussing, in oblique terms, some nasty bit of business they’ll be indulging in later. Said bit of business is quickly revealed – ‘House and Home’ runs just under 25 minutes, the shortest of the three tales – as the luring of a young homeless woman to their house under the pretext of Christian charity. It’s intimated that they do this kind of thing quite often. This time round, the winsome Sorrow (Holly Lucas) is their victim du jour.

A scene midway through, where their pretence at philanthropy slips and their real motives come to the fore as Sorrow realises that she’s been drugged, is effective enough, but what follows is strictly boilerplate. Yup: there’s kinky basement set-up. Yup: Richard and Victoria have sublimated the sterility of their marriage into the use of sex slaves. Yup: Sorrow proves to be more than they bargained for and graphic horror ensues. As a satire it’s heavy-handed: wow, rich and entitled people shaft poor people – who’d a thunk it? As a horror, its revelation that Sorrow and her fellow homeless are literal demons is reductive and kind of cancels out the social point Hogan was trying to make earlier.

On the plus side, Lucas’s performance is good; and Hogan as writer and director proves that he can keep the narrative tight and uncluttered. Which is more than can be said for Andrew Parkinson’s ‘Mutant Tool’.

I honestly don’t know where to start with ‘Mutant Tool’. It has enough, uh, “ideas” for a full-length feature though one I’m not sure I’d want to sit through. We have a vaguely humanoid figure with a floor-length penis chained up behind a plastic sheet in a dank basement. We have its keeper, a cynical chap known only as “X” (Christopher Fairbank) spewing oodles of exposition about Nazi experiments to his newly employed assistant. We have a practising GP, Dr Reece (Brendan Gregory), who is developing a new drug from the, ah, emissions the aforementioned captive mutant. We have a pimp and small time drug dealer, Frank (Daniel Brocklebank), who sidelines in the non-consensual removal of people’s livers, which he sells to Dr Reece who uses them to feed the mutant. And we have Frank’s girlfriend Jennifer (Jodie Jameson), a former hooker and druggie who is proving useless as a dealer (which is kind of like giving a former dipso a job behind a bar) and considering going back on the game.

Parkinson’s attempt to intersect these various plot strands, play the characters off against each other and pull off a twist ending (albeit one that’s so biologically nonsensical it makes ‘The Human Centipede’ look like a documentary about Lambert Rodgers) clearly required longer than 35 minutes. As well as a serious overhaul of the script, which is full of inconsistencies. For instance, a side effect of the drug is a brief psychic connection with anyone the patient touches in the form of an hallucination about something they did that was violent; so why does Dr Reece administer it to Jennifer since she’ll naturally have physical contact with Frank and immediately hallucinate his murder of someone for their liver?

Moreover, apart from two brief scenes where Jennifer returns to her former line of work, sex is conspicuously absent from ‘Mutant Tool’. It’s almost as if Parkinson was developing ‘Mutant Tool’ as a standalone feature, got an offer of funding as part of the portmanteau and quickly retrofitted the script to include some grunting and nudity.

The third and final story, ‘Bitch’, is written and directed by Simon Rumley. Where Hogan’s career has yet to take off (he’s made two features and two shorts in the last eleven years and has a couple of project in development) and Parkinson’s seems to have stalled (his last feature was ‘Venus Drowning’ in 2005 and he hasn’t directed since ‘Little Deaths’, made five years ago), Rumley seems to be going from strength to strength: seven features, one in post-production, a cluster of upcoming projects, a handful of short films and plenty of acclaim and awards at festivals. It shows: ‘Bitch’ has a specific visual style, some arresting images, and performances that indicate he has a facility with actors. What these talents are harnessed in the service of, however … that’s where it gets tricky.

‘Bitch’ analyses the sexual power games between bored secretary Claire (Kate Braithwaite) and her limp lettuce leaf of a boyfriend Pete (Tom Sawyer). Claire has a phobia of dogs, which she deals with by making Pete wear a dog-mask and sleep in a man-sized doghouse constructed in a spare room. Pete hasn’t enjoyed these shenanigans in a while and takes his revenge by pissing in her underwear drawer, a transgression for which Claire sodomises him with a not-particularly-small strap-on. Claire also enjoys copping off with other blokes, and when this extends to Pete’s best mate Al (Tommy Carey), he decides enough is enough and plans his revenge.

Two problems swiftly unfold. Firstly, Rumley has already introduced a scene in which Pete behaves assertively towards Claire as a result of which – temporarily at least – she desists from openly provoking him; later, he destroys the doghouse and refuses to participate in Claire’s power games, precipitating a short period of relative normalcy in their relationship. In other words, Pete simply telling Claire that enough is enough is a solution in and of itself. Secondly, there’s no doubt that Pete has been complicit – either proactively (he sleeps in the doghouse of his own volition) or by inaction (not telling Al to leave when Claire makes a move on him) – in everything Claire does. Pete’s revenge on Claire is both outwith the defined structure of their existing relationship, and horribly misogynistic in its nature. That Rumley builds up to it in such leering detail makes it worse still.

So: ‘Little Deaths’ – a portmanteau film in which one of the contributions thematically cancels itself out, one can barely be bother to fulfil the remit, and the one with the most talent behind it is the most repulsive. A treatise on sex and death which doesn’t contain a single frame of eroticism.

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