Ginger Nuts of Horror
In part two of my Blog tour of Ginger Nuts of Horror, I am taking over Alex Davis’ superb column on extreme horror cinema, to talk about a film he made me watch at Edge Lit. Enjoy.
So Edge Lit was a lot of fun. I met up with a bunch of smart, lovely people and talked books. I even launched one of my own. Alex, as ever, had put together an amazing bill of events - the kind of event line up that makes you wish you could be in more than one place at once. Following the epic carnage of the Sarah Painborough-led Edge Lit raffle (an event worth the price of admission on its own, frankly), I’d retired to the bar to catch up with a few folk who were heading out to find out what delights Derby town centre could hold on a Saturday night.
Not me, though. Oh, no. The evening had something very different on store for me....
See, Alex had something special up his sleeve to close out the event. He has, as you’ll know if you're reading this, been watching extreme horror cinema at the rate of one movie a week ,and writing about the experience here at Film Gutter. And one of his all-time favorites so far was an art house horror movie called Flowers .
Well, Alex did what any self respecting convention organizer would do - he organized for the film's UK cinema premiere be shown at the end of Edge Lit, as a special treat (for himself if no one else).
And I kind of had to go.
I mean, here’s the thing - this was always going to be a challenge for me. Writing about video games is tricky for me only because I don’t do it very much - I play them all the damn time, as my sluggish wordcount attests. This, on the other hand…
Basically, I don’t like extreme cinema. Except that’s not quite fair. It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s more that it puts the shits up me. In fact - and this won’t come as a galloping shock to regulars to My Life In Horror - as much as I love the horror genre, I’m kind of a wuss about scary stuff. Especially graphic visual representations of violence or harm. Like, it really bothers me. It makes me sweat. Feel nauseous. Freak out.
Well, I’d agreed to do the column swap, in part because of the challenge. And really, what better way would there be for me to fulfil this challenge than to watch a movie hand picked by Alex as an exemplar of the form, on a cinema screen, no less?
So I did the decent thing. I got mildly drunk and went to see the damn film.
Well, let’s start with Alex has taste. This film really is exquisite in just about every respect. It’s shot superbly, with a grainy film stock and muted colour palate that gives the whole proceeding a muted, grimy air. The sound design is simply phenomenal - a must in a movie with no dialogue at all. Ambient sounds combine with the occasional piece of music to create an atmosphere that wraps around you like a rain chilled sheet of plastic.
The story… ah, but here’s where my vocabulary starts to break down. Is it a story, really? I mean, there’s a through line, for sure - a woman awakes in the floor cavity of what appears to be a small house or cabin, and slowly works her way through the foundation, eventually pushing her way up and into the rooms above. But, I mean, first of all it takes, from memory, around forty minutes for her to get up to the rooms - forty minutes of this woman pushing her way through slime and mud and, well, stuff that might be mud, or blood, or shit, it’s hard to say, contorting herself around too-narrow spaces, frantically clinging to a photograph - but/and also, the woman changes on a fairly regular basis.
Like, it’s a different actress. Wildly different. At first I wondered if it was some odd Plan 9 homage, but no - something else is going on. Each woman carries the same scars - what look to me like crude autopsy stitching across her chest, and running down her stomach, but it’s also still obviously a different woman. As if to prove the point, the second woman has a flashback to her own death - being murdered by the overweight male residence of the house upstairs, before - in a scene that is genuinely shocking, even as it’s relatively sensitively shot - he arranges her partially disemboweled corpse on a bed in front of a camera, then rapes her, watched impassively by other men on a TV screen.
I mean, fucking hell, man.
So, I mean, yes, it’s extreme. As is the later sequence where one of the women finds a banquet, eats her fill, only for the food to turn rancid and rotting, leading her to vomit up sizable amounts of black bile. But this is far, far more than simple shock value. For one thing, again, the way it’s shot is often delicate and very deliberate - explicit, but not exploitative or titilating. Rather, the focus is relentlessly on the women, on their journey and their suffering, as inch by painful inch they make their way to the final room in the house. Throughout, the lack of dialogue challenges you to engage with the actress’s amazing, soulful performances - to read their faces, their movements, for language, for clues. And gradually it dawned on me that the reason the scars were all the same was because they’d all been victimized in the same way - reduced to objects by male brutalisation, all carrying the same wounds.
Yes, all women?
Maybe I’m reading too deep. It’s the kind of experience that invites that. The ending is, as you might expect, ambiguous but not remotely comforting. I was left afterwards reeling from the experience, sifting through the broken kaleidoscope of images and sounds, trying to make sense of the mozaic.
Because it felt, very strongly, like it did have a purpose, a narrative thrust. I find a lot of modern art to be flailing, incoherent. This was far from that. Challenging, and a singular, uncompromising vision, but absolutely coherent and driven.
Before the film started, I’d asked Alex during the Q & A if he thought extreme cinema would or could ever cross over into the mainstream. He said words to the effect of not really, and his reasoning was that the very qualities that made it extreme cinema basically disqualified it from mainstream success - that essentially, it was a discrete form that demanded to be taken 100% on it’s own terms (and indeed that for him that was one of the chief charms).
I’m not sure I’d really grasped what he’d meant by that, but by the time the credits rolled, and the lights mercifully came back up, I think I got it.
Flowers is an amazing piece of work. For all the discomfort it caused me, it was a privilege to see it in a cinema setting. I was one of the lucky few. Thanks, Alex.
Alex Davis returns the favour and keeps Kit Powers My Life In Horror spot all cozy and warm with his guest post entitled "CONTROVERSY CREATES CASH" which can be read here