All right, best get it over with, then. My first film comes from Michele of The Girl Who Loves Horror, and it's truly...
I have to note I was especially worried about this one going into it. This had all the hallmarks of basically being a Saw-like film, and I have a wonderfully weak stomach. I went ahead and asked Michele for an alternate just in case, but as it turns out, I was able to complete this, so that'll just have to wait for another round. Or, y'know, never.
The basic concept of Vile is that a group of people is captured by a group that's trying to make some sort of drug. To make the drug, they have to have chemicals that the human body produces when it is in pain. They're held in a locked house, and told that the only way out is to cause enough pain to each other to get the organization the chemicals it needs in the amounts it needs, and then they can all go free. So, basically, what we've got is a movie about a bunch of people torturing each other and/or arguing about torturing each other.
Except it isn't, at least not entirely. Vile is a better film than it has any right to be, largely because it focuses pretty heavily on the human aspect of this, and shies away from showing the torture in entirety. That isn't to say the film totally avoids gore and torture, because that is there, but very often you're "shown" it by means of really quick cuts and a few screams (or even just "reaction shots" from other people). The film focuses somewhat more on the emotional impact these events have on the characters, and I do appreciate that. If this were just an hour and 27 minutes of people stabbing each other with knives and blood spurting out, I would have turned it off pretty quickly. As it is, it was watchable. That isn't to say it's a good film, but it at least isn't absolutely disgusting.
Note however that there won't be any pictures in this review because, well...there is a fair amount of stuff I didn't enjoy looking at and I don't want to have it on my site. The film didn't push me to my limit on that, but it went far enough that I don't want to spend more time with it to take shots.
So, let's start digging into good and bad, shall we?
Here's the good:
- Some very good acting jobs here. Not everyone is equally high-quality, and the characters are sometimes rather one-note, but for the most part we've got some good actors involved in this. They never feel like their just going through scenes to get to the next torture bit. They always seem to try their hardest to bring some humanity out of this, and this is what seriously strengthens the film. For various reasons (which I'll discuss later) I was having serious trouble feeling sympathy for the characters in the film, but the actors did a fine job of fighting back against that and pulling some emotion out of me. The cast has pretty good chemistry most of the time, too, and they interact naturally.
- The dialog is honestly very good for the most part. There's some pretty strong character writing here. Again, in some cases people have one trait and that's emphasized strongly, but nevertheless, the dialog tends to flow pretty smoothly and feel natural. There are some moments that come off as stilted or a little too on-the-nose, but by and large, it worked just fine.
- There aren't any notable technical problems that I found. Shots are handled well, the lighting is good (except for one moment when they're first taken captive, where it feels like they shot too dark and had to artificially lighten things up a bit), there's no sound problems...overall, it's a perfectly competent production. In fact, I'd actually say the production values are quite good. Folks involved in this knew how to do their jobs, and it's good to see that.
- The general concept is unpleasant but intriguing. I like the idea of putting a bunch of people in a bad situation--I wouldn't choose torture, but your mileage may vary on that--and focusing heavily on the emotion of the situation. I also like the film's idea of making them for the most part try to work together to get through it. The film is at its strongest when it's portraying an incredible contrast between the horror of what these people are doing, and their compassion for each other while they're doing it. There are a lot of pretty nice moments where we have people trying to emotionally support each other before, during, or after causing each other massive amounts of pain. The juxtaposition of negative and positive relationships is an interesting part of the film, and it's the interesting tone brought on by that that kept me watching when I really wanted to drop it.
- I again just have to highlight that I really appreciate the film sometimes going out of its way to shoot its concept without showing detail on all the things that are going on (right down, actually, to fading to black on an extended session). This proves that you can do a story about torture without having to throw it in people's faces to extreme degree. They oftentimes have enough there to get the concept, but without going overboard with it, and that's a good way to make a film like this that people might actually watch without feeling sick. Again, there is violence and some gore in this, but it isn't to nearly the extreme I was expecting. You don't have to go completely over-the-top to make people understand what's going on, and it's good to see a film get that.
- There's one kind of nice idea the film has where the lead girl smuggles some drugs to the lead guy to try to ease his pain (delivering a pill via kiss), but it turns out to backfire because he doesn't produce as much of the pain chemicals so they have to do more damage to him to get the same level from him. It's...kind of forced, but it's a decent "I was only trying to help!" moment.
And...the bad. Which, unfortunately, is pretty notable and pretty widespread. Again...this isn't a good movie. It just isn't absolutely horrid.
- Starting with the minor, there are some moments of dialogue in the film which are way too obvious about being foreshadowing or on-the-nose points. The most notable is a conversation early on between the lead guy and girl. While on a camping trip, laying out in the sun on a pleasant day and enjoying each other's company, they start asking each other things like "would you rather be in a room with rats or snakes?" and "would you rather be locked in a burning hot room or a freezing cold one?" No. I'm sorry. People don't just discuss that unless they are characters in a torture film. At least it isn't used directly--there's no point where one ends up locked in that situation, really (the girl does end up burning herself, but I don't think that counts).
