September 20, 2011

As alluded to in an earlier post, Grotesque came to my attention purely because it was denied a certificate by the BBFC, in a similar fashion to the recently completed The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Directed by Kôji Shiraishi, and released in early 2009 in Japan, the otherwise obscure ‘splatter’ film generated some controversy when it fell foul of the British censors in August of the same year. The BBFC rejected the film on the grounds of its “wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake” and, of course, indirectly granted what would have been a widely unknown, low-budget foreign film the publicity coup of instant notoriety. Shiraishi publicly expressed his pleasure at the decision and admitted the film was a deliberate provocation intended to outrage. However, this minor brouhaha and even the most modest amount of attention are both wholly undeserved regarding what is in fact an utterly terrible film. Grotesque is a woeful piece of shit, even by the loose standards of the so-called ‘splatter’ sub-genre.

A young couple are enjoying their first date together and are walking home after a tentative courting session in a coffee shop when they are both attacked and abducted by a man lying in wait for them. They awake in some kind of makeshift gloomy dungeon, shackled to what look like work benches. Their assailant arrives and plays some classical music before sexually assaulting both his captives, somehow managing to bring both to climax against their will (my guess – Japanese sexuality has been forever warped and mutated en masse by the atomic bombings of 1945). He then proceeds to graphically torture and dismember both his captives using scissors, a hammer and nails, pliers, a chainsaw, scalpels and needles. He’s some kind of demented surgeon, apparently, and can properly tend to the significant physical trauma he inflicts on his victims. The couple eventually awaken chained to hospital beds where the crazy surgeon announces he has had his fun and intends to let them go once their injuries have healed, but he might not be quite finished with them.

"No, don't fall asleep, I'm about to do something SHOCKING!"

The most remarkable thing about this risible flick is how it manages to be a mere 73 minutes in running time, filled with all the graphic nastiness it promises, and yet still manages to be extremely boring. It is that fucking bad. All three characters are thoroughly flat non-entities who don’t say or do anything to induce the audience to feel one way or another about them, and the performers simply do not get their energy levels to a place befitting the extremity of the scenario. This unconvincing suffering alongside the outlandish nature of the torture is likely to provoke not the intended revulsion from the viewer but instead a frustrated befuddlement, a reaction of head-scratching and “what the fuck is this?” Grotesque has nothing to offer even the most ardent and dedicated fans of this kind of purportedly extreme horror. There is no dark, twisted humour to at least alleviate the tedium of the main spectacle and provide a modicum of entertainment, nor anything remotely engaging in the script whatsoever. Although it is only to be expected that such a film would be cheap, there is an overblown theatricality to the set that clashes with the style in which it has been shot with the result that it looks tawdry where it should look grimy and real. This is not moral outrage, as I am receptive to ‘splatter’ and gore in the name of a good laugh, but the simple recognition of a shambolic failure. Takashi Miike has sliced off nipples and stuck needles in eyeballs too, but he still managed to make entertaining and engaging films when he did so.


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