Wednesday, November 07, 2007

To See, or Not to See; That is the Question:
Captivity
(Part Three & Final)


What you see, what you don't see: Daniel Gillies, Elisha Cuthbert, Captivity (2007)

So, what about the movie?

Having now enjoyed the unrated DVD release of Captivity, and its extras, I can offer the following review without spoilers, for those of you who haven't yet seen the film:

As implied in yesterday's post, the plot is simplicity itself: successful but isolated, lonely model Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is drugged in a nightclub and abducted. She wakes up in a cell, captive of a cowled, enigmatic, cruel male 'warden' silently demanding submission. Any attempt to resist or lash out is met with Jennifer rendered unconscious and waking up in a different cell, strapped to a chair and subjected to videos of the death of previous victims and the threat of a similar fate. In an adjoining cell, a young man named Gary (Daniel Gillies) is also held prisoner. Establishing contact, they keep their sanity and plot their escape.

Elisha Cuthbert as Jennifer Tree, Captivity

That's it, really -- to say more would give away critical story details of Larry Cohen and Joseph Tura's script. In its current unrated edit, it's a 21st Century spin on The Collector, The Defilers and early pinku eiga: nothing more, nothing less.
It's typical of the ongoing serial killer genre, too, in literature, cinema and television. In mainstream terms, it's essentially Kiss the Girls sans the police procedural (the only two cops who appear aren't onscreen long) and predominantly told from Jennifer's point of view, save for the privileged omniscient narrative information the viewer is given from time to time to tell the whole story -- but everything keeps us in Jennifer's experience, stem to stern.

One can see where new material was grafted onto the film director Roland Joffe originally shot (at Mosfilm Studios in Moscow, Russia) and completed, which was definitely a psychological suspense film rather than a horror movie.

Deleted scenes include the original script's elaboration of the perverse specificity of Jennifer's captor's emotional assault: broadcast footage of a televised interview with Jennifer provides the necessary sound bytes, as Jennifer is subjected to darkness, a vulture (!), etc. based on the phobias mentioned in her TV interview. It would appear that physical torture was not part of the original film.

That might have been sufficient in the draft of Cohen's script prior to 9/11, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib (the new American reality) and The Passion (of the Christ), Saw, Hostel, et al, but at some point, Jennifer's ordeal was judged not grueling enough.

Welcome to 2007.

Given the eleventh-hour context of the additional material -- as seen in the "On the Set" DVD bonus material, the new material was shot in February 2007, mere weeks before the originally promoted April 2007 opening! That's pretty fucking eleventh hour, and Roland Joffe was still firmly at the helm -- I would surmise (all a guess, mind you) that After Dark Films and/or Lionsgate decided the film needed a stronger edge, a higher gore quotient, pushing Captivity into clear horror turf while capitalizing on the 2005-2006 success of Hostel and the Saw franchise.

This would make sense of the original Los Angeles campaign, in which the third of the four panels -- "torture" -- is the only horror image, really. Indeed, it's easy to see how the overtly horrific elements (the videos of the fate of previous victims, the force-feeding of blendered 'soup,' everything that takes place in the wire-mesh cell) were added, along with the new framing material.

Shorn of this footage, Captivity works fine, and it's all there.

In terms of both the story told in the new context of America 2007 and the marketplace After Dark Films and Lionsgate work within (and have cultivated with previous films), I can see why the decision was made to make Jennifer's ordeal harsher, her plight more terrible.

Like I said, welcome to 2007. Even outside of the context of genre, the original version of Captivity must have seemed to tame to preview audiences -- after all, the agonies of the imprisoned heroine of V for Vendetta was much more harrowing, the incidental details of a certain "abduction/imprisonment/torture/termination" narrative point in Sin City far more gruesome.