- The film gets a little too artsy at times. There are moments where it decides to do scenes without any sound except the music, for instance, and shows everything in slow motion (or alternating slow-motion and normal speed, like an action movie might do), and that's just plain odd. There's not much reason for it in a film like this, and it comes off as a little pretentious.
- Now we get to the more major stuff. You know all that stuff I said about the characters helping each other despite what they have to do? Yeah...that is true, except that they don't start that way. The characters start out being utterly horrible to each other. One guy just up and starts things off by ripping off someone's fingernail before she's even fully awake. The group argues, bickers, and just agrees right off to torture each other without even remotely considering any alternatives (other than the one guy who, of course, panics and kills himself right off the bat, which I think is "trapped in a room horror movie" cliche #756). They start--which feels kind of natural, at least--with the guy who started things off by ripping of the girl's nail. What doesn't feel natural is that they go to town on this guy with no one trying to stop it, and only a couple even showing any kind of regret. They just beat the crap out of him with their bare hands. You know what? No, this needs to be it's own number.
- They beat the crap out of this guy with their bare hands. I mean...seriously laying into him. Running up and hitting him, full-force knee strikes to the chest, all sorts of stuff. This is not stuff that you would do to cause someone pain...this is stuff you would do to kill someone. And at the end, the guy is pretty bruised and battered, but pretty clearly overall still okay, like an action hero that got run through the wringer but is still going strong. And after we see him like this, the lead guy mentions "we've been going at this for an hour." No. No. You do not beat the living hell out of someone for a full hour with your bare hands and have him come out of it looking a little bruised and battered. He comes out of something like that dead. Very, very dead.
- And hey, guess what? It gets worse. The group decides that they aren't getting enough results from that, so they have to go to using implements on him. So they put him on a table and, again, go to town. I mean, one girl (who is admittedly clearly being portrayed as a horrible person overall, but still) starts just stabbing him with stuff and even finally breaks his leg by slamming it against the table (which...I'm not sure is quite as easy as it was portrayed here, given the size difference between her and him, but I'm not going to send that one in to Mythbusters). No one tries to stop her until she snaps the guy's leg, and then they all get uncomfortable and tell her she went too far. So...breaking his leg is too far, but stabbing him several times in multiple locations with tools that are not exactly sanitized is okay?
- The real kicker, though...after they do all that to this poor guy, that's when they decide to discuss things in more detail. They have a heart-to-heart about whether they should really torture each other, decide that they do have to, lay out some ground rules (like, oh, don't break people's legs because they might need to run later), and decide on an order to do things in and a limit to put on it before someone else tags in to be the victim. It's actually a pretty good scene when it happens, but the problem is that it happens after they've already gone way, way too far on one guy! It become very hard to sympathize with anyone in the film by this point, because not a single person stood up against what was going on with him--there were a couple who didn't participate, but no one tried to stop it. If they had this conversation happen earlier, and then the one evil-ish girl went to town all of a sudden when people had stepped away and she just got in some good shots before they could stop her...that would work. But as it is, I really found myself disliking everyone in the group, and it took the rest of the movie for me to start feeling any sympathy for anyone again. Seriously, though, who would do that? "I think we should torture each other." "Okay!" (Sounds of ridiculous levels of torture.) "Hm. You know, maybe we should talk this through a bit more. Let's lay out some ground rules." I mean...that's like a darker version of: "Hey, we should play chess." "Great!" (Sounds of playing chess.) "Hey, do you know the rules?" "Nope. Let's look them up on the internet." No one would do that! I mean, at the very least, if I'm the first victim, I would interrupt and say, "Uh, I'd like to make a few requests..."
- Oh, and one guy--and I'm pretty sure that this wasn't meant to be taken seriously, but even so--suggests that maybe the brain would produce the same chemicals if they had sex instead. You know what? If there's even a chance of that, you suggest that first! (Now, there's legitimate reasons for that not quite happening in this case, but...you'd think someone would bring up, "Maybe there's another way to get this stuff rather than torturing each other, so let's put our heads together to think about it.") And when the suggestion is brought up, it's immediately shot down--not based on evidence it won't work, mind, but because "ew, sex is gross," basically. I'm not in favor of wanton sex, but if my choices are "try sleeping with someone, consensually (though both of us are under duress)" versus "torture someone and get tortured myself," I'm probably going to at least try the first one before moving on to the second!
