Film critic Ann Hornaday has boldly flouted one of the Ten Commandments of the motion picture industry. She’s calling bullshit on a couple of “edgy independent” filmmakers. You’re not supposed to do that. If an independent film makes you uncomfortable, you’re supposed to nervously assume it’s gone over your head, and devote yourself like crazy to proclamations of its greatness, lest someone figure out that you’re stupid:
Because Gordon and especially Argento possess such cinematic cred, any self-respecting critic should greet the arrival of “Stuck” and “Mother of Tears” with the requisite phrases about dark humor, recurring visual tropes and pulp sensibilities. The tone should be ironic and supremely knowing: If, dear reader, you can’t hang with the kind of graphic gore, sadistic violence, protracted torture and perverse sexist subtext that run through these movies, then you’re obviously not in on the joke. You’re a philistine. File under “Square, hopeless.”
Only what’s really stupid is the failure to realize that sometimes edgy films are just crap. Hat tip to Bellatrys, who recommended the article and aptly described it as an “Emperor Has No Spiffy Duds moment.”
What she’s specifically not getting about these films is why they keep offering scenes of women being tortured or killed in particularly nasty ways:
I don’t get what fascinates Gordon and Argento — both men in their 60s — about thinking up new ways to inflict pain. I don’t get what’s “ingeniously nasty” about watching people suffer and die. I don’t get the “gonzo artistry” of murdering a woman by way of a symbolic rape with a sword. I don’t get why that’s entertaining, edifying, endorsed by the cinematic canon or even remotely okay.
Yeah, why is that okay? Keep in mind we’re not talking about just one torture scene, nor is she saying that all torture scenes are inherently wrong: she describes several nastier scenes than this, and that’s all in two films. It’s hard to imagine this as anything other than a gratuitous indulgence on the filmmaker’s parts. And why do critics tolerate it?
Because if you don’t, you’re told (from people holding their noses so high they’re in danger of nosebleeds) “You just don’t get it.” Especially if you’re a woman critiquing a director’s indulgence of something that has to do with women. Not only do you “not get it”, you’re also suddenly “just a chick who can’t hack it” in the boys’ club of film – ha, see? They were right not to let you chicks in.
Hornaday is endangering her credibility by telling the truth instead of reciting the phrases she’s been trained to invoke in these situations, so she cleverly predicts how her review will be interpreted, and fully explains why. This is a highly recommended read, with a great description of the intellectual dishonesty she felt pressured to embrace – until now.