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).
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.
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.”
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.