Mind you, this kind of 'juicing' of what would otherwise be a soft 'R' or hard 'PG-13' feature film, pushing a psychological thriller into graphic horror territory, is hardly new. John Carpenter's original successor to Halloween, The Fog (1980), was originally shot and edited as a non-graphic 'PG' ghost story ('PG-13' didn't exist as yet, that came after the Steven Spielberg triple-whammy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Poltergeist and Gremlins pissed off parents). At the insistence of the producers, Carpenter shot additional gore shots staged with makeup expert Rob Bottin to land The Fog the commercially desirable 'R,' which was considered essential for any horror movie to compete in the early '80s marketplace. Carpenter at least did his cinematic surgery with care; tripe like Urban Legend II and the like also sport additional gore footage added after completion, staged and stitched into place so clumsily that it stands out like a sore thumb.

Captivity's new footage: Strap 'em to the chair!

Captivity's new footage wasn't haphazardly conceived and executed: Joffe is too solid a craftsman, and I wouldn't be surprised if Cohen was involved with the rewrites and scripting of the additional sequences. It wasn't too far a push, either; after all, Daniel Pearl -- the cinematographer who, as a Texan film student, shot Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel's seminal 1974 shocker The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- worked with Joffe on this venture from beginning to end, and escalating Jennifer's plight by adding just one more cell to the subterranean prison of the original edit isn't too great a leap.

The new footage places Captivity firmly in what my son Dan calls "strap 'em to the chair" movies, what Head Trauma director Lance Weiler calls "confined horror" (to describe the type of film low-budget producers began clamoring for three years ago). Yes, it's gratuitous -- Captivity's story works fine without it. The sense of vulnerability and danger is increased, though, and that's central to the effectiveness of any suspense thriller.

But we are at a new cultural crossroads, folks, when the psychological abuse meted out against fictional characters like Jennifer and Gary has to be amplified to at least measure up to our new reality. It's easy to dismiss this as cynical, crass commercial exploitation, but I think something more primal is going on here -- and the producers and creators of horror and exploitation films didn't cultivate this crossroads and harsher environment, either. Not alone, in any case. Far greater cultural forces, realities and powerful individuals put us here -- films like Captivity just make handy scapegoats.

After all, we are still amid a reality and media soup where real-life abduction, interminable imprisonment (read: "detainment"), slow suffocation -- the 'controlled drowning' of waterboarding -- and worse is not only considered tolerable by our President, Vice President, his Administration and a sizable portion of our fellow citizens, but essential and desirable, necessary to our safety and national security.

We are confronted by a national zeitgeist and appetite for inflicting harm unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Daniel Gillies as Gary Dexter, Captivity

No surprise, then, that the taboo-pushing imperative of horror films has had to escalate the depiction of what constitutes psychological and physical agony to new extremes. No surprise, then, that the producers and creators of a modest little thriller like Captivity were moved to escalate the ordeal of their heroine to measure up to the new national zeitgest, the new threshold.

The cruelty of the new footage is harrowing; for most, the force-feeding will push the limit, though dog lovers have a choice moment to push their buttons.

Is this what is necessary in 2007 to place a film's heroine in sufficient danger to engage us? We're a long, long way from the sawmills and train tracks of The Perils of Pauline and Exploits of Elaine, but Captivity has a lot of other things on its mind: the Stockholm Syndrome, the bonding between prisoners, gender roles, survival, betrayal, and so on. It's not just the horror movies of the past six years or our new sociopolitical reality that forces a storyteller's hand in amplifying horrors to make a character's plight appalling enough for us to empathize -- there's also Reality TV, forensic crime programs, round-the-clock access to news, and more I could mention. As innocuous a program as Survivor played a part in Captivity's need to tighten the narrative thumbscrews on Jennifer tighter than Larry Cohen probably felt necessary when he completed his first story draft. The metaphoric tightening of those thumbscrews was a process that continued into February of this year.

Captivity would have faded from view and memory quickly had the controversy not erupted over the advertising campaign and the film's rating. In the wake of The Passion (of the Christ), even with its new footage, Captivity is weak tea; in the context of the Saw and Hostel franchises, it barely passes muster as a horror movie. In the context of our current reality, one can only wonder why anyone wastes their time mounting campaigns against as ephemeral a fictional work as Captivity.

