This slice of cinematic surrealism is truly the last stand of the formerly bursting underground scene that brought us such cinematic dynamos as Jim VanBebber, Nacho Cerda and Jorg Buttgerreit. Now the scene is utterly and completely dead, with no one shooting on film anymore and the online community murdering the former camaraderie that was felt amongst “underground” enthusiasts in the late nineties. SUBCONSCIOUS CREULTY stands nearly alone, as it is clearly a film of cinematic demon exorcism, made to purge torturous images from the filmmaker’s heart and soul. Something very few backyard auteurs are willing to even attempt anymore (though there are a few of us still trying). This is the antithesis of backyard tits and gore for laughs that poses as underground filmmaking these days.
The film starts out with a low-key, stylish montage with voiceover explaining that film is a lie; just images strung together from stolen moments of dreams. This is followed with an on screen text message explaining the difference between the right and left-brain, suggesting we kill the side attached to reason. Stark black on white credits drop us headfirst into the nightmarish visions ahead. A woman lies naked and prone on a concrete slab in a dusty and dank basement. A well-manicured female hand caresses her, puts a red cloth over her face, then proceeds to slice open the nude woman’s stomach and pullout an eyeball. The dreams have begun.
The first “story” deals with a pregnant woman and her obsessive brother. He watches her through doorways and keyholes, obsessing constantly about her sexuality and pregnancy. He makes her both physically and emotionally dependent upon him as his sickness grows, mirroring the child growing inside her. His inner monologue often talks of making the birth the biggest mockery of life the world would ever see. And he does. Without spoiling the climax, it suffices to say that it is unsettling and certainly not for the fainthearted. But also with that said, the climax of this segment runs a bit long, lingering on the horrific incident past the point of shock or even revulsion. At the end the characters are dead inside and feel nothing, I felt a very similar way. Perhaps that was the intention.
Segment two is easily the best of the film, and some of the purest surrealist filmmaking made in the last fifteen years. Without explanation or even dialogue we watch as a group of people literally make love to the Earth. They writhe in complete ecstasy as they grind their genitals into muddy holes. As one man digs deeper into the Earth it bleeds heavily with him rubbing the planetary menstruation all over himself. A woman fellates a tree branch and breaks it off sending geysers of ejaculate/blood all around. At the end of the segment a man fellates a woman in white robes who has a large knife as a surrogate penis. It slices and cuts his mouth to sheds, but he continues while she pants in orgasm.
The scene is agonizingly beautiful, shot with slow movement and high film speed to give it all a dreamlike slur of motion. Though bloody, no one seems to be in pain, the whole segment seems to communicate something positive and wondrous. These are people connecting with the very content of nature itself, with blood, dirt, vegetation, sex and humanity become one. The segment seems to be trying to say the same sort of thing the Elias Merhage’s film BEGOTTEN (1992) attempted, but does it in a much less self important way. Just like the original Surrealists intended, this is dream-life on film.
The lyrical nature of the film then drastically changes pace to rapid fire editing and hard-edged industrial rock music when we meet a lonely businessman drinking coffee after work. He is jettisoned through the streets (through the use of hyper stylized editing not unlike TETSUO). Once home the man indulges in what seems to be his nightly ritual of masturbation to hardcore pornography. Once he ejaculates he clearly seems rather disgusted with himself, throwing a cum covered coin at the TV. That’s his life in a nutshell- money, joyless self service sex and no fulfillment at all. Once asleep, a faceless, black-gloved entity attacks. The focus of his life is the target. His dick gets impaled by fishhooks and peeled back like a bloody flesh-banana, all the while being masturbated furiously.
