Halloween 2017: It Comes at Night

This film was absolutely not what I was expecting. I tend to ignore book and film reviews before I consume media so it’s not uncommon that I find myself surprised when I finally watch the movie or read the book. But even with that in mind, this film was still surprising to me. When I see a title like “It Comes at Night” I have some expectations. Like a monster or killer or band of roving post-apocalyptic warriors literally coming at night, attacking the protagonists, creating the violent tension that makes horror films worth watching.

I felt let down by this film, and though that opinion has changed a bit, I still think this film has a core of dishonesty that ensures that the viewer can never know for sure what caused the events to unfold as they did. Which is fine in a way – nothing in the rule book says horror films have to be easy to parse out. My adoration of It Follows should show that I don’t mind doing the work necessary to figure out what is going on with a film.  Sometimes half the fun comes from piecing together the details and clues so that we understand the filmmaker’s intent.  That fun fades when a film that has only six characters and takes place mostly inside a single home muddies the plot line with so many dream sequences and Macguffins that the viewer will never be able to understand exactly what happened.

And I must say that even though I find this film to be dishonest, it still comes no where close to being as dishonest as the most dishonest horror film of all time, High Tension. I genuinely do not know how anyone could praise that film after viewing the last ten minutes. The ending shows that the entirety of the action up to that point could not have happened as presented, that literally the entire movie’s sequence of action could not possibly have occurred as the blonde heroine presents the action and experiences it, and therefore the film deliberately misrepresented everything that happened in order to achieve a GOTCHA ending. But the film likely still gets views because the action up until the directors shot us the middle finger was excellent and the lead actress was very effective in the role.  While the actors in It Comes at Night do a fine job, the film is very static, with very few thrills.  I guess if a film is going to dishonest, it needs to go big or go home..

Above the cut, I want to tell you that the actors did a fine job with the material in It Comes at Night, that the bulk of the film works on a very basic level, and that there are worse ways you can spend an hour and a half of your time. I’m telling you this above the cut because below the cut I will be utterly spoiling the film. If you want to take my reaction and run with it, now is the time to stop reading. For those who have seen the film and want to discuss it with me or those who don’t care about spoilers, let’s dissect this little film.

This Is Not an Odd Book Discussion: The Bunny Game

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I’ve wanted to talk about the movie, The Bunny Game, for a while now but I needed time to come to an understanding with myself as to why I find this film worthy of discussion. It’s a hard movie to watch, an even harder movie to digest and, if one gets derailed by accusations of this film being no more than stylish torture porn, it’s dirty and unsettling. And note that this discussion is full of spoilers, though it’s hard to spoil a film that can be summed up as “trucker tortures prostitute in the desert for several days.”

The Bunny Game struck me as a transgressive piece of cinema that showed a frightening and non-consensual ordeal path/purification ritual more troubling than anything Eli Roth ever brought to the table.  You may think this is going to be a typical torture porn horror movie because some of the marketing leans in this direction.  However this is not torture for the sake of torture, it’s torture with a demented purpose behind it that transcends just the thrill that comes for many when they see a beautiful woman abducted, raped and harmed. I felt this way before I looked up Rodleen Getsic, the protagonist of the film, and found out that she co-wrote this film and based it on an actual abduction she endured. I also read that making this film killed part of her soul, which makes it hard to know if she accomplished what she set out to do when she decided to make this film. She fasted for 40 days beforehand to make herself weak, and she consented to everything that happened to her in this film, from a graphic blowjob (actually more of a face-fuck) to the physical abuse that she endured during the abduction.

The hardest part of this movie for me to stomach was that it was largely script-less, because the implication is that Getsic often had no idea what was going to happen to her next. It was, in a sense, one long, horrible ad lib, which makes it more interesting and infinitely more sickening. The man who plays the trucker is not a professional actor (I believe I read that the director cast him because the actor tried to fight him after claiming he looked at him too long in a parking lot). But the lack of a script meant that Rodleen, a victim of a previous abduction and assault, was potentially being re-victimized even as she consented to all of it beforehand. It also makes one wonder how much anyone can be said to consent to something when they don’t know the details of what is going to happen.

The film, shot in black and white, is visually quite pretty, or maybe arresting, but the cinema quality also made it all the worse, turning all that abuse into visually appealing art. Everything that worked about this film made it all the worse because I did not want to be entertained as I watched this movie.

The film begins with a graphic, unsimulated blow job that is anti-pornographic. Rodleen, the protagonist, is not enjoying herself. She is not moaning with feigned pleasure. Forced to deep throat her john, she pulls back three times to catch her breath, gasping for air and the third time she does this, a wave of misery washes over her face. One gets the feeling she was not acting.  Her reaction shows how nasty her character’s life is and there is no way to see this with a sex positive filter.  She is not empowering herself via sex work.

From that opening scene we are taken through a few days in the prostitute’s life. Bunny lives a life of degrading sexual acts in exchange for enough money to keep her in a nondescript motel room in a nondescript Every City. She spends her time hustling johns, having horrible sex, doing drugs and recovering from it all. Before we are ten minutes in we see her raped when she passes out during a trick and wakes up to find she has been robbed of all her money and her drugs. There is a scene where Bunny sniffs a line of some drug and talks to herself in the mirror, muttering “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” as she psychs herself up to go back out and do more of the same. That, in its way, was the worst scene in the film.

