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by Indiewire Staff
August 24, 2011 4:53 AM
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So Taboo: Four Upcoming Films That Promise to Offend

Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" is one of this year's most talked about, taboo-breaking films.

Plenty of provocative and disturbing films pass through the festival circuit. But of those that really tug at societal taboos, it's a select few that make it to theaters.

Over the years, these have included titles like "Fat Girl" (child rape), "Irreversible" (Nine-minute, single-take anal rape scene), "Happiness" (sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile) and "Lilya 4-Ever" (violent rape), but the recent success of movies like "Antichrist" (genital mutilation) and "The Human Centipede" (where to begin?) suggest that audiences are increasingly open to watching subversive content.

"If people want to argue, that's fine with us. It only helps build anticipation," says Ryan Werner, VP of Marketing at IFC. His company distributed "Antichrist" and "Human Centipede;" IFC label Sundance Selects will release Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" later this year.

"Certain audiences, myself included, like being provoked," Werner says. "It can be thrilling, rewarding and sometimes exciting or upsetting. Whatever the case, these films take you for a ride. They are often fun to market."

Werner also points out that an audience who may not want to see these films in a theater may feel differently in the privacy of their homes. "Every film is different, but these films often have a solid life in ancillaries," he says. "And our day-and-date release strategy has often been quite successful for us."

Here's a look at four movies that promise to give the MPAA nightmares (if the films are submitted at all).


"Sleeping Beauty"
Release Date: Oct. 28 (Sundance Selects)

Australian novelist Julia Leigh's debut film is set up for major international success: It had Jane Campion providing a "presented by" credit and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The premise, however, is a tough sell: A postpubescent prostitute is paid to take drugs that render her unconscious while her clients do whatever they want with her (except penetration).

At Cannes, the film was met with a barrage of immediate opinions. The Guardian called it a "bizarre sexual nightmare" with "stomach-turning sex scenes," and despite its explicit nudity, sex and drug use, Sasha Stone at Screen Daily called it "very slow and a little dull" while David Rooney at the Hollywood Reporter called it "psychosexual twaddle" and a "pretentious exercise" with a "rigidly cold aesthetic." (By contrast, Andrew O'Hehir at Salon described it as "Gorgeous, opaque and disturbing in roughly equal portions" and "A riveting experience all the way through.") Some believed that the explicit, disturbing film would never get distribution in the US, but IFC snapped up the film.

"The Human Centipede: Full Sequence"
Release Date: Oct 7 (rumored) (IFC Midnight)

Sadistic mouth-to-anus surgery is the starting point for "The Human Centipede" and it only gets worse from there. The latest installment in what is shaping up to be the most controversial horror film cycle in history, "The Human Centipede: Full Sequence" has skipped festivals altogether - it wouldn't be welcomed to many, anyway - and will be distributed by IFC this fall. Not surprisingly, the film includes scenes vicious and graphic enough to have the film banned outright by the British Board of Film Censors, with David Cooke, the BBFC's director saying, "The unacceptable content runs throughout the work, [and] cuts are not a viable option in this case."

Director Tom Six claims the sequel is significantly more intense than its predecessor; speaking at Empire's Big Screen event in the UK, he said it "makes the last one look like a Disney film." And if you have the guts (sorry) to keep going after the "Full Sequence," Six is already planning the third installment.

"The Woman"
Release Date: October 14 (The Collective and Bloody Disgusting in partnership with AMC Theaters)

"The Woman" is about a feral woman, discovered in the woods and captured by a Southern man. Over the course of the film, he and his family viciously abuse and torture her, sexually and otherwise. When Sundance premiered Lucky McKee's film earlier this year, some audience members erupted in anger, claiming the film was deeply misogynist and artistically worthless; one particularly angry viewer can be seen here.

Other critics, however, found the film challenging and ironic, including Justine Smith at Sound on Sight, who argues that the film reveals "a pattern of ingrained social misogyny." One critic even calls McKee a "radical feminist."

"Michael"
Release Date: TBD (No distributor)

"Michael," the directorial debut of Austrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer, presents the daily life of a pedophile who keeps a child locked in his basement. With the Josef Fritz and Natascha Kampusch cases fresh in Austrian memories, the film has already created controversy at home and worldwide. Despite its subject matter, the film has been praised as a fearless and subversive masterpiece in the vein of Michael Haneke, for whom Schleinzer has worked as a casting director. iW's Eric Kohn gave it a rave during Cannes, saying: "Not since Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” has a movie portrayed pedophilia in such uncomfortable detail." While the film has not found a North American distributor, its inclusion in next month's genre showcase Fantastic Fest suggests there's a chance that the controversy could be a potent marketing angle.

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15 Comments

  • The Noctuary | September 2, 2011 12:31 PMReply

    The C actually stands for 'Classification' the BBFC aren't Cebsors like the MPAA. Films are only banned over here if they actually break the law.

    Can't Wait- Try 'Mysterious Skin'.