Cut from there to the last segment (which is actually the second half of the above segment) and the most obvious. Christ is on his knees wailing in front of a church in a modern street. He is carried into a darkened warehouse and attacked by several demonic women who proceed to tear him limb from limb, cannibalizing him the whole way. Just in case you miss the body of Christ idea there is a quick flash of the Eucharist being eaten. They gut him and for the final indignity shove a large tree branch up his ass. Christ suffers far more horrifying indignities here than in any passages of the bible, which is pretty substantial. His pain is made flesh and alive in front of our eyes. Most viewers will turn away either at the blasphemy of the images or the sheer revulsion. Others may find the imagery so obvious that they turn off as well. But for those very few who can read between the lines and have some faith in director Hussain, they may see that he is indeed exploring a message; the pain of being a martyr for the human race. The global suffering of mankind at the hands of a church that has long forgotten the real reason they are worshipping. Hypocrisy, at its most vile and repugnant, made blood, shit and cum. In between we get a haunting set up of religious objects and icons with real life wartime atrocity footage (much of it from the British documentary EXECUTIONS) being projected onto them.
Somehow through all of this the businessman is reborn, lying prone in a waterfall, naked, almost hairless, being cleansed by the purity of the Earth herself. He has passed through the muddled brutality of human kind and come out the other side. And so have we.
There are very few films that seem to literally hardwire themselves into the brain of the creator and imprint celluloid with their visions and dreams. This is one such film. Sometimes SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY is obtuse, aggravating and maybe a little pretentious. But more often than not it is driven, symbolic, heartfelt and engrossing.
There are moments in the film when you can feel that it is the first feature-film from a director who is being allowed total freedom and thus letting his reigns go slack. The end of the “Human Larva” segment is one example, as is the overuse of hardcore pornography footage in the last segment. Those clips are at their best when presented in ultra close up so the pixels on the TV render the images broken and hard to make out. The shock of open wound pornography numbs after it is shown too much.
But these are small complaints about an otherwise triumphant movie. Cinema should move you, and this does. Like it or loathe it you cannot remain emotionally idle during SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY. That, in and of itself, is remarkable but will definitely turn off simple-minded gorehounds looking for cheap thrills and special effects. But for fans of deeper cinema this is the last stop on the underground train and required viewing.
The DVD is a PAL Region 2 with, unfortunately, no Region 1 NTSC release in sight. This is an incredible 2-disc affair that comes in a special oversized collectible package (that unfortunately has a tendency to drop the discs from the trays, so be careful) with a full color booklet in Dutch and English. Disc one contains the movie in either a full frame or 1.66 matted edition. The full frame actually looks the most compositionally pleasing, while the matted is too tight more often than not.
Disc two is loaded down with tons of extras including a 70 odd minute making of feature called a SUBCONSCIOUS CREULTY CHRISTMAS where most of the movers and shakers involved explain the long (six years!) arduous road of production for this film. Not surprisingly there were many people who quit the production along the way, a crew revolt, kidnapped negatives, and worst of all, Karim Hussain being imprisoned at the US/Canada border because of his “questionable” last name and the movie being labeled obscene and not allowed back into Canada. Even though it was made there! Both director Hussain and producer Mitch Davis come off as slightly hyperactive, but totally committed, filmmakers who will stop at nothing to make their films. They also seem to be refreshingly honest about the artistic success of the film and see its oversights and flaws. They seem to be the kind of guys you would want to hang around with and talk film theory all day.
Another extra is producer Mitch Davis’ incredible short film DIVIDED INTO ZERO which is more approachable as for as narrative, but just as fragmentary and violent. This film deals with a killer who has a child captive and the ultimately the murder of said child. But the film is really about the gradual transformation of a man into a monster through the sometimes subtle and other times not so, intrusion of others into his lifeline. The movie zips back and forth at will throughout this elderly man’s life during which we are granted disorienting scenes from his horrid upbringing. While the material has been done before (Douglass Buck’s incredible work springs to mind), it has never quite been done like this. DIVIDED INTO ZERO makes you squirm in more ways than one. Once again if you are seeking just blood and guts you may be disappointed when you get a film that forces you to look at humanity such as this does.
There is another short from Karim that I have unfortunately not watched, a hilarious cartoon/review by scatological comic artist Rick Trembles, plus the expected trailers, bios, motion menus etc.
This is the kind of loving package that makes owning a multi-region player worth the hassle. Put this on the shelf next to EL TOPO, TETSUO, NEKROMANTIC and UN CHIEN ANDALOU. If you don’t know those movies, then go back and watch your DAWN OF THE DEAD 2004 again. You don’t deserve movies this good. (AC)