It is, however, an effective suspenser. Though I can't prove it at the time of this writing, I also think the version we now have on DVD was altered further by the gender wars skirmish over the March advertising campaign: a new framing device tips its gender war element into harsher territory (I won't say more, as I'm hoping to get through this without spoilers) and the film as a whole into yet another subgenre.

Note that the atrocities of Tarsem Singh's stylish The Cell (2000) 'outgross' anything in Captivity -- except for maybe that bloody smoothy. Grossest blender drink since The Giant Spider Invasion!

A few parting shots:

* Producer Mark Damon brings his own horror movie career context to Captivity. As an actor back in the '60s, Damon starred in Roger Corman's The House of Usher, Mario Bava's I Tre volti della paura/Black Sabbath, Edward L. Cahn's cheapjack remake of Beauty and the Beast, Antonio Margheriti's giallo Nude... Si Muore/The Young, the Evil & the Savage, and more, including teen/JD pix, pepla, war movies, spaghetti westerns, spy films, etc. As a producer, Damon has been active since 1974, and produced, executive produced and/or co-produced films like (ready?) Das Boot, The NeverEnding Story, Nine 1/2 Weeks, Flight of the Navigator, The Lost Boys, Red Shoe Diaries, Wild Orchid, The Jungle Book, Orgazmo, Eye of the Beholder, FeardotCom, and best of them all Monster (2003).

All in all, Damon has produced almost 50 films, in every genre, good and bad, high and low.

* The professionalism and credentials of its creators, prominent among them Damon, Joffe, Cohen, Pearl and all who collaborated with the, should also lend a context to Captivity beyond the sensationalistic shitstorm over the March ad campaign. The direction and performances in Captivity, particularly from Manitoba actor Daniel Gillies, are solid throughout. This isn't a shoddy film by any definition, and it's obvious Joffe shaped the film with the same intelligence, care and attention to detail he brought to his more prestigious films.

* The tenor of Captivity was definitely changed by the addition of the new footage. That said, a key sequence in the bonding of Jennifer and Gary is quite believable due in part to the harsher ordeal they suffer.

* There is, however, one unforgivably stupid fuckup in the film, and one typical of the 'video footage within the film' conceit Captivity depends upon. Without giving away a story point, suffice to say a bit of what is presented as, and has to be (within the context of the story), 'found' home video footage immediately fumbles the ball by editing its action. The action in the footage is inexplicably presented from more than one vantage point, including fleeting closeups, and edited for impact -- thus betraying the illusory 'reality' of it being a 'home video.' Even the most passive viewer is suddenly prompted to wonder, "Wait a minute, who filmed this?" This further unravels the illusion, as the intimacy of the footage is disrupted. Stupid mistake in an otherwise well-crafted film -- but one I have seen over and over again over the past 30 years, particularly in films like this that have narratives utterly dependent upon the 'found footage' being accepted as 'real.' Dumb, dumb, dumb!


In the end, 'Anonymous' -- the author of the Myrant comment that kicked off this three-part essay -- is absolutely right. Captivity's ad campaign seems pretty innocuous in context of the MPAA-approved advertising that's been plastered all over this land and on newspapers pages for the last six years of horror movies, the Saw, Hostel and Hills Have Eyes franchises primary among them. Captivity's ad campaign is downright toothless in light of the whole of exploitation movie ballyhoo since 1960, most of that MPAA-approved, too.

Nor does the film itself merit the outrage and bile it has fomented, sight unseen: once seen, Captivity deserves neither scorn nor much undue attention. It works well enough for what it is, but the much ado about nothing over the original ballyhoo ensures that Captivity will be screened, discussed and reverberate more than it otherwise would have been.

It all comes down to "To See, or Not to See" -- an individual decision. You decide. The ads and promo art is not deceptive. The ads accurately reflect what the film is, prompting one to fear the worse: a very traditional showman ploy in the genre. "Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Those Who Do?" was the MPAA-approved ballyhoo for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). You don't like the ads? Don't see the movie.