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  • greasepaint | August 26, 2011 2:43 AMReply

    'The Woman' - by the way - is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! It boasts powerhouse, utterly engaging performances by every single member of the cast, it has a 'cantor' a 'musicality' that puts it heads and shoulders above anything the producers of 'The Human Centipede' could crank out. It also boasts some of the most God-Awful, shocking as HELL gore sequences this side of a mutilated teet! And what's more, its feminist message is a wake-up kick to the nuts for us all!

  • greasepaint | August 26, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    For the producers of 'The Human Centipede to tout their first 'ass to mouth' installment as being like a 'Disney film' proves just how utterly out of touch they really are. The first Human Centipede was a technically sound foray into the sadistically morose & mundane. The only thing it had going for it, was a relatively suspenseful opening set-up, only to be quickly weighted down by one slow, monotonous, torturous, sadistic chase scene after another - with absolutely NO theatricality, NO musicality, No class, nothing that would hint that these sadists are interested in anything other than making a fast buck. (Imagine - class and musicality in a film like this??? Don't poo poo it, (pun intended) Hitchcock, DePalma, Fulci, Argento, Scorsese, Hell even Fellini himself would have had a field day with this subject matter) I absolutely loved the idea of this film, it's bizarre, shocking, disturbing, and utterly curious. How it was actually filmed and edited however, was utterly banal and dull and I pity any fool who would inflict this crap onto themselves, or anyone else.

  • Dana Harris | August 25, 2011 2:31 AMReply

    sk - you're right. It was a presented by credit. Now corrected.

  • jingmei | August 25, 2011 1:48 AMReply

    from some perspective, and for some spectators, this is just a piece of potent promo for these films.

  • Charlene | August 25, 2011 1:39 AMReply

    "The Woman" sounds a lot like "Deadgirl", a nasty little gem I caught at Toronto 2008. Shame it isn't more well known.

  • Lionel Masters | August 24, 2011 10:29 AMReply

    I would like to recommend a wonderfully transgressive horror film from New Zealand, that is slowly finding a very appreciative audience in Europe, David Blyth's "Wound." More like the child of Jodorwosky, this film explores sexual nightmares in a way that you would not believe. And the doyen of English cinema at its most bold, Ken Russell, has lauded this work as a masterpiece. I hope some AMERICAN DISTRIBUTIOR picks it up soon, as it is a seriously damaged work that could join those you have mentioned in the article.

  • sk | August 24, 2011 10:19 AMReply

    Jane Campion did NOT produce Sleeping Beauty - but her association with the film seems to have had the right effect - people think she produced it, even Indiwire!

  • hypersquared | August 24, 2011 8:43 AMReply

    Two words: Killer Joe.

  • Tiger the Frog | August 24, 2011 7:30 AMReply

    What fascinates me about "The Human Centipede" is that the mere idea of what it's about is much more disturbing than what is literally shown in the film (very little, actually). Friends of mine who will happily watch the most sadistic and graphic horror movies are too frightened or grossed out to consider watching this movie. That noted arbiter of good taste, Howard Stern, was disgusted by getting the DVD, which he didn't have the stomach to watch.

    The whole concept, pardon the expression, is just too hard to swallow for most people.

    There are many films people see and forget, but this one, you don't need to see, and yet you may never forget. Just hearing about it and you go through an experience, however unsavory.

  • Can't Wait | August 24, 2011 7:29 AMReply

    @james I can't really argue that point because you are correct. But you also fail to mention that the perpetrators are also less defined. Take Michael for example. Another Pedo-Monster film. Has there ever been a film that explored what a real relationship between a paedophile and a child is like?

    I mean according to psychological research one in every four children is sexually abused so it must be a common story that doesn't always end in jail or murder right?

    But who would ever have the balls to make a film like that? It's easier for filmmakers to constrict their subjects to genre conventions and/or explore subject matter that is comfortable for them.

    But in terms of films released this year, at least the above filmmakers are taking a slight chance at exploring areas a majority of audiences deplore.

    I'd much rather watch a provocateur than a hack.

  • james | August 24, 2011 7:14 AMReply

    Yawn. Same old offensive stuff: rape and mutilation. What makes none of this news is that, as always, the situations are singular, just like the juiciest tabloid headlines: specific characters in unusually unique scenarios by people with absolutely no experience in the subjects. Compare this to the chronic horrors of real life (war, violence in its relation to poverty, economic abuse), and things get less precise: victims are less defined, have less voice, and the crimes inflicted upon them are perhaps hardly identifiable at all.

    A good and recent example of how these supposedly provocative films are only one degree from the comical is "30 Seconds or Less," inspired by a true yet so very singular situation that it was easiest to adapt it as slapstick.

  • Can't Wait | August 24, 2011 7:08 AMReply

    I can't wait for The Human Centipede 2. I would rather see that any day than a pathetic hipster musing on twentysomething relationships. I find those films to be pretty "gross" and a poor representation of the New York filmmaking community.

  • Shock instead of substance | August 24, 2011 7:02 AMReply

    Gross.