So where the heck has Bernard Rose been hiding? You would have thought that the guy responsible for the seminal classic, Candyman (and his collaboration with Clive Barker), would have had a much higher-profile career in the horror movie biz thereafter. Apparently he actively shunned the major studios, and after filming a couple of lesser-known pictures, went on to immerse himself in his own high-definition video productions. This film would mark his return to the horror genre, one which he directed, wrote and shot himself.
Snuff Movie plays like David Lynch filming a Hammer Horror film about the Manson murders. Sound odd? It is. It’s an oft-confusing, modern-day gothic tale about the obsession with pushing the limits of cinema and art. Sometimes pretentious, sometimes ridiculous – yet harboring some genuinely great ideas – the film falls short of its own lofty expectations and mostly comes off as being too self-important for it’s own good. That’s not to say it isn’t an interesting watch, as there is plenty of blood and nudity along with some very spirited scenes to keep it moving along nicely.
The story revolves around an eccentric actor/director, Boris Arkadin, whose films are renowned for their extreme and bizarre nature. While hosting a party, he is suddenly called away to the editing room, and in the meantime his pregnant girlfriend and guests are murdered by a strange cult of females obsessed with capturing real death on camera. Arkadin, not surprisingly, goes into reclusion for many years, blaming his own films for inspiring the murders.
One day the famed director puts out a casting call for a new movie, which is to be shot at his mansion – the same location of the murders so many years ago. All that the actors are told is to stay in character all the time and that their every move is caught on cameras placed all around the complex. The actors arrive, and as the night progresses a strange mystery unfolds and it seems that history is bent on repeating itself. The group quickly realizes that they may not be acting at all, and that they are in a very real life or death situation!
The picture is framed around the concept of a ‘film-within-a-film.’ Throughout the running time, and indeed up until the very last shot, the lines of reality are constantly blurred. We never really know if what we are watching is set-up by Arkadin or if it is real, and the number of twists and turns in this respect is head-spinning. As I made note of earlier, it plays a bit like a David Lynch flick, always keeping reality in question, or at least manipulating our perceptions of what is really happening on-screen. It is confusing as hell sometimes, and even when the last frames are played out, I felt the same as I did watching Mulholland Drive – I thought I knew what the point was in the end, but damned if I had about a million questions left unanswered. My feeling is that the film wanted to seem deeper than it actually was, but on the surface it was simply a perplexing mess.
The film is obviously tailor-made for a low-budget digital production, and Director Rose takes full advantage. The amateurish look is purposeful, and it works in light of the fact that it is Arkadin who is using cameras mounted around his house to capture the footage. It is more realistic in this sense, as opposed to traditional film. You feel like a voyeur watching this movie, which you should, as true snuff is in essence a voyeuristic exercise.
While the acting is pretty low-rent, the leads are quite strong, and carry the film through some tough stretches. As well, there are a couple of great scenes in and around the mansion which are quite unique and inspired. Especially notable are the Manson-esque murder sequences, which even go so far as to include the words “PIG” scrawled on the walls in blood, and the protagonist has an X on her forehead, much like Manson before he went to prison and turned it into a swastika. But what does all this actually mean? Why even include the cult reference? The answers are most likely buried in the mechanisms of the film, in that perhaps there is no cult at all, but they are simply actresses working for Boris Arkadin, and in his twisted mind perhaps he is Polanski, and his pregnant wife represents Sharon Tate.
I believe the point of this film is entirely summed up in its title. The concept of snuff is like a horror film bred with reality TV, and this is exactly what the movie embodies. It feels like Big Brother meets the Manson Family – no joke! Also, there is such a sordid and mysterious history of snuff in general that by convoluting the plot with numerous twists and turns and distorting our ability to reference what is real, perhaps Rose is urging us to experience the film as something like a snuff movie. Are the actors really dying? Is it all an elaborate set-up? A little of both? In the end, the ideas behind the film are definitely intriguing, though the execution is often jumbled and puzzling. Recommended for a rent, but those fans expecting a film in the same vein as Candyman will no doubt be disappointed.