Captivity's campaign is hardly worth the controversy, but there ya go. Is it an ugly billboard? Hell, yes. All billboards are ugly. Los Angeles is ugly, to my eye; I loathe driving around there. It's a horrorshow.

We don't have billboards in Vermont, but, look,
we have roadkill all over Vermont's roads. Chalk it up to roadkill, if you must. Seeing roadkill neither makes me complicit in the deaths, react by running over other animals (are we Pavlovian stooges?), nor desensitizes me to life. A sense of proportion and perspective is essential.

Now -- what I want to know, is what does Joss Whedon think of the movie?

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12 Comments:

Blogger Bridgett said...

And yet, I'd much rather try to explain the dead skunk on the side of the road (which my mother and I have, with varying success) than try to explain that billboard to my daughter. That's my first problem with the billboard. "The MPAA lets other hideous billboards slide" is true, but...you know, sour pumpkins. (You watched "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" too, right? We could be here all day talking about the MPAA!)

My second problem is that-- as you've said in your earlier postings-- we've seen this so many times before. I think that was Joss Whedon's point, actually-- there's a real formula fatigue. "Oh, great, another movie where some chick gets tortured. How original!"

And the third problem is a new problem-- all your fault! Because apparently Captivity is not just 'another movie where some chick gets tortured.' What's apparently interesting and slightly subversive viewing is packaged up as cookie-cutter 'torture porn,' if you'll forgive the expression. The billboard indicates nothing interesting, different or new about this movie-- it's crappy advertising, and crappy advertising that promises a brutal attack on a pretty young girl. It's promoting yet another horror movie, in a way that's lazy and unpleasant. (Compare this to the Black Snake Moan poster, which is tasteless too, but has some great visual homages to blaxsploitation, horror comics, pulp fiction, and probably some other stuff I missed.)

Interesting posts though, and damn that Big Bird Cage poster makes me laugh.

11/07/2007  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks Bridgett, and as ever thanks for reading.

I'm a parent, too. For instance, I was the ONLY parent who told my kids WHAT exactly Pee Wee Herman did back when he was arrested (which was a great relief to them: I mean, the way parents were whispering about it and then NOT saying what happened, they and all their grade school classmates thought Pee Wee was dead -- or worse!).

I explained plenty of unpleasant things to my kids, who are now 21 and 24 (whew, we made it this far), including roadkill, underwear ads, cereal commercials and shock advertising. I'm not championing shock advertising -- though I obviously have a soft spot for it myself (including those Big Bird Cage posters! Explain THAT!) -- but it's part of our culture & clutter. Explaining such an ad includes explaining horror movies are fiction, not real, and the nature of theater, illusion, etc., which is definitely a conversation worth having.

As I said, to me there's something a little ill about a culture that tolerates military recruitment advertising in the current reality, but can't stomach Captivity ads; I mean, one does measurable harm. One is simply offensive to some people. Captivity isn't going to hurt anyone, nor will its schlocky ad campaign.

Joss wasn't just expressing 'consumer fatigue' with a crap promo campaign (at no point have I championed the ads: I agree, it's a lackluster campaign overall, except for that 'buried in sand' poster image, which I do think is effective, graphically and as a lurid ad). He called for punitive measures -- punish the film! Punish the filmmakers! What bullshit.

Agreed, the Captivity campaign was weak: it was decided somewhere along the line the money was with riding the coattails of Saw, Hostel etc. and the die was cast. However, most films are poorly or deceptively promoted (if they're promoted at all), and a lifetime of sorting the wheat from the chaff (and mind you, what's MY wheat might be everyone else's chaff) has been a game well worth playing. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised, but I sampled the film in part thanks to the Larry Cohen connection, as noted.

As I also inferred, I haven't much love for ANY ad campaigns in recent memory. Photoshop and lack of imaginative marketing has been the defining characteristics of the past 20 years of movie campaigns. I love perusing the old pressbooks from the '50s, '60s and '70s -- now, that was showmanship!

