Monday, 24 October 2016

Rupture (2016) - Movie Review

It may have taken over a year for it to happen, but I think I’ve finally found a good thing to come out of last year’s Fifty Shades Of Grey adaptation: It brought further attention to another, far better film exploring S&M because we desperately wanted an alternative. Specifically, 2002’s Secretary, a film that seriously deserves getting some form of mainstream attention even if it’s through a tangential connection to a rather weak offering. With a mixture of genuine understanding and realistic characters, even considering the scope of their… actions, let’s say, it managed to give a very reasonable, sympathetic and frequently funny depiction of that type of lifestyle. It’s the kind of film that I personally have all the respect for because it managed to show kindness to an area of sexuality that, up until that point, had mainly been used for cheap jokes and even cheaper exploitation (Body Of Evidence, anyone?).

So, after making a film about a famous photographer which also delved into certain elements of fringe culture, writer/director Steven Shainberg has been quiet for the last ten years. Then news hit of his latest film being released in Australia, in a sci-fi film festival no less, and I made my way down to Randwick faster than most of the horses that made the area famous. But is the trip worth it, cinematically at least?

The plot: Single mother Renee (Noomi Rapace), on a routine car trip, is abducted and taken to an underground facility. Her captors (Kerry Bishé, Michael Chiklis, Lesley Manville, Peter Stormare, et al.) need her for some kind of scientific experiment, but they aren’t exactly forthcoming about what exactly it is. Renee, while restrained to a medical bed, has no idea where she is, what they want from her or even if she’s the only one that they have kidnapped. Despite all that, she is still determined to escape and make it back home to her son (Percy Hynes White).

This is a pretty uniform cast for the most part, but man does everyone here deliver in their roles. Rapace gives easily her best performance since her work in the Millennium films, balancing blind terror at her surroundings with a level-headedness to escape from said surroundings without any of her moments of ingenuity feeling beyond her reach. Her captors keep a considerable quality standard between them, with Bishé, Manville and the others standing over her bed being chillingly cold in their demeanours, Chiklis is downright terrifying in how seriously he takes the job at hand and Stormare, considering he is meant to be the leader of this experiment, works with some of the stranger aspects of it to create this engaging yet unnerving presence on screen.

Given how Shainberg’s most widely-known feature involved a lot of restraints and domination, it’s hardly surprising that this film is as suffocating as it is. Sure, we also get plenty of bondage-type situations shown, but you will not find anything resembling sensuality or consensuality here. Instead, he and cinematographer Karim Hussain keep the film’s focus on Renee’s predicament and putting the audience in her shackles. In that regard, this is exceptional in how it manages to convey isolation and terror at literally everything around you. As a result, even in a year that has shown definite skill in bringing out the horror in confinement, this might have the most airtight atmosphere of any supposedly scary film I’ve seen this year. Add to that this film’s unsettlingly garish colour palette, giving this grungy Trent Reznor-meets-Bruce LaBruce texture to the facility where Renee is being held, and you have a film that passes the thrill test with flying colours.

Fear is a strange biological process for humans, in that it has mainly gone the way of the appendix and is largely useless for us in day-to-day living. And yet, up to and including the realms of cinema, we are willing to subject ourselves to this potentially debilitating feeling for the means of fun. Without going too heavily into spoilers, the experiment at the core of the film is centered on the human response to fear and how it can be used to change a person. Kind of like Room 101 from Orwell’s 1984, except the ultimate purpose here is far less soul-crushing. Rather than simply breaking a person down to their worst possible state through fear, the ultimate scheme here is to do the same thing, only to rebuild that person even stronger as a result of the experience.

It’s the idea of conquering one’s fear to become better taken to the furthest possible extreme, except said extreme might not even be that far outside of our realm of understanding. I mean, that feeling of empowerment after surviving and recovering from a terrible event? Anyone whom has ever had a depressive episode can sympathise with that idea, myself included. As such, for as underhanded, invasive and outright creepy as Renee’s captors can get, the fact that their intention is actually plausible and advisable makes everything quite grey, morally speaking. So, not only do we have visual thrills, the concepts this film brings up create intellectual and somewhat instinctual thrills as well.

Even with Shainberg’s annoyingly small filmography, this is his first venture into genre films. That sense of stepping into a new realm of storytelling is evident in the film itself, because this has some of the weirder genre moments I’ve seen in quite some time. It has a similar feeling to Snowpiercer from a couple years ago, both in its depth of production and writing and in how the inherent freedom of speculative fiction presents itself in the story. Now, again while trying to avoid heavy spoilers, the main conceit of the film concerning fear and how it alters a person is based in science that I haven’t really encountered the likes of since The Lazarus Effect, except here we’re not supposed to take it as real-world fact. The subtextual understanding of fear’s effect on a person is solid as all hell, but the attempt to rationalise it with science goes a bit screwy.

There’s also the running gag/motif/attempt to weird out the audience where Renee’s captors are obsessive about touch, specifically rubbing their faces against her’s in this verging-on-sexual way. Again, there is an in-universe reason for it along with a surprising number of things that we see, but it can induce the occasional unintentional giggle. Then again, that might just be because the film itself is as tense as it is that reprieve by any means is needed.

All in all, hands down the most terrifying film I’ve seen all year. Through an excellent cast, a visual eye that puts us squarely in the position of the captive lead and a script that, while scientifically and fictitiously odd in places, makes superb use of classic science-fiction tropes and a keen understanding of humanity’s relationship with fear, we have a sci-fi film that is outright worth seeing in pretty much every respect. Hell, even its weirder moments aren't really a drawback, as those kind of genre-weird instances are among the reasons why I love speculative fiction in the first place. Basically, it’s a horror film about how horror affects us so much, what good it can do for us and ultimately how much that good is worth to us in the process; metafiction at its best. Shainberg quickly made his way onto my radar with Secretary, and after this, I doubt he will ever leave it any time soon.

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