Bunny, wearing platform shoes that had to be a foot tall, wanders a city scape that harbors nothing good or natural. She eats fast food sprawled in front of a wall covered in graffiti, she urinates in an alley in front of a metal fence, right on the concrete. As she wanders the streets, her bleached, straw-like hair in pig-tails, the film flashes to other images, several of her in a natural place, mountains behind her, her brown hair falling in curls, her face, young again as she laughs. Blink and you’ll miss it, but those brief scenes where we see the prostitute in better times, in fresh air in the natural world, are a clue as to what this film’s intent is.

The prostitute, Bunny, finally meets her destiny in the form of a truck driver, called Hog (each are named for the masks they wear during one of the torture scenes). He renders her unconscious, drives her to the desert and spends several days torturing her. She’s unconscious for a while, allowing him time to pull her into his empty trailer, rape her, investigate her body thoroughly, at times snuffling her hair and body like a dog. He then chains her inside the trailer and focuses a camera on her. He forces her to watch her torment, making her relive it as she is actually living it, a particularly cruel bit of meta when one remembers this movie is drawn from Rodleen Getsic’s own experiences.

Hog keeps her in chains, puts a collar around her neck and takes her on walks in the junkyard-like landscape of the desert, at one point forcing her to walk while wearing those insane platforms. He force-feeds her whiskey when she desperately needs water. He completely depersonalizes her by shaving her head, but later brands her as well, taking away one form of identity while giving her another form, one that is more permanent. The brands Hog puts on Bunny’s back resemble infinity signs with tails, but they also look like a bow tied from thin ribbon. Both are apt symbols for this film’s purpose. The torture seems like it lasts forever (this movie is a merciful 76 minutes long – any longer and I think it would have been unwatchable), and the torture is interchangeable with other women we see Hog torture in his own flashbacks. It is interminable and unceasing. But this film also shows that Bunny is being a given a perverse gift.

Bald and slowly divested of her clothing, the end of the movie shows a woman who looks like a slightly better nourished concentration camp victim. She is crouched in the back of the trailer when the door opens and light shines in on her. Naked and near insanity, Bunny runs for it. She runs toward the light. She is a gibbering mess, but the ecstasy is unmistakeable on her face. She desperately wants to live.

The film cuts away and we next see her on a cross. She did not make it to freedom. Hog has caught up to her. She is not restrained. She is not nailed to the cross. She is simply lying atop it with her arms spread, in a Christ-like position. Hog sits near her, not touching her. She hallucinates and sees herself with her healthy face, her brown curly hair, sitting nearby. Her old self burns a book. Her old self puts on a veil. Her old self is watching her self-sacrifice. She is her own Mary Magdalene in this painful vision.

Hog tells her to draw a straw from his fist – if she gets the long straw, she wins. A jittery wraith, she selects a straw. Hog mumbles something in her ear and the ecstasy again shows on her face. She laughs with hysterical delight as he carries her over his shoulder. A man in a white uniform in a white van arrives and Hog carries her to him. They put her in the back of the van and the film ends.

Does Bunny live? Who is the man in the van? I think she lives and but even if she doesn’t, in terms of the purpose of this film, it is unimportant. Taken away from the city into the desert, broken down and depersonalized, she wants to live. She has gone through an extraordinary ordeal, very nearly a vision quest and wants to live. I also thought about this in terms of an extreme purification ritual, with the head-shaving, the starvation, the food and water deprivation.

And if this is a purification ritual, then Bunny lived because there was no sense purifying her if there was only death waiting for her. Purification rituals are to cleanse a person of that which is unclean before a specific life event. I left this film thinking the specific event was life itself. Bunny was cleansed of the drugs in her system, the endless flow of semen into her body, the dirt of the city, the implications of her fried hair and her provocative clothing. Naked, starved and bald she is now ready for life after her ordeal. But even if that white van is representative of death, for the first time Bunny wanted to live. Wanting life is a redemption from the walking death she was experiencing before she was kidnapped. She may never return to being that full-faced, curly-haired, laughing brunette, but just wanting to be her again means she is saved.

I know it’s tempting for many to dismiss this as torture porn wherein the sole purpose is to revel in Bunny’s debasement. But those seeking a disgusting gore-fest will be disappointed. There is no blood. There are no saws or pliers. The blow torch is for use with the brand. No one loses a limb, no toes are cut off, no one is hung upside down with a cut throat and bleeding into a bath. This is not a cartoon of extreme violence like so many other movies that depict torture. This is psychological torture and while equally as horrible as physical torture, it has a different purpose than to titillate, which is why I think so many people were put off by this film. It wasn’t what they expected, and in many ways it was far, far worse.

I do my best to interpret the media I consume in a vacuum. I don’t like to read reviews about books or films until I see them and before I write about them, I prefer not to know too much detail about what others think. But after watching this film I wanted to know more about Rodleen Getsic. Her site is a lot to take in at once and I recommend spending ten minute increments there in the beginning. Evidently after filming The Bunny Game, Getsic slipped on a doormat at a grocery story and landed on her head, causing a catastrophic brain injury, and her site shows her struggle as she recovers and copes. She hasn’t updated her “phonetography” section in a while. I hope she’s okay. And I hope the part of her soul that died when she made The Bunny Game was a part she needed to shed. It’s an uncomfortable feeling realizing that the woman who made this film, a film based on her own experiences, has gone on to experience another ordeal.

This was a hard movie but if you ever watch it, I’d love to hear your take on it. I suspect there are a lot of different opinions, and given the nature of this film, aside from the ones that dismiss this as pointless torture porn, they may all be correct.