Kidsploitation. That’s the word that caught my attention when I was offered a copy of THE SADNESS, an independent horror film by newcomer R.F. Pangborn. Now, I have no idea what kidsploitation is exactly. Exploitation films, as defined by Ephraim Katz (The Film Encyclopedia), are “films made with little or no attention to quality or artistic merit but with an eye to a quick profit, usually via high-pressure sales and promotion techniques emphasizing some sensational aspect of the product.” So, in this film’s case, I guess that means they’re going to exploit children in some way or another. After researching online and coming up with nothing on the sub genre, I can only assume that Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is the only kidsploitation movie I’ve seen. Or, at the least, the closest thing that qualifies as one. In the interest of seeing something new (to me) and billed as “representing the ‘old school’ approach to the genre,” I happily popped the DVD in my player.
THE SADNESS uses a mosaic structure, much like Magnolia or Vantage Point, to tell its story of an abused child. Or it starts out that way. The kid (yes, that’s the character’s name) lives at home with her mother and stepfather, who are addicted to drugs. She is neglected and, most likely, abused by them. Her parents, though, are behind on drug payments and are offered an ultimatum by two dealers: either get killed or hand over their kid as leverage. In strolls the kid from an afternoon outside and, wham, she’s knocked out, taken hostage and used in a sacrificial ritual. Unfortunately for everyone who has ever pissed her off (and a random drunk hunter), she returns to seek revenge in the most gruesome ways possible.
To Pangborn’s credit, the plot is pretty solid. The character’s are appropriately scummy, the child extremely innocent and the violence gritty. Well, it’s gritty in theory. It follows the general formula for an exploitation revenge film: the kid gets wronged and then kills everyone else in the film for the remainder of the 102 minute film. If it was being billed as a revenge film, I’d say it was pretty successful in doing what it set out to accomplish.
Story aside, the film has some very bad production value. I understand that it’s low-budget but there were parts where that wasn’t a good enough excuse. For example: two cops outside, talking in a parked car. Simple scene, nothing fancy. But, the camera is set up in the driver seat, filming the cop in the passenger seat and the freaking sun is right behind him. So, you can’t see anything. It’s stuff like this and the editing (especially the editing) that totally stops the film dead in its tracks. Though, one could argue that its neglect in these areas make it more of an exploitation film.
The film is ambitious which can be a good thing. But, THE SADNESS falls into the pitfall of being too ambitious. Usually, when you have a small budget, you try to really make your money work for you. You want every penny on that screen, making the film look better than it should. Here, though, they opted for CGI effects, which is a bad move. There’s a scene with a gun shot where I thought the blood effect was done with MS Paint. The film managed to look cheaper than it was. I do want to point out, though, that the practical effects do outweigh the CGI ones and they’re mostly well done for the budget I’m guessing the film had.
The style the film tries to take on varies quite a bit and teeters on the verge of being slightly disorienting to annoying at times. After Grind House, it seems as if everyone wants to make a film littered with shutter lights and cigarette burns. The film seemingly switches from computer enhanced film stock to “normal”, while adding a hint of slow motion, a la the Friday the 13th ending, at any given time. It just seems to randomly switch, regardless of whether it heightens the intention of the scene or not.
I think Pangborn could have been ambitious, even more so in certain aspects, without going so overboard. He certainly knows how to create a good premise, which is the main thing THE SADNESS has going for it. He just needs to know how to scale his film for the budget it’s on and focus his vision a bit more. For a first time low-budget director, he could’ve done a lot worse.
And… after watching THE SADNESS, I’m more confused about what kidsploitation is than before I watched it.