Thursday, March 21, 2013

Meltdown 07: Found Footage Rewind (Part V)

Long Pigs (2007) dir. Nathan Hines & Chris Power

Nathan Hines and Chris Power's Long Pigs would probably seem more revelatory in a world that didn't already possess Man Bites Dog (1992). Sub out a murderous thief for a murderous cannibal and the situation prodding forth the narrative in Long Pigs is nearly identical to that of its spiritual predecessor: a documentary film crew chooses as its subject a dangerous criminal and becomes complicit in his crimes while documenting him as he demonstrates his process and extolls the virtues of his own twisted life philosophy. Yet, this substitution of the documentary subject's profession leads Long Pigs down some unique pathways of contemplation concerning (of all things) the morality of our dietary choices. The need for food-- or, more specifically, the desire for tasty food that provides gustatory pleasure in addition to sustenance-- creates in some human beings the mindset that exquisite cuisine is an unalienable right afforded to those who can acquire it. The moral dimension of consuming other living beings merely for the taste that they provide is neglected entirely by the connoisseur mindset. The dictum become "I eat others because I can." This is a position not unfamiliar to the majority of Western citizens who, whether consciously or not, eat cheeseburgers while driving their children to the petting zoo, and who turn a blind eye toward the mechanized horrors of the slaughterhouse they purchase from while being unable to inflict the same damage on a living animal to produce a meal for themselves. For these people, the taste of meat overrides any ethical quandaries that would stand in the way of enjoying it, which allows them to never meaningfully engage with the cognitive dissonance they should be experiencing. But there is also a more advanced specimen of this mindset, the civilized hunter, who is so deeply deluded by his desire for new tastes that he no longer views other creatures as anything but objects, products, and walking foodstuff. 

Long Pigs' cannibal subject, Anthony (Anthony Alviano) has simply taken the unreflective carnivore's consumption practices to the furthest limit they could possibly achieve, tossing off the final shred of human morality in his quest for good eats. In one scene Anthony calmly, almost lovingly field dresses the corpse of one of his human victims, narrating his progress and stressing the importance of tying off the anus in order to prevent contamination of the meat. In a later scene, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" plays over sped up footage of yet another human field dressing. He tells his documentarians, with assumed authority, that "one animal is as good as the next," and that there's no point in considering the morality of what we eat when "even broccoli has feelings." His logic is obviously daft, but what frightens is that though he may be attempting to justify his horrific eating practices to his observers, he needs no such justification for his own conscience. If we independently decide or are culturally indoctrinated to look at animals as nothing more than food, and if we simultaneously recognize that humans are merely animals, what is to prevent one from not assuming that the consumption of other human beings is not also acceptable? Despite this blatant subtext, the film does not at all resemble a smug, satirical tract against the consumption of animals on the grounds of ethics. Though it's an exploration of a character who has chosen to ignore the taboos of society and twist its own assumptions (perhaps accurately) to satisfy his own greed, the film doesn't appear to take a very clear position against anyone other than the exploitative filmmakers, who get what's coming to them. This ambivalence leaves the film unanchored to any solid basis of ethics, but not necessarily to the film's detriment: the character of Anthony remains a personification of the philosophical ills of society that we are all, in fact, complicit in. How can we mount an argument against his practices that is not, at its base, hypocritical? And when his practices include killing and eating a child, it's safe to say that we have a problem. Though the film is disinterested in the formal experimentation and metafictional genre probing of similar Man Bites Dog-influenced mockumentary horror films like J. T. Petty's S&Man (2006) and Scott Glosserman's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), Long Pigs nevertheless makes an intriguing and often disturbing entry into this curious emerging sub-subgenre.

