Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Stephen Biro, USA, 85 mins
As someone who missed out on the original Guinea Pig movies when they were released – and probably for the best, as I was four when The Devil's Experiment was horrifying audiences for the first time – it's an extremely exciting experience to be able to watch the American Guinea Pig series. The US update of the classic extreme horror series has certainly brought a similar variety to the originals – from the out-and-out blood feast of Bouquet of Guts and Gore to the psychological torture of Bloodshock, and not forgetting last week's review, a ritualistic slice of self-mutilation in the shape of Sacrifice. Every movie brings something different to the table, but I feel each intends to bring to life another aspect of what extreme horror can be.
And that's no different for the third entry in the series, Song of Solomon. Pitching itself as an extreme exorcism movie, this one feels like it's the most mainstream of the series so far – and that's no criticism, more a compliment that this feels like an extreme horror movie that, like A Serbian Film and Martyrs before it, could reach a wider audience. The look and feel of even the credits is cleaner and sharper than previous, and there feels as though there is an extra layer of polish. It's impressively made on a tight budget and I think this could be a real breakout for the series.
The story follows the aptly-named Mary, who is inhabited by a powerful demon, and our opening sees her father killing himself in a pretty brutal fashion. There are numerous very gory scenes within the movie, and the practical effects never look less than great – the team has done a great job of things there for sure.
This opening scene leads to a host of priests coming to visit Mary in the hope of exorcising the demon, only one by one to fall to its tricks and temptations. Behind that there's a deeper story that is hinted at, with each priest visited by a mysterious figure before they attend to the possessed woman. It adds a nice layer of intrigue that is eventually paid off, and enables a host of actors to bring their own take to what a priest should be – particular stand-outs for me were Gene Palubicki's growling Father Corbin and David E McMahon's evocative Father Powell. It also drives home just how powerful the demon is in defeating one exorcist after another, which brings a great aspect of escalation to the story. It's not a prolonged battle of wills, more an uphill struggle for a host of hopeful combatants seeking to defeat the demon – and as each fall by the wayside you begin to wonder if evil will win out after all...
The other standout performance comes from the lead, Jessica Cameron, who is so believable in displaying the power of the demon and comes across as genuinely sinister on a host of occasions. It's a powerful, committed central performance that the film just wouldn't have the same impact without, and some of the visuals created for her character will stay with you for some time.
So yes, there is an awful lot good about Song of Solomon, and it's another high-quality entry in the series. But it is also fair to say that not everything is perfect. There are some performances from the lesser characters that weren't awfully strong, which did have the effect of slightly diminishing the significance of events at times. And while I was never less than entertained throughout its 85 minutes, I was left with a slight sense that we fell somewhere between two stalls – some of this movie was really chilling and psychological, and has lived in my mind ever since I watched it, while at other times it was absolutely outrageous gore, and there were times where I felt those two elements didn't quite mesh. If I can ever dare utter these words in this column, I think that Song of Solomon could have been ever better with some of the gore removed or toned down. There are enough strong performances from the central cast that there were moments I could have lived without it.
I know, I know, I suggested toning down the blood and guts at Film Gutter. That might just be a first...
In all seriousness, if you're a fan of extreme horror, or even if you just love exorcism movies, then Song of Solomon is well worth your time. It might be a bit harder to stomach than more mainstream entries into the subgenre, but it does get the fundamentals practically dead-on and doesn't rely too heavily on ladling on the claret for its effect. There are some great acting displays, the plot moves along at a good pace and has some layers to it, the exorcism aspects are very believable and the practical FX are really well-delivered. Even though at a few junctions it felt like it was trying to do two things at once, I was never less that riveted, and that's no small achievement in its own right.
RATING: 8/10. AGP really feels like a triumphant return for the Guinea Pig name – in fact, despite the original's undoubted cult value, I think these are largely significantly better, as my comparative review ratings will bear out. Sure, maybe the originals have dated since the mid-80s, but these new takes feel sharper, more on-point and more ambitious than their predecessors. This is certainly the most ambitious yet and I think the one that might just bring the series to many more people's attention. In taking a popular horror trope and making it more 'extreme', this is bound to attract more press and in delivering an effective story – it's certainly simple but it is also cleverly done – with strong performances at the heart. I think many horror fans will enjoy this more – and certainly find it a touch more palatable – than some of the other AGP movies, although a few keys scenes still require a strong stomach. Overall I think this could be a big film for extreme horror in 2018, and deservedly so.
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