Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Madness of Many

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet                                                                                                                  

Madness of Many
Written, produced, directed, make-up effects and edited by Kasper Juhl
Hellbound Productions / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
73 minutes, 2013 / 2016

Danish director Kasper Juhl may be young (b. 1991), but he has a good sense of the camera, as shown by this artistic and abstract treatise on life and pain (which Juhl claims as his own philosophy in the commentary). And while this is neither here nor there as it is not reflected in the film directly, Juhl is also the lead singer of the death metal band Abscission (aka dead, fallen leaves).

Told mostly through soliloquy narration, we meet/meat Victoria White, as she flatly describes a childhood full of sexual assault by her family. But this is only the start of her ordeal, as we are given verbal details that are eventually manifested into the visual. I should note here that although filmed in Scandihoovia, the entire dialog is in English.

Thanks to all of this pain in her life, we quickly find that she is a bit of a nihilist, claiming that she was “born to be exploited by others.” Despite this, she is not ready to end it all, stating she is more afraid of dying than its result. By the way, this is also an idea posited by English writer Henry Fielding in his 1751 novel Amelia, where it is stated “…it is not death, but dying, which is terrible” (yeah, I admit it, I’m a Fielding fan).

After being drugged and subsequently tortured for a year after escaping her parents, she starts to develop multiple personalities to avoid the pain. This is quite cleverly handled by having different actresses playing the same role, in different situations. Body type, face, and even tattoos differentiate Victoria’s shattered lives. Ironically, the man/men (credited as The Shadows) who torture her is/are never given a face (occasionally we see white masks or are blurred and distorted), though she has many.

By using a high level of abstraction, Juhl uses a lot of different devices to play out Victoria’s mind, such as removing or muting the colors to the point of near grayscale or high black and white contrasts. But the point of where artistic merit end and being opaque is a delicate one, and it is a line that is crossed often. Many of the scenes last way too long without promoting the story (what there is of it), such as watching someone putting on eye make-up, or puking up blood (sometimes through the literal hands of a Shadow down a throat, others by self-infliction).

Which brings me to the gore: this film has been compared to A Serbian Film (2010), but it does not come anywhere near that. In fact, American Guinea Pig was much more effective and relentless, and Flowers (2015) handled the art side of personal pain with a bit more flair and was more accessible without losing any of the creativity. When it is applied here, it’s quite effective. I mean, there’s lots of manhandling of the woman/women, such as multiple scenes of choking, but the ultra-violence is kept sparingly until the final act. That being said, even early on, when it’s more intense it works.

As for the psychological torture aspect, honestly, I was more freaked out by the similar themed (i.e., abuse leading to Multiple Personality Disorder) two-part television film Sybil (1975). The whole rising of enlightenment through pain may have some thinking of the recent 50 Shades of Gray, but honestly it reminded me more of The Who’s Tommy (“I’m free!!”).

It could be said that this film is on the sexist side. I mean, we see the female form being tortured, but there is no mention of comeuppance of the males who do the perpetrating. So, do we say that there is a lot of females abused when they are all supposed to be the same one, or is that a cop-out? I don't have an answer for that, but it wasn't comfortable for me in that aspect. 

Juhl explains that he likes slow-paced films, which is good because he has definitely made one. It will take a lot of patience to sit through it, especially in this, the post MTV editing / instant gratification period of cinema. Even the final credit roll by very slow, with no sound through most of it.

There are some nice albeit limited amounts of goodies here in the extras section, such as a long list of Unearthed Films trailers and a decent commentary by Juhl, but if you want to dive in deep, there is also a three-disk version available (including the soundtrack CD and many other features not in the basic DVD package, including some “Making Of” documentaries, a short film by the director, and deleted scenes), of which 1000 were produced. Collectors’ item!

I know I’ve whined a bit about it, but it’s a very strong piece if you have the patience to swim through the philosophizing of good and evil, pain and pleasure, and story and idea, you may connect to it. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is under Juhl’s directorial sheet, but just know with this one, if you’re expecting something relentless it may be a bit of a letdown. For those out there who like a thoughtful piece of torture porn, well…

Unrelated to this DVD bonus:


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