100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (2012) dir. Martin Andersen

Examining their upcoming slate of feature films reveals that The Asylum production studio does not appear poised to revitalize their poor reputation. The company was founded upon the production of an endless stream of what has been dubbed "mockbusters," or films that feature titles and content roughly similar to recent major studio fare, released concurrently if not before the bigger pictures they're aping. Though the studio has branched away from this formula on occasion, it's clear that creativity is not their strong suit. In recent years they've produced seven FF films (what they call, amusingly, "reality" films), and while not every one of them has a clear blockbuster that it's mocked up to resemble, they all still manage to capture the general trend of the genre at the moment. Their latest, 100 Ghost Street, is in the Grave Encounters haunted asylum mode and, perhaps astonishingly, is really no worse than any of the other films sporting that featherweight premise. It's a shallow and mostly unengaging film, though dotted throughout with moments of, if not outright fright, certainly the desire to produce fright. The recurring motif of a plethora of black feathers discovered in bizarre locations (inside the asylum's walls; in its toilets) is almost creepy, and the discovery of a trail of fresh blood leading from the floor, up a wall, and into a hatch in the ceiling certainly is. As is the case with most of The Asylum's "reality" films I've seen thus far, 100 Ghost Street is needlessly exploitative, using sexual violence to titillate rather than disgust or unnerve. (I will take this moment to remind you of the tasteful scene in their earlier effort 8213: Gacy House (2010) in which John Wayne Gacy's ghost anally rapes a young man.) In this case, the film features two fits of repugnant The Entity-styled ghost rape (the second of which being, at the very least, a surprising narrative callback to the legend of the titular Richard Speck, made all the more icky by the fact that the person assaulted is a corpse). The lousy CGI, though present throughout, is understated in a way that The Vicious Brothers obviously weren't capable of when creating Grave Encounters, so in that one respect it's an improvement. But, ultimately, all we're doing is applauding a perpetual failure for failing slightly less spectacularly this time around.

Paranormal Entity (2009) dir. Shane Van Dyke


Paranormal Entity was The Asylum's second blatant FF mockbuster, coming a year after their Cloverfield homage, Monster (2008). Because it's essentially a domestic drama spurred on by a ghostly demon infestation, Paranormal Entity contains some slightly more interesting thematic content than the bulk of the studio's FF offerings, but only very slightly, signalling that any weight we detect was probably accidental, at best. Its opening text Revelation of Fate spoils all of what's to come after, as it doesn't take long for us to realize that the rape and murder of Samantha Finley (Erin Marie Hogan) by her older brother Thomas (Shane Van Dyke) is supernaturally tinged and not at all influenced by the sleazy doubly incestual angle that it hints at once or twice. At certain moments Paranormal Entity appears to be poking fun of its source material's lapses in logic by humorously amending them: in this film the characters at least try to go to a motel after the ghost shenanigans begin to intensify (though it does not go well), and at one point an exorcism of the house is about to be performed by a psychic before the scene smash cuts to a shot of the same psychic lying dead on the ground. But mostly this is an earnest affair, the filmmakers replacing Paranormal Activity's successful bits with worse ones. Ineptitude is running pretty high when the most frightening static shot jump scare you can muster is a crucifix falling down from a wall.


Invasion (a.k.a. Infection) (2005) dir. Albert Pyun

Albert Pyun, director of Cyborg (1989), Captain America (1990), and Dollman (1991), is a master of schlock and Invasion is that exactly. It rides (literally) on its one-take, COPS-inspired police cruiser dashboard camera gimmick. Though, unlike the also seemingly one-take Last Ride (2011), I detected many points in Pyun's film at which a cut could have occurred, and I suspect they did. Unfortunately, any such cuts don't help to make the film less of a drag. Communicating much of the small town alien invasion story through police dispatch banter is a novel concept, making the film feel like an effective radio play bolstered by occasional on-screen action, but all too often even the dialogue drifts away and we're stranded inside the car as it cruises up and down forest dirt roads. At these moments, accompanied as they are by the film's over-dramatic orchestral score, you'd be hard pressed to find an FF film more sleep-inducing. Budget stock sound effects, alien slugs that crawl into people's ears, and a nuclear holocaust fill out the rest of the story. (What's frightfully unclear is how exactly the footage from the police camera survives the atomic blast. Do police cruisers double as refrigerators?) Invasion concludes with a perhaps record-setting 20 minutes of end credits. What more need I say?

Next time, a tsunami of Japanese found footage: Noroi: The Curse (2005), Occult (2009), & Shirome (2010).

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