Cult Cinema: Snuff Movie

Andrew takes a look at Bernard Rose's 2005 horror film, Snuff Movie.

"This is a message from Don Corleone"
Bernard Rose hasn't had a lot of luck getting his films seen outside of England.  From his 1988 Paperhouse to his 2000 DV feature ivansxtc, the gifted British auteur and horror maestro's films outside of Candyman remain unseen or without commercial distribution in the US.  Which brings us to the director's somewhat more commercial followup to his still controversial Hollywood/Tolstoy drama, the 2005 British-Romanian DV meta horror provocation, Snuff Movie.  

Written, directed and shot by Rose himself with his ex-wife Lisa Enos serving as both the producer and film's central star, Snuff Movie takes what we think we know about the concept of snuff filmmaking and turns it and the nature of mainstream filmmaking on it's head.  Few movies shift gears as much or contain as many movies within movies as Rose's bizarre, shocking and strangely satirical freakout.  At first it seems like a straightforward thriller about a disgraced director named Boris Arkadin (Jeroen Krabbe) who comes of retirement by inviting a list of actors to his secluded mansion in the English countryside to audition for a new film he plans to make.  Unbeknownst to the cast members, Mr. Arkadin (inspired by Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin?) has adorned every corner of the mansion with video cameras linked to a snuff website.  The grounds are laid for a potential minefield of blood and gore, but then it becomes something of an F for Fake meditation on cinematic trickery where neither we nor the characters onscreen really know what's real or elaborate staging.

As with ivansxtc, Snuff Movie's homemade DV aesthetic benefits both pictures greatly in that it granted Rose total creative autonomy and provided ample room for interpretation on his use of the format itself.  This is also one of those films like Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! where the actors find themselves playing multiple characters in three distinctly different timelines which at first seem separated by fact and fiction until you're forced to rethink everything you've seen once again.  It also manages to dispel the dark and dirty basement cliche associated with snuff movies like 8mm and A Serbian Film by having a majority of the bloodshed take place in the director's classy mansion amid a strange gaggle of aristocrats and cult Satan worshippers.  Snuff Movie is very much a director's theoretical discussion piece which poses far more questions than it intends to answer, but let it be said the film would not work without the enormous talents of Jeroen Krabbe and Lisa Enos.  Veteran actor Krabbe (best known as Dr. Charles Nichols from The Fugitive) imbues director Arkadin with the debonair cool of a distinguished English gentleman even as he casually turns his cameras on violent acts.  The film's producer and leading actress Lisa Enos, who played Ivan Beckman's cocaine addicted girlfriend in ivansxtc, goes out on a limb with her brave and revealing performance as Mr. Arkadin's deceased wife Mary and unlucky actress Wendy Jones.  With a multitude of difficult emotions to portray and many nude scenes most actresses would shy away from, Enos fearlessly traverses the whole distance required by the character and with Jeroen Krabbe manages to buoy the narrative.  Despite all the supporting performances which are good, Snuff Movie clearly belongs to Krabbe and Enos.

Jim Caviezel's got nothing on me!
With the horror film climate being what it is in America, it's baffling to think Rose's beguiling and often affronting shocker Snuff Movie still remains without distribution in the United States.  While not necessarily a frightening film as with Paperhouse or Candyman, it is genuinely disturbing and occasionally Satanic in the third act.  As so many horror films try to be chic and hip by being meta in an attempt to sound clever, it's refreshing to see a gifted auteur finally make a horror film in that vein and actually be sharp and witty without being condescending.  Some viewers may be put off by the homegrown feel of Rose's cinematography but for myself it only added to the film's blurred lines between authenticity and tongue-in-cheek pretend.  Seasoned horror fans will be surprised by the Chinese Box plotline and recoil at scenes that make the overproduced and cliched horrors of an Eli Roth film look like a picnic.  That said Snuff Movie runs the risk of being too smart for it's own good and the synthetic score leaves something to be desired when compared to the operatic use of preexisting pieces for ivansxtc.  Much like David Lynch's Inland Empire, you really aren't sure where it begins or ends and for that matter, how.   What it does leave viewers with however is a rich and thought provoking discussion piece and while it's ambition may at times exceed it's grasp, it's rare that an extreme horror film this intelligent and complex happens at all.  Actually getting to see Snuff Movie requires an extra mile or two of tracking it down via importation but I can say without hesitation it was well worth the additional effort.


-Andrew Kotwicki

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