Again, glad you read and enjoyed the posts, Bridgett, and thanks for tuning in. Your comments are much appreciated.

11/08/2007  
Blogger Bridgett said...

Explaining such an ad includes explaining horror movies are fiction, not real, and the nature of theater, illusion, etc., which is definitely a conversation worth having.

Oh, definitely. But it's sometimes difficult to feel you have so little control over the conversation-- have you seen the "Onslaught" ad that Dove put out, about the images thrown at young women overall? It's crazy.

I didn't remember Joss saying that-- don't think I actually read the blog entry, just someone else quoting it. But I definitely identify with his frustration, and I think it's probably doubly frustrating to be hailed as a guy who worked very hard to fight the 'girl in peril' meme, and then to see it unchanged (or at least apparently unchanged).

The movie business in particular seems pretty stale, at least in terms of promotion-- they had that great breakthrough with "Blair Witch Project" and then...pretty much the same old same old. I do like the long "I Am Legend" trailer though...have you seen that yet?

11/09/2007  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Note that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT promo (like the premise of the film) was lifted wholesale from the indy THE LAST BROADCAST, which in turn based its innovative web promotion on the documentary PARADISE LOST. So, the "great breakthrough" you cite was stolen from filmmakers less well-funded and more independent than those who made BLAIR. Round and round it goes.

I haven't seen the long I AM LEGEND trailer, but as a lifelong lover of Matheson's marvelous novel, and fan of both previous film versions (neither anywhere near as good as Matheson's book, but still LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE OMEGA MAN have their charms), I'll be there!

Bridgett, here's what Joss wrote:
__________

"To the MPAA,
There's a message I'm supposed to cut and paste but I imagine you've read it. So just let me say that the ad campaign for "Captivity" is not only a literal sign of the collapse of humanity, it's an assault. I've watched plenty of horror - in fact I've made my share. But the advent of torture-porn and the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings has made horror a largely unpalatable genre. This ad campaign is part of something dangerous and repulsive, and that act of aggression has to be answered.

As a believer not only in the First Amendment but of the necessity of horror stories, I've always been against acts of censorship. I distrust anyone who wants to ban something 'for the good of the public'. But this ad is part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have to see it. It's like being mugged (and I have been). These people flouted the basic rules of human decency. God knows the culture led them there, but we have to find our way back and we have to make them know that people will not stand for this. And the only language they speak is money. (A devastating piece in the New Yorker - not gonna do it.) So talk money. Remove the rating, and let them see how far over the edge they really are.

Thanks for reading this, if anyone did.
Sincerely, Joss Whedon.
Creator, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

_______

That's a demand for punishment, Bridgett -- for a shitty ad campaign that, as I noted (and hopefully demonstrated) neither held a candle to others far more disturbing, nor represented the content of the actual film.

"...These people flouted the basic rules of human decency. ...we have to make them know that people will not stand for this..." are strong punitive words, in accord with Walt Kelly's sad testimony to the Kefauver Committee in 1954 about crime and horror comics, in which he castigated the comics, the cartoonists who made them, and said there "wasn't room" for any cartoonist who'd ever drawn horror comics in the Cartoonists Society Kelly and Milton Caniff (whose testimony stands as a far more compelling defense of "the comics in question" and the medium).

Kelly was talking about Jack Davis, Joe Kubert, Graham Ingels, Basil Wolverton, Reed Crandall, Wally Wood, etc. -- the entire EC comics freelancer pool and many, many others, some of the finest cartoonists of their era!

Joss is attacking an ad, but doing so with such venom that he is also attacking and seeking to penalize creators like Larry Cohen and Roland Joffe. He's not as overboard as John Grisham -- who called for legal redress against Oliver Stone for the brilliant NATURAL BORN KILLERS -- but you get my point.

I think Joss is way out of line, and said so without insulting Joss personally (I don't know the man, but I love much of his work): it's his stand I find absurd, glib, misdirected and offensive.

11/11/2007  
Blogger HemlockMan said...

