Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

Michael (2011)

A tricky film about a tricky subject, Michael is handled somewhat more tactfully than you might expect, but remains a tough watch. Left deliberately ambiguous by the oblique festival trailer and poster, which shows a man and a boy framed by puzzle pieces, it is a sometimes unbearably tense portrayal of human perversion.

Michael (Michael Fuith), a weasily little man who you might expect for this kind of role, lives an inconspicuous existence in Suburban Austria. In reality, he is anything but ordinary — he is the abductor and captor of ten-year-old Wolfgang (Markus Schleinzer), who is becoming increasingly defiant about his living situation.

Wolfgang lives in Michael’s padlocked basement, where he is periodically raped (obliquely implied by a non-graphic scene where Michael washes his scrotum after an encounter with the boy), bullied into submission, and given what Michael hopes is enough warm and fuzzy time and traces of a normal childhood to keep Wolfgang compliant.

It is implied that Michael plans to kill Wolfgang once he reaches puberty. Living a nightmare, Wolfgang becomes more and more rebellious, culminating in an eventual escape attempt.

The film is minimalism at its most intense, focusing on the practices that make Michael seem at times like a normal human being. He and Wolfgang occasionally seem to have an almost father-son-like relationship, washing dishes, purchasing a Christmas tree, and passing discreetly into the fray of a petting zoo. Sometimes you nearly forget anything’s wrong at all, until some pedophilic dirty talk or foreplay brings you back to reality and forces you to face facts.

Something is terribly wrong. Wolfgang has parents somewhere who love and miss him, and psychologically, he is splintering, turning into the polar opposite of the unknowing boy Michael goes after later in the film.

To ask for more excitement in a movie like this is to ask for a nasty brand of moviemaking. Despite its relentless ugliness and bleakness, Michael never sinks to the sewers of  child exploitation. As a critic, though, I would have asked for a more conclusive ending. Placing an ending like this in any movie, let alone a film of this intensity, seems, frankly, a little like cheating.

Note – Praised by critics for its subtle take on its subject. Free of heavy-handedness and melodrama, the film’s director, Marcus Schleinzer, got several calls from grateful pedophiles, thanking him for his “non-judgmental” portrayal of their kind. It’s sad to think there are people like that out there, who will probably never benefit from any kind of therapy an are best kept away from children for the rest of their natural lives.

The Hunt (2012)

Just as man has succumbed to the urge to kill, fight, and procreate since the beginning of time, also has man had the tendency to persecute others without clear or rational explanation. These attacks, popularly called ‘witch hunts,’ come under fire in the Academy-Award nominated Danish film “The Hunt,” which tells the story of how one little girl’s lie has devastating consequences. These consequences affect not only one man, but a whole community.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) a mild-mannered, reserved divorcee and father of a teenaged son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) works at the local Kindergarten. He is fighting to gain more time with his son, and enjoys the company of the kindergarten kids as well as his  Swedish girlfriend, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport.) Lucas is well-liked by the community, but is best friend is Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen,) the often-drunk father of Klara (Annika Wedderkopp,) a troubled young girl who is beginning to show symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

When Lucas rejects Klara’s innocent-yet-inappropriate advances in forms of a gift and a kiss, Klara makes up a lie that has far-reaching consequences. Accused of indecent behavior towards the children of the Kindergarten, Lucas must deal with the loss of his career, his friends, and his safe niche in the community. Suddenly, he is distrusted by everyone, and people shun him and outwardly lash out at him. By the time Klara tries to take it back, it’s too late. Everything has changed.

Is this the face of evil?

I don’t really blame Klara for the way things turns out- I’m angry, yes, but I cannot hate or dismiss her. By the time the chips have fallen into place, she barely remembers what did or didn’t happen. Unlike the events in Craig Zobel’s “Compliance,” which were set off and carried past a certain point by pure idiocy (although “Compliance” is supposedly based on a real-life case,) the events in “The Hunt” are frighteningly plausible and even, for a while, understandable.

I loved the first scene. In a seemingly jolly outburst of mirth and indiscretion, a group of male friends go skinny-dipping in a cold lake. For a moment, all is well. Then a chill falls over the film as we are shown a shot of a chilly landscape. The amiable notes of “Moondance” by Van Morrison fade into pure silence. All is not well. Disaster is hovering over the hero’s head, and he will find himself doing and saying some things he never expected too.

Save the children!

Mads Mikkelsen is just terrific in the lead role. His portrayal of a desperate man going to desperate lengths to be heard is so dark and deep, you never doubt it for a second. All the actors are actually very good. Annika Wedderkopp, as five-year-old navigating conflicts way above her maturity level, is a young talent to
watch.

“The Hunt” is just electrifying to watch because of the daunting relevance of the situation. Akin to the Salem Witch Trials, after Klara has told her lie, many of the schoolchildren start reporting abuse. You can imagine yourself in a situation like that, because if a little girl came to you revealing things she shouldn’t know, who would you believe? The adult, despite your nagging suspicions? Or the child, despite your friendship with the man in question. We all hate pedophiles. But what happens when that hatred becomes irrational and turns us into something monstrous? Very interesting food for thought.
                  

