Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: Red Krokodil: Director’s Cut

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Red Krokodil: Director’s Cut
Directed and cinematography by Domiziano Cristopharo
The Enchanted Architect / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2012 / 2018

I saw the first two films that Domiziano Cristopharo directed, House of Flesh Mannequins (2009) and The Museum of Wonders (2010). He’s released at least 20 since then, so I was curious. His style is very artistic and precise, so after nearly a decade, I’m glad to have the opportunity to see what this Italy-based artiste was working on – even if this film is five years old, though now it’s getting a new Blu-ray release.

As the opening title card tells us (and I am abbreviating a lot), Desomorphine, a real opioid drug that originated in the US in the early 1930s and is now made and used recreationally in Russia, Produced in this way, it’s made of corrosive materials mixed with Codeine from over the counter products, and is nicknamed “krokodil” due to the blistering skin around injection sites.

At a snail’s pace, we meet Him (Brock Madson). He’s a mess on so many levels, spiritually and physically. His clothes (when he’s wearing them) are filthy, including dark stains on the bottom of his untidy whiteys, there is what looks like mold everywhere, he is unwashed and unkempt, and is missing his two front teef.

We watch much of what happens to him, as he repeatedly gives himself shots from the same needle, goes through withdrawals until the next injection, and segments of overseeing him fitfully sleeping. The viewer gets the feeling of claustrophobia as he moves around his small room; he is practically the personification of the description of the Divinyls song, “Elsie.” 

While filmed in Italy, this takes place in Russia; however, the inner monologs we hear are in English. Because of his drug addled mental state, we get to share what he sees, be it a giant Bunny Man (Viktor Karam) or a bandage swathed Monster (Valerio Cassa), who are the only other characters in the film, albeit in brief snatches.

The only dialog we hear other than grunts and groans is Him’s inner thoughts, which are usually a mixture of stories of his life (e.g., why a stuffed crocodile is important to him), a description of his dream visions, or philosophizing about his hallucinations. One example is when he sees a mannequin face inside a hole in the wall, part of his existentialist treatise as he smiles is, “God is watching me inside the eye; the whole universe is inside the eye. Even I am inside the eye.”

Either because of the corrosive effect of the krokodil drug, or perhaps what is going on inside his mind (or both), his body is full of gross scabs and abscesses that we see in detail. Him is convinced he lives in a post-apocalyptic world, and perhaps he is, which would explain the lack of people in part, but he never ventures from his hovel. How much of it is in his mind and what reality is mostly up to the viewer.

Despite all the grossness of picking at the wearing down of the flesh, this is definitely in the category of art film. Sure, you may not see it on IFC due to its visual content, but philosophically and stylistically, it would actually be quite comfortable there.

Most of the time the color is drained out of the image we see, as it is missing from Him’s life; it’s only when we see him roaming around in nature (again, nude), do we see a natural hue of any time. The sharp contrast is alarming, and shows the levels to which Him has sunken – again, both spiritually and physically.

This is not exactly what one might call the feel good movie of the year, but it is a poetic and disarming – and sometimes visually stunning – vision of what I would imagine being desperately addicted to something that harsh to the body (I’m pretty straight-edge).

Madson co-produced the film, and he certainly gives a full emotional range, much of it without dialogue. It’s a strong character study, and he certainly is up for the task. This is good showcase for him, even considering all the visuals.

There are some nice extras, as there tends to be especially on a Blu-ray. First up is the 2:30 Alternate Music Ending, which shows the end of the film with, well, different music. It’s more piano based, with almost religious solemnity. It’s quite beautiful, and in my opinion, works as well as the film proper. The Deleted Scenes lasts 8:50. A combination of unused footage, some with inner comments, it’s nice and interesting, but having it out of the film makes sense, too. It does, however, help you get a little more depth on Him’s character.

The 2:42 Photo Gallery is set to the soaring “incidental,” neo-classical music. It’s all shots taken from production, such as make-up, fooling around the set, and scenery beyond the shoot premise; much better than just still from the film. Last is the Nuclear CGI Test, where we see different versions of a digital nuclear explosion that lasts for 1:14. There are also a bunch of trailers from Unearthed Films, nearly all of them reviewed on this blog at one point or another, such as the American Guinea Pig series and Atroz.

I’m still trying to figure out, visually speaking, if the film went too far, or if it didn’t go far enough. That’s part of what makes this such as interesting piece, though patience is definitely needed as you follow Him on his path, painful minute by painful hour.

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