Having read your description of the basic plot, I'd bet that I can deduce the outcome of this film (which I'll never see).

I don't understand the appeal of these so-called horror films that wallow in sadism and gore. Knowing that I'll sound like some old-fashioned prude, I reckon that they're indicative of the inexorable decay of American culture.

11/11/2007  
Blogger SRBissette said...

As noted, though, Bob, CAPTIVITY doesn't wallow in sadism and gore. In fact, the added material amounts to two 'gore' sequences (an acid bath, a staple of horror movies since the late '50s and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and a vile cannibalistic 'milk shake') -- hardly a 'wallow.' Your great 'dino' book is gorier!

The backlash against and acceptance of the caricature of CAPTIVITY from laypersons is one thing, but I'm increasingly astounded by the same reaction coming from folks like yourself who create horror stories, too. Dismissing "...these so-called horror films" that you DON'T see doesn't make you sound like a prude, it's a bit asinine: as I say, deciding NOT to see "these so-called horror film" is one thing. Discussing your decision is valid; it's your decision, after all.

But then characterizing them in any way -- after admitting you haven't seen them! -- is bullshit. I've two other friends (one of whom has drawn panels in his stories that make me flinch!) do this crap, and it drives me up a wall.

As I've argued, "...these so-called horror films..." are serving a function. Good, bad and mediocre, they are still doing what horror in all media does: mirror our reality, explore/exploit the taboo, confront what the culture nurtures but refuses to acknowledge. That is the VALUE of the genre, in some regards. Many, like CAPTIVITY, aren't the gore-buckets they're dismissed as, just as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (the original, 1974 classic) wasn't, either (though mind you, CAPTIVITY isn't in that film's class).

Horror films, literature, art etc. has always "gone further" than the cultural threshold: that's what horror DOES.

The threshold is mighty high (and low) right now, thanks in large part to the influences and realities I've cited on this blog ad infinitum. That the horror film has gone in the direction it has, in light of our post-9/11 collective delusions, insanity and policies, isn't a surprise. It is, in fact, the most rational non-rational (horror is emotion-fueled, and hence irrational by its very nature) consequence thus far -- at a time very little else makes sense in what we've done since 9/11.

11/11/2007  
Blogger Bridgett said...

I'm not sure I Am Legend will be a great or even good movie, but I did enjoy the trailer!

Oh, and -- to clarify -- what I found most "original" about Blair Witch's marketing wasn't so much the whisper "is it real?" campaign as the way they realized how they could use the web in that whisper campaign. Total cliche now but they really put the 'new media' that most of the studios still can't figure out to good and creative use. I still find that well-done and impressive, especially since Prince just put out a ton of C & D orders on ordinary fansites!

11/12/2007  
Blogger Pat Powers said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/21/2008  
Blogger Pat Powers said...

Interesting theory. I think it would help if you would provide more connections in the area of how an awareness of the US government's conduct of torture translates into films like Hostel and Saw. How do the filmmakers go from reading about Abu Ghraib to coming up with something like Hostel?

Some supporting evidence for your theory, though: around World War II comic books REALLY got funky with the bondage and torture imagery. I discovered this when I wrote an article about Wonder Woman's funky
little bondage thang she had back in the 1940s (it was
pretty darned blatant, considering the comics were being marketed to kids at the time.)

Link to article.

I wondered how Wonder Woman got away with all that bondage, which led me to an article on Wonder Woman's Bondage Competitors in which I showed some of the covers of comic books that featured freaky, intense bondage and torture imagery back in the 1940s.

Link to article.

I theorized that the freedom to indulge in such imagery was brought about by the need of the American propaganda machinery to show how evil and bestial the Germans and Japanese were (which was helped considerably by the evil and bestial things they were constantly doing).

But I don't know of any government agency giving comic book publishers the go-ahead on the bondage stuff. It could be that the comics publishers absorbed it by the same kind of cultural osmosis you seem to be talking about. But I'd be a lot more comfortable ascribing it to cultural osmosis if I had a clearer idea of the mechanism.