By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

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Although it has some examples of grating and cliched prose (all of which is typical for YA lit,) “By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead” provides a fairly accurate look at the confused and self-despising mind of a suicidal teen. Daelyn Rice is at boiling point- after various attempts to take her own life, she has joined a suicide completion web site and is determined to succeed this time. Her parents are amiable but clueless- her classmates, cruel, and her teachers apathetic. Daelyn’s head brims with contradictions, despair, and hopelessness. She both hates the world and hates herself- but will the eccentric Santana draw her out of her suicidal shell?

Daelyn was an simultaneously tragic and profoundly frustrating. She’s a sick little girl, and considering her history of bullying by both the kids and adults in her life, that’s no surprise. I was so mad at Daelyn’s parents, though of course I felt bad that their daughter detested them and wanted to kill herself. I don’t know about you, but if I was locked in the closet for eight hours by some students and pissed my pants, my dad would be tearing the bullies, the teachers, and the administration a new asshole.

And I understand why parents don’t have the time and resources to homeschool their bullied kids. But don’t these people have any protective instinct towards their offspring? At first I thought Chip and Kim Rice were nice. Now I think they’re idiots. Daelyn herself is a somewhat unreliable narrator, especially in the way she portrays suicide. I would suggest that parents look up this book before they let their teens with depressive issues read this. I know you can’t always control what teens read, nor would they want to (adolescence is a time of burgeoning freedom) but the story is not exactly hopeful, and could be triggering to a certain audience.

However, for teens who are not suicidal-slash-are recovering, this is a compelling read. The Santana/Daelyn aspect was a little unbelievable. Trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve been drawn within myself and bitter and hopeless, and nobody pursues you to the point that Santana pursued Daelyn. After a while, they stop trying to open you up. And when they reveal Santana has cancer? Please. Figures that the one boy who follows her to the ends of the earth is extremely ill.
‘By the Time You Read This…’ isn’t for everyone. Depressing for some audiences, annoyingly one note for others, the book is best suited for people who have been lowered into the abyss of depression, either by traumatic life experiences or their own inner demons. You’re more likely to enjoy the book if you can relate to Daelyn to some extent. Which I did. Her downer attitude was exasperating at times, but that’s what bullying does to a person. Please. Bullying is not, and will never be cool. Don’t fuck with people.

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Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

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“Call me Zits,” states the disaffected, acne-afflicted anti-hero at the beginning of Sherman Alexie’s fast-paced, compulsively readable novel ‘Flight.’ Zits, an fifteen-year-old Native American orphan, is shipped off to yet another foster home when he gets into a fight with his foster father and physically attacks him. He is sent to Juvie but escapes with a charismatic boy he met in jail, who brainwashes him into committing a violent crime. In the midst of shooting up a bank, ZIts is shot in the head and transported back in time for reasons unknown to him.

Zits enters the bodies of five different characters, from a mute Indian boy fighting for his life during Custer’s Last Stand to a white pilot grappling with his guilt in a modern day setting. Along the way, Zits sees the intrinsic violence and anger that resides within humanity and the futility of revenge and blame-placing. By the end of it, he is changed for the better- but is it too late?

I already knew Sherman Alexie was a talented writer from back when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but what I didn’t expect was to be completely transported by this book. Let me put it this way- usually it takes me weeks to get through a book (I’m a slow reader) and I finished this in two days. “Flight” was funny and made my heart hurt at the same time. You can’t help feeling for this boy, although for all intents and purposes he is not a very sympathetic character (he lies, steals, sets fires, and kills.) He’s never known ‘home’ or ‘family’ or ‘love,’ and most of his foster parents are just in it for the money.

I know it’s a cliche, but he’s built up resistance against an uncaring world. I know nothing about Indian history yet I never felt lost or stupid reading this book, it’s that accessible. The writing is at once conversational and literary; there is no hint of smut or trashiness in the narrative. The events leading up to the shooting are pretty rushed, but that just gets the reader to the fantasy element quicker. It also builds up a sense of confusion and disorientation, Zits doesn’t really know why he wants to commit the crime, all he knows is that he hurts and he wants to make others hurt as he has.

“Flight” is harsh, heartbreaking, strong, unsentimental, and tough. It’s protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, and his fresh, angry voice drives the narrative at breakneck speed. I want to read all of Sherman Alexie’s works now. When I’m reading Alexie, it doesn’t matter than I’m not in the know about poverty or reservation life or Native American woes, because his themes are pretty much universal. I highly recommend this book to all those that like good fiction.

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The War Zone (1999)

Actor Tim Roth’s dictatorial debut is also an exquisitely acted masterwork about the dark secrets surrounding a middle-class British family, with Lara Belmont stealing the show as the abused daughter. Teenager Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is horrified but initially fails to intervene when he realizes his older sister (Belmont) is carrying on an incestuous relationship with their father (Ray Winstone.)

Winstone, who is primarily known by the public for imposing-baddie-with-a-cockney-accent kind of roles, really sells it as a monster of a human being. You will hate this man so much you will want to vomit. Tilda Swinton plays Mum, who is pregnant at the start of the film, and later has a baby girl named Alice.

