Edinburgh International Film Festival

Snuff-Movie (2005)

Starring: Jeroen Krabbé, Alistair McKenzie, Lisa Enos, Lyndsay Marshal, Nick Broomfield, Hugo Myatt, Teri Harrison, Joe Reegan, Sharif, Andrew Tiernan

Directed by: Bernard Rose

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Imagine a cross between Ken Russell's Gothic, The Manson Family, Big Brother and something rather horrible you discovered on the internet and rather wished you hadn't. That makes Snuff-Movie sound rather awful, but in fact it's really rather good.

Snuff-Movie - a horror film to sink your teeth into

Meet Boris Arkadin (Jeroen Krabbé), a Ken Russell-esque horror movie mogul who churns out B-movie nasties in the style of Hammer's mid 1970s soft porn efforts, but whose career is brought to an abrupt and bloody end when his wife and houseguests are brutally murdered, Manson style, by a group of psychotic fans. Thirty years later, Arkadin emerges from self-imposed retirement and announces that he's going to make another film. The subject matter? The infamous murders. Talk about tasteful.

Assembling a cast of eerily accurate looky-likeys (hardly surprising as they're played by the same actors), he announces that the film is to be unscripted and improvised, filmed by hidden cameras distributed, Big Brother style, around the spooky old mansion where the carnage took place. So far so uncomfortable and creepy, but 'oh whoops, look at that, my clothes just fell off'...

Meanwhile, a VW camper van is waiting in the dark lane outside, three psychotic fans inside; and Andy (Alistair McKenzie), the boyfriend of the actress pegged to play Arkadin's doomed wife Mary, has discovered a new site on the internet: Snuff-Movie.com, the live action movie from Boris Arkadin. Enter your credit card details and watch the cast die.

Yes, this is a fairly nasty, cruel, gory film (and that's setting aside the innate wrongness of seeing Archie from Monarch of the Glen surfing for internet porn), although to be honest I've seen far worse. Towards the end, Arkadin, surrounded by the mutilated corpses of his cast, admits with a sigh that he thinks he has failed. Perhaps he has - if I've seen worse, just think what real late night internet surfers may have seen. But Snuff-Movie is no straight to video nasty - believe it or not (and here it comes, the age old justification for all kinds of unspeakable nastiness), it actually has something intelligent and pertinent to say about contemporary society.

In a world where 'reality' isn't real unless it's seen through the lens of a camera, a celluloid, silicone culture that seems to believe entertainment can only be truthful if it's fly-on-the-wall, unscripted docusoap, can a horror movie really horrify if it's just pretend? Live death is the only place reality TV has not yet gone - or not on the BBC, at any rate: is that the next step? As Big Brother proves only too clearly, in a society where everyone will do anything for fifteen minutes of fame, nothing we see on so-called 'reality' TV can ever actually be 'real' or spontaneous or truthful.

As the boundaries dividing reality from art collapse, until we're no longer able to tell what is 'really' happening in the film and what is just an act, Snuff-Movie forces us not only to question the way we 'act' in real life, but to wonder (somewhat uncomfortably), whether paying to see a film where people pretend to die in hideous ways is really much less sick and twisted than paying to see live death online. Ouch. But then again, isn't that the point of art, to make us question ourselves and our surroundings? Which obviously makes the vampirism, torture, cruelty, nudity and gory excess acceptable. Hmmm.

Oh well. Philosophical speculation aside, Snuff-Movie is one hell of a ride, twisting and turning like a corkscrew and full of delightfully nasty effects. And hey (this may be a spoiler, but Bernard Rose himself gave the game away before the preview showing of the film had even started) the movie has a happy ending. Which means we can all go home feeling okay about ourselves, because no-one's really dead. Now that probably was a spoiler.

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