Brandon, I’m glad to be a participating in this debate even if it is already dated. Just good to be chatting with friends. Thanks for the response. I am actually glad you challenged me on certain things because it allows us to keep the conversation going. If you had merely agreed, I wouldn’t have anything to say. So thanks for that.
That torture porn “denunciation” was fun to write, but I should make it clear that I don’t feel that strongly against this particular genre. I mean don’t consider it anathema or morally reprehensible, nor do I particularly care that it exists. I just don't like it or want to see it. And I should make it clear that I wasn’t really disgusted by either HOSTEL or MARTYRS. I found them both inordinately gross and unpleasant to watch, but I was able to shake them off with relative ease. They didn’t upset my life in any way; they were just disturbing enough that I had to ask myself at several points why I was exactly watching them and what I was getting out of them. MARTYRS, I felt, ultimately gave me something to connect to or ponder that made the unpleasant experience worthwhile. HOSTEL, I felt, did not. I honestly don’t know how I would end HOSTEL. Perhaps, you’re right and it can’t end any other way. I just know that I found that revenge third act to be labored, predictable, and thoughtless after all I had to sit through. I guess I just prefer the complexity of MARTYRS’ ending and the fact that it had the guts to be so nihilistic about the violence it depicted. There’s a glimmer of hope for revenge in Roth’s films and no hope in Laugier’s. I can see the appeal of HOSTEL and would agree that it goes about its business in an efficient manner. MARTYRS just gave me more to latch onto (I’m sorry to almost turn this into a MARTYRS vs. HOSTEL debate. Those are just my most recent touchstones when it comes to the TP genre).
My comments about torture porn “wounding the heart” were really just supposed to reflect the negative reaction they have on me. Torture porn that I feel is being cruel in its depiction (very smugly trying to make you feel awful without any self-awareness) wounds me in a very callous way. I understand that torture is something that happens in our world. It’s possible to depict torture or its outcomes (MARTYRS or NIGHT AND FOG) and make it penetrate the heart with a purpose towards shaking us out of apathy or lack of compassion. But it’s also entirely possible to depict torture where you try to wound the emotions of your audience for your own gain. It all comes down to the intent of the filmmaker. Are they trying to be brave and make a statement about the depths of human cruelty and the need to prevent it or are they trying to make money off of grossing us out with all their demented concoctions? I think you say perfectly here what I feel towards the latter: “I have a certain violent reaction to artists who want to beat me over the head with their art, I want to hit back. The most annoying aspect of this dying phenomenon is the way these directors, almost always men, seem so pleased with themselves simply because they have dirty minds. You see them all smirking when they speak about their atrocities, as though they actually believe that they have committed an act of bravery in making their cash cow.”
You're right – the implied is not always scarier than what is seen, it just usually is, and I find it more effective.
When I was mentioning craft, I was essentially referring to the actually craft of depicting extensive torture. 99% of the time, I just don’t find it necessary. I’m not doubting the talent of Laugier, Roth, or whoever directed WOLF CREEK. The first two I know have talent, and I’m sure the other guy does too. I was just making the argument that extensive torture is usually uncessary on film (i.e. bad craft). It is like depicting a very long and graphic sex scene. Would be difficult to justify either in terms of craft or narrative.
You do make a good point about how these torture porn films have something to say, even if that theme is ultimately shallow or banal. I wasn’t trying to say that they are pointless perse, just that I usually don’t find that their point justifies their content. MARTYRS being the huge exception. I think from all of this, we’ve made it clear that depicting torture is a very precarious enterprise. If handled shrewdly, it could be potentially powerful. If handled mindlessly, it could be THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE series. It seems we get too much of the latter and could do without it entirely. We probably don’t need too many of the former either, but should at least appreciate one when it comes along.
Yep, I’m still hoping to do a top 10 horror list. But would, of course, do a top 10 underrated list too. Let’s make it happen! Good talk indeed, my man.
Jason, thanks for the response too. I’m glad I’ve been able to redeem myself somewhat in your eyes. haha. And I’m glad I had the open mind to find something of worth in MARTYRS, even if it was unpleasant to watch. Perhaps I’m becoming a better film watcher.
I haven’t seen I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE or THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT so I can’t really comment on those specifically, but I essentially agree with all you’re saying. I don’t think works of art (horror films included) need to say anything profound. They can say all kinds of things and still be worthwhile (depending on what each of us deems “worthwhile,” of course). But, I hear you, it’s tough to sit through brutal films when the barrier has broken down and you are experiencing something instead of observing it. Can you imagine torture porn in 3D at 60 fps? That’s probably going to be the new thing. Trying to make the experience of tortue as “real” as possible. Yikes.
And I’m with you. I prefer quick deaths in film too. They’re just easier to separate yourself from (less traumatic), but it’s still possible to make us feel the consequences of death or violence with them. You don’t need extensive death sequences to get a point across. Anticipating the actual death is usually the best part anyway.
“The only time I appreciate a film pushing the envelope is when it's doing something new, or at least something that hasn't been done in awhile.” I hear ya. But, I’m glad, as Brandon mentioned, that the torture porn genre is dying down now. Definitely for the best. It’s gotten beyond tired.
Still, it was fun to debate and talk about it. Even if the genre itself is losing steam, I’m glad we aren’t. Good to be back.