The weird thing is, Tom doesn’t immediately see his older sister as a victim, even as he looks on as she is raped by her father. In fact, Jess (the sister) doesn’t always see herself as a victim either. I don’t think she thinks she deserves to be saved. She occasionally fancies herself a Daddy’s girl, and may very nearly likes the attention and the meager pleasures of the ever more frequent assaults.

She teases Tom, coyly denies it. Tom seems to blame Jess for the impending disintegration of their family, rather than the piece of human excrement who sits at their table, eats their food, makes love to their mother like his interests aren’t directed elsewhere. While ‘Dad’ is a monster, Tom isn’t exactly sympathetic either, and Jess initially raises question of whether she likes Daddy’s attentions, and, in fact, is complaint in the incest.

This is not a movie for the weak of heart. I was disgusted, but in a good way if you know what I mean. This movie is a hundred times scarier than “The Shining” and a hundred times more grotesque than “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence,)” if only because it is firmly rooted in reality. The only thing I can think to compare it to is “Tyrannosaur,” another great movie who was also directed by a UK actor (Paddy Considine.)

This movie is not about ghosts, devils, evil entities, or masked killers. It’s about the evils people do, the atrocities that can take place in a more or less regular household. While the lack of sexual boundaries the family exhibits is off-putting, it doesn’t seem to incorporate abuse at first. Oh, how wrong you are, filmgoer.

I recommend this amazing movie to people with very strong stomachs. The acting is great all around and the script is nearly flawless. I’m still floored that Lara Belmont did no professional acting prior to this movie. Her acting will blow you away. One of the most underrated performances ever. I hope Tim Roth can find time to make another movie in addition to his acting career. Purely, and simply… great.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Is it nuts to expect more from a movie like “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)? With a premise and set-up like this, what can you expect, except for a few good scares and a whole lotta gore? But with an intriguing killer like Martin, I was actually hopeful, and disappointed by the never-ending, and I suppose inevitable, stream of torture that followed.

I guess I would have liked to have seen more Martin, less of the centipede. More scathing black humor, less of the gore? Crazy? Maybe. But my love of all things fuck-upedly psychological led me to wish for an entirely different movie.

I’ll be honest and straight-up and admit that I haven’t seen Tom Six’s controversial original (and at this point I don’t think I’ll bother.) But to those uninitiated few, I’ll describe the original premise to the best of my abilities. Sensitive readers, stop right here. It only goes downhill from here.

In the original “Human Centipede,” two pretty American tourists’ car breaks down while traveling in Germany (of course, the car), and they seek help at the home of an incredibly creepy German doctor, who proceeds to serve them a drugged drink and reveal his master plan (you’ve never seen that one before, right?)

The doctor intends to make a Siamese triplet out of the frightened girls and a third party. Okay, this is where it gets real messy. Using the magic of surgical precision, the the good doc will sew them together mouth to anus, therefore creating one entity. I guess you’re starting to understand the controversy behind these films, eh?

So. “The Human Centipede II.” Listen, now, because the premise is actually pretty creative. Martin, a short, creepy, obese security guard (Laurence R. Harvey) who lives with his abusive mother (Mommy issues- where have I heard that one before…? Okay I’ll stop now) is INSPIRED by the original “Human Centipede” and sets out to make one of his own, but suffers from poor health and limited resources.

Martin, whose father sexually abused him, and whose mother blames Martin for sending hubby to jail (I call it “Precious” syndrome. but it definitely happens), has led an agonizing life full of brutality and misery, and, as it so happens, has a sexual fetish for “The Human Centipede.” On top of that he has a psychiatrist (Bill Hutchins) who wants to have sex with him (ew.)

SO what can Martin do except to make the people around him suffer? And so he does, in a spectacularly brutal manner. And may I just say, Laurence R. Harvey is a FABULOUS actor. Not only does he cope with the fact that Martin doesn’t say a single word throughout the movie, he makes it an asset.

Harvey also makes you feel sorry for Martin, at moments, throughout the movie. And I think that’s where he really excels, making you feel sympathy for such a beastly character. Unfortunately, Laurence R. Harvey (and Martin) are stuck in a movie that doesn’t deserve them, and Vivian Bridsen (who plays Martin’s mother) is as incompetent as Harvey is adept.

The first half of this film is pretty good. It’s deliberately illogical at times (Martin hits his victims full-force with a crow bar and still manages to only knock them out), but the film has a devilish, nightmarish feel, and makes good use of black & white photography. The dialogue is often bizarre and implausible, but this only reinforces the fact that we are living in a nightmare.

After the first half, though, we are thrown into forty minutes of torture which is not only gross, it’s also boring. How do you make torture boring? For dragging it on forty minutes, that’s how. I know, I know, I’m watching “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence),” not “My Dinner With Andre.” Dialogue isn’t the film’s strong point. But is it too much to hope for a little… more of it?

If there’s one thing I got out of this movie, it was Laurence R. Harvey’s performance. I really, really hope this guy makes it. Otherwise, skip this weakly plotted torture fest. Next!