Is it possible to tell a psychological horror tale through the medium of extreme bodily violence? Can horror told on a primarily physical level still be cerebral? Can it engage your brain while kicking you square in the junk? Felipe Eluti’s film Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness (out 3/24 from Unearthed Films) answers with an emphatic “YES!” It’s an ultraviolent mood piece gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds but smart enough to deliver an intriguing character study in a torture flick’s clothing.
Synopsis: A boxer loses the biggest fight of his life. He slowly finds himself, giving up his dream and finds that life is not worth living. At least, those lives around him are not worthy of life. He steps through and unleashes an entity that torments him and guile's him to do unspeakable acts of torture and murder. As body counts rise and lives are diminished, will he have any hope? Any way to fight back to what he once was?
Visceral is not told as a straight forward narrative. In fact, the story is rather thin by conventional standards. It has very little dialogue and the vast majority of all character interaction takes place in torture/murder/rape settings. This is the story of one man’s descent into a mental hell. If told in a linear form, this probably wouldn’t have been enough to carry us through the film’s fairly short runtime (116 minutes including 12 minutes of credits). What Eluti brilliantly does is tell that story in three different timelines, switching between them jarringly and without warning yet anything but randomly. Telling the story in this way enables him to reveal things in an order that enables them to have maximum impact. It’s a technique that many movies have tried, almost all of them less effectively than Visceral.
I fear that one of the film’s biggest strengths may also be what some will see as its greatest flaw. I love it when a film doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand and instead gives them credit for being smart enough to figure out a difficult narrative style. There is only one visual cue to alert the viewer that we have switched to a different point in the story. It’s not apparent at first. It may even be a little bit confusing until you figure it out. Once you do, however, things start to fall into place and the progression makes sense. A less astute viewer might be tempted to say that the film is jumbled and nonsensical. I hate to say “if you didn’t like it, you didn’t get it.” That just smacks of pretentious film school snobbery. I think this flick may, however, be a case where that statement rings true.
If everything I’ve said so far makes Visceral sound a little too arthouse for your sadistic tastes, put that thought out of your sick little head right now. Those looking to satisfy their cinematic bloodlust will find everything they need. This is not a flick for the weak of heart or stomach. I’ve seen a lot of violent flicks in the last few years, but very few where said violence is this raw. The camera remains very fluid and sometimes shakes a little too much for my liking, but it never flinches or cuts away from the brutality. The gore looks fantastic, and the lack of dialogue from the main character adds a palpable creep factor. While pervasive, the violence never goes over the top in the sense of being unrealistic. Oh, no. It feels all too real.
That reality is aided by an aspect of filmmaking that is often overlooked – sound design. The movie’s score (more of a dark industrial soundscape than a score actually) sets the mood perfectly, but the sound effects are where it really shines. Each fist lands with a sickening thud that makes the impact of flesh on flesh resonate through your core. The beautiful squishing and gurgling sounds of blood and entrails are perfect. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention some really good shibari-style rope work. Those perverts out there of the BDSM persuasion (like a certain horror blogger) will particularly enjoy this added touch.
Visceral is an apt name for this film. You feel it in your guts every bit as much as your brain. It’s a movie that plays from multiple angles. Some will find a top notch gore flick. Some will find a harrowing peek into the abyss of insanity. Hell, some may come away having seen a fucked up PSA about a hot topic in the world of sports; head trauma. Whatever perspective you choose to view it from, this is a film that lays bare its tortured soul for you to touch if you dare. If you go into it just as open, you’ll be rewarded with a remarkable viewing experience that is at the same time mindraping and, well… Visceral. I haven’t seen a lot of Chilean horror, but after this and Hidden in the Woods, we may be looking at a new hotbed of genre goodness. Nathan says check it out.