In other news, my opinion of Joss Wheedon dropped several notches as a result of his involvement in
attempting to censor "Captivity" (which is really what he was up to).

1/21/2008  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks, Pat, and thanks, too, for the great links, which I'll share on the main page of the blog this week.

You misunderstand me: I'm not positing a direct initial cause-and-effect between the military action, Abu Ghraib, etc., but an unconscious effect: that is, via the pop culture, scenarios involving captivity, torture, etc. from all sides of the "equation" -- what is it to be tortured? what is it TO torture? what could possibly motivate one to torture? what are the consequences? etc. -- are initially played out via imaginative fringe media and genres, in this case horror and borderline-horror subgenres.

Chronologically, THE PASSION (OF THE CHRIST) was released almost simultaneously WITH the Abu Ghraib events happening, before it was public -- the rest followed, as much a reaction to the new screen liberties and content (non-religious) of PASSION as the national zeitgeist. Gradually, the give-and-take becomes more overt: the sequels to SAW and HOSTEL were made post-Abu Ghraib scandal, and the 'conversation' with the audience becomes more cause-related and more overtly political: note the 'activist judge' in SAW III, and HOSTEL II's more conscious engagement with gender/money/xenophobia issues, a conversation with the first film, if you will.

I also see clear political content in the depiction of dualistic 'non-choices' in films like SAW and its sequels: the victims are given two awful choices, reflecting the political rhetoric of the post-Clinton years (especially as issues have been persistently framed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Fox News, et al.). This is simplistic, agreed, but it IS such an essential component of SAW from the beginning, it's no accident that this resonates and characterizes the whole series as much (if not more than) the more overtly graphic horror elements.

1/21/2008  
Blogger SRBissette said...

PS: Pat, you wrote:

"...But I'd be a lot more comfortable ascribing it to cultural osmosis if I had a clearer idea of the mechanism."

I believe it's initially Jungian in nature: as a people, we share a vast unconscious pool that all artists dip into. The national zeitgeist post-9/11 was volatile, and that manifests via no definable 'mechanism' -- it is, rather, the ways pop culture reflects and then dialogues with the zeitgeist, particularly in irrational, emotion-driven genres like romance and horror.

Let's shift genres: It's no coincidence a film like ATONEMENT is resonating now, 6 years into the Iraq War, with mass audiences, or that CLOVERFIELD is to America what GOJIRA (1954) was to Japan: monster movie as metaphoric mirror for mass trauma (Gojira=Hiroshima/Nagasaki, CLOVERFIELD=9/11), given shape to shapeless fears.

1/21/2008  
Blogger Pat Powers said...

Thanks for putting the links on the main page, glad you liked them.

You're probably right about the "Passion of the Christ" being the origin of all the graphic torture imagery that led to Saw and Hostel and friends. Filmmakers have been using religious themes to get "juicy" imagery into their films for decades. For example, in Sign of the Cross there wre scenes of bound, naked women being sexually assaulted by gorillas, bound, naked women being attacked by alligators, lesbianism and amazons fighting with midgets, all to show just how depraved those Romans who oppressed the early Christians were. It was very tame and not at all graphic by modern standards, but for 1933 it was something else. Others used the religious cover to good effect as well.

Gibson used pretty much the same schtick in "Passion of the Christ" but I guess people aren't going to give all the torture a pass if it's not connected to religion in their minds. Maybe the guys who did "Hostel" should be thinking about a modern version of Dante.

I agree that the modern use of torture may well be getting explored in these films, but it's interesting that they've caused such an uproar. You know, in many South American countries, where the secret police and often the regular police routinely torture prisoners, for a long time BDSM practices were absolutely forbidden and having the wrong kinds of sex toys could get you locked up in some countries. I wonder if Americans aren't developing the same kind of sensitivity to BDSM as play that the South American countries have had for so long, now that we, too, are officially engaging in the Real Thing as an instrument of governmental policy. Maybe that's why the outcry agaisnt these films has been so loud.

1/22/2008  

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