Friday, September 3, 2010

An Exercise in 'Perversion'

I’ve always liked my horror one of two extremes – either completely safe and formulaic (i.e. just about every slasher film ever made) or completely twisted to the point of inducing extreme reactions (i.e. FEED, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, TEETH). Budding filmmaker and all-around entrepreneur Chris Moore, a film student at the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts, has crafted an absorbing, twisted little flick with the decidedly too-the-point title PERVERSION that falls squarely into that latter category.

PERVERSION is a nightmarish, nearly hallucinogenic, psychosexual thriller that calls to mind bits of 1976’s BLACK CHRISTMAS and the more recent THE STRANGERS infused with a gender-reversed dose of 1982’s THE SEDUCTION with Morgan Fairchild. The story concerns a teenage agorophobe named Ryan (played by triple-threat screenwriter/director/actor Moore) who begins to suspect that his creepy neighbor is actually a depraved pedophile who’s developed an obsession with him. Adding to the suspense is a horrific back story in which Ryan and his family were attacked and sexually victimized by a group of masked strangers in a church rectory one Christmas Eve, leaving his parents dead, his younger sister institutionalized, and him a virtual shut-in. And just to make sure that poor Ryan never quite recovers in his head, the perpetrators were never caught.

The film follows Ryan through a series of encounters with someone who wants him – badly. Danger is ever-present with a series of sexually provocative phone calls, someone in the attic spying on him through a vent in the ceiling, and someone peeping on him in various states of undress and while he sleeps through windows and closets. Who’s behind this titular perversion? The predatory neighbor? The masked men who once attacked Ryan and his family? Or is the whole affair some internal manifestation of the trauma Ryan underwent?

PERVERSION is an independent film in every sense of the word. It’s got a rough low-budget look, and the acting (aside from Moore who is surprisingly solid in the lead) is commensurate with what one would expect from a film school outing. But to truly assess and appreciate the value of a project like this, one really needs to watch the film through a more critical, less technical eye to see the smooth, shiny diamond beneath the jagged layers of rock.

What the film may lack in technical merits, it amply makes up for in its gusto and sheer nerve. Major props to Moore for completely inverting the final girl-in-peril trope here with a gender-reversed final boy. Moore also gets an appreciative eyebrow raise for drawing on the taboo subject of male sexual victimization. Countless films have employed the rape of female characters as either weak character motivation or, worse, as a titillating plot point. In a sense, through his use of an attractive male character as the object of sexual obsession and violence, Moore subjugates that overused device. In one particularly harrowing scene, Ryan is forced to strip and follow the perverse commands of his stalker – who appears to be watching from the vent in his bedroom – via telephone. It’s an audacious and very brave scene, one that makes the viewer intensely uncomfortable on several levels – exactly what true horror should do. Moore missteps a bit with the employment of multiple voices during this sequence – clearly used to denote either the presence of more than one predator or to reinforce a multi-personality at work – that at times elicits laughs versus gasps and subsequently breaks some of the tension. My only other minor gripe with this otherwise flawlessly executed scene is that Moore, who includes a gratuitous nude scene elsewhere, eschews nudity here in favor of cutaway shots. Moore missed an opportunity here to elevate the nudity from gratuitous to relevant, using it to reinforce the character’s vulnerability and the nakedness of the sexual violence at work here.

PERVERSION is enough to establish Moore as a young filmmaker to keep an eye on. He possesses a cinematic gutsiness that belies his years, and he clearly shows here that he’s not afraid to take a risk. With a solid eye for genuinely creepy shots and angles that add layers of atmosphere to the film and a good feel for the underlying rhythm of a film from an editing side, he’s got potential to produce some quality works given the right budget, cast, and technical support. PERVERSION is a bold, perverse pleasure to behold.

To purchase PERVERSION on DVD, click here.

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