[SXSW Review] 'Porno' is a Flaccid Attempt at Fun - Bloody Disgusting
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[SXSW Review] ‘Porno’ is a Flaccid Attempt at Fun

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SXSW Porno Review

You’ve got to hand it to Porno: it lays it all out for you in the title. It is an unapologetic, gratuitously violent and sexual B-movie that aims to titillate and disgust. On those two fronts it mostly succeeds, but it fails to amount to much more than that. Fun and shocking in fits and starts, it too often finds itself the victim of groan-worthy jokes and uneven pacing. What could have been a balls-to-the-wall fun midnight movie cums comes up short.

Set at a small-town movie theater in 1992, Porno follows a group of devout teenage Christians on a typical Friday night at work. Abe (Evan Daves) is a burgeoning perv with a guilty conscience. Todd (Larry Saperstein) is Abe’s spazzed out BFF and partner in grime. Chastity (Jillian Mueller) is a girl who hides her feelings behind a thick layer of goth eyeliner. Ricky is the star jock with a secret in his pants he dare not expose. And projectionist Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann) is a recovering nicotine addict who is left in charge of the group. After stumbling into a secret concealed section of the theater, they discover is that the wholesome theater they work at used to be an adult movie theater. The group then finds an old film reel that they decide to play on one of the screens after hours, thereby summoning a sex demon (Katelyn Pearce) that gives them a taste of the dark side.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Porno is nothing but a slapstick gross-out sex comedy, especially since the first shot is of a middle-aged couple violently copulating. But Porno does have something more on its mind. Yes, this is a gross-out horror comedy that tends to aim for the lowest common denominator, but it also seems to want to make a statement about the prudishness of overtly religious people and the hypocrisy that is inherent in some of their ideologies. I use the word “seems” because it doesn’t follow through on those ideas. A few interesting questions are raised, but that’s all Porno is interested in doing. This is especially true of Ricky, the film’s sole queer character who is struggling reconcile his sexuality with his religious beliefs (he has just returned from a conversion camp).

Porno is the directorial debut of Keola Racela, who has spent the last few years editing short films. He pulls double-duty in Porno, acting as the film’s editor as well. There are plenty of Edgar Wright-style quick-cuts interspersed throughout the film and Racela works in some great visual gags, showing an adeptness for comic timing with the editing. Oddly enough, he doesn’t keep it up throughout the film, often leaving the camera to linger on jokes and scenes for a bit too long, hurting the overall pacing as a result. Porno is 98 minutes with credits, but one can’t help but think that it would have benefited from a solid 85.

The reason for setting the film in 1992 is never fully clear, as it doesn’t play a particularly large role other than to give the characters opportunities to crack jokes at Encino Man and A League of Their Own, the only two films showing at the theater. The theater itself makes for an interesting setting as it allows for a fun bit of meta-ness to anyone actually watching the film in a theater. The characters themselves are a mixed bag. Ricky, Chastity and Abe are all endearing enough in their own ways, but Abe is involved in a third act twist that attentive viewers will see coming a mile away. Todd is relegated to the sidelines for much of the film, leaving his internal struggle underdeveloped. Finally, it’s Jeff who is the film’s glaring flaw. Clearly written as a tertiary character who should be killed at the end of the first act, Porno decides to keep him around in a baffling attempt to make him the film’s hero. It doesn’t work. At all. It’s a bizarre and misguided choice on the script’s part.

SXSW Porno Review

Though the film doesn’t revolve around them, the practical effects employed are remarkable, especially when it comes to penile trauma. One particular instance is so graphic and absurd that it almost earns Porno a full recommendation alone. I legitimately don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. It’s just a shame that the verbal jokes don’t land nearly as well as the visual ones. The script, credited to Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli, feels as if it was written by a 12-year-old boy. Juvenile humor can work if it’s actually funny. Porno just isn’t very funny.

The succubus herself is a fun creation, often seen in the nude (admirably, Racela does not discriminate, as there are a fair share of penises in the film). It’s all rather gratuitous, but what did you expect from a movie called Porno? Her methods of seduction and murder are fun to watch play out, with the demon using the characters’ darkest taboo desires to seduce them, but the film doesn’t make the best use of her or her modus operandi. She appears sporadically, but doesn’t get to cut loose until the third act.

This brings us to the climax (pun intended). Much of Porno’s first two acts involve the characters standing around narrating plot points in case the audience is too dense to pick up on the obvious cues (a major pet peeve of mine). There’s no doubt that budgetary constraints are the issue here, but that leaves large chunks of the film (especially in the second act) to drag significantly. The third act somewhat resolves this by leaning into the ridiculousness of the film’s premise, but it doesn’t go as far as it should. It peaks with the aforementioned penile trauma scene and is never able to recapture the magic after that.

Porno is the most conflicted I’ve been at a film this SXSW. There were things I absolutely loved about it, but there were the same amount of things that I absolutely hated. Some moments will have you hooting and hollering at the screen, while others will have you rolling your eyes in annoyance. It’s an odd experience, to be sure. It’s also a frustrating one. Porno gets so much right and also gets so much wrong. For those reasons, it’s a (very) soft recommend for people who want to see some gnarly gore and chuckle a few times, especially if you’ve had a few drinks. You’ll know in the first five minutes if it’s for you or not.

Porno had its world premiere at the SXSW film festival on March 9, 2019, and is currently seeking distribution.

An avid horror fan, especially of the slasher variety, Trace has earned Bachelor's Degrees in Public Relations and Radio/TV/Film from the University of Texas at Austin. He enjoys spending time with his husband and their adorable dog Coach McGuirk. He's also a pretty decent cook.


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