- You know what else is problematic about it? Even if you accept that they're all pretty ticked at the guy because of what he did (and I'll get into why what he did is pretty stupid, and why the reason that it's stupid is itself stupid in a moment), someone in the group should be raising the specter of "what if someone wants revenge" pretty quickly. If you're in a situation like this, you should be trying the least damaging, most gentle ways of finishing what you feel like you have to do possible. First off, you need everyone healthy later on. Second...when it comes to your turn, you don't want people opening a can of whoop-ass on you for what you did to them or someone they loved.
- The movie does at least seem to clearly specify that pain is necessary, not just fear, otherwise torture techniques that leave no physical injury would be open and these characters would look really, really stupid instead of just stupid. But even so...it's amazing how often they go for some really damaging stuff, and how often they decide they have to change methods for some reason. For instance, there's a bit where they're torturing a guy with a hot iron, and they don't quite get him all the way, so rather than just putting the iron on again for a few seconds, they rip out his fingernails. Why? Is he suddenly immune to irons?
- Additionally, the movie is pretty one-note. After a brief introduction, the film is pretty much entirely alternating scenes of torture and people discussing torture, and there's just not much going on other than that. I don't know...your mileage may vary on that, but I found it pretty tiresome after a while. Not formulaic, exactly, but this isn't a film where you get much variety in terms of events.
- Now we get to some of the most major stuff: plotholes. There are a number. First off, let me start with why what the mean guy did was stupid. The characters are told via video that they have...I think it was 22 hours...to produce the chemicals needed. However, the video is quite specific that the time will not start until they actually begin causing each other pain. So, when the guy rips off the girl's fingernail, he starts the timer, which means that when they then finish their opening brawl and decide to talk a little bit, they're on the clock already. This is actually pointed out in the film and the guy has no response other than basically saying, "I wanted to live so I didn't think about it," which makes no sense.
- What's worse, though, is...if you're a member of an evil organization out to get people to do what you want to do, would you really say, "You have 22 hours, starting whenever the hell you want?" Really? If I'm a member of this evil group, I say, "You have 22 hours, starting right the hell now, so get to work!" There's no rational reason for the "whenever you start" clause, other than to get people mad at the mean guy for starting things off. I mean, really...what does it gain the villains to say "you can start whenever?" I'll tell you what it gains them, realistically...at least a 24-hour delay while people look for something else, anything else, to get them out of it. So if you want your crazy human pain drugs quicker, don't put a delay clause in your evil video contract!
- What troubles me quite a bit in the movie is that the characters, late in the film, reveal they've basically learned nothing from their early abuse of someone who had angered them. Someone else angers them, and they go to town yet again. It's the same thing as before, and it's just as horrible. This isn't a "ha-ha, the bad person got taken down" scenario...it's a bunch of people we are supposed to be sympathizing with, committing acts of wanton cruelty to another human being and even taunting the victim over it, because they don't like her. And no, I didn't like her either, and sure, she had committed acts of actual violence earlier...but that doesn't help. Heroic characters need to be sympathetic. They need to be better people than the bad characters in the same situation, even if they have excuses to do otherwise. And yes, there are some mitigating circumstances which throw this scene into a higher emotional level...but they don't happen until after all the threatening behavior starts up and it's pretty clear that they're already going to take things too far. They go from being heroic--trying to support each other and get through the situation--to committing horrific acts of torture in vengeance (and I mean horrific, though mostly just implied as the scene fades to black--this scene fills up a huge amount of the meter, so they clearly did even worse to this person than to the guy at the beginning). So basically, in the middle of the film, the film kills most or all of the sympathy it won back for the heroes after their atrocious actions at the beginning.
- I should also note that if you're trying to torture someone without killing them, striking them with heavy objects near the throat area is probably to be avoided. Yes, he's striking on the bottom of the chin, but if you miss even a little...that's one of the weakest parts of the human body. There are a number of cases in the film where I felt like the characters were risking actually killing their subject, and while it makes sense that people who aren't professional torturers wouldn't be...uh...good at it, it's still problematic to see them being pretty careless with people's lives when they're all also commenting about wanting to make it through together.
- There are some choices the characters make that they clearly only make because the plot demands it. The most notable comes late in the film, so before I go into spoiler warning territory, I'm going to just talk about things in general a bit. There are some choices that people make that just don't make any sense. They're only done so that the film can move in a particular direction that it couldn't move in if they had made another--more sensible--choice. I'm not talking about choices that the characters make because they've become irrational and irrational people do stupid things. I'm talking about choices that they make that no one would make, given how things had gone to that point, even if they are in panic mode.
- Again speaking in general terms, the ending is both an attempt to inject more direct villainy in the film when it really isn't needed, and a major downer. Not only does it introduce new plotholes in its attempt to shoehorn a confrontation with a villain into the film, but it repeatedly further darkens an already dark movie, and it suddenly starts showing torture in some more detail (still not as much as I'd feared, but...), and it starts having the heroes take actions that end up being meaningless, so we've got gore for the sake of gore, basically. Not a good way to end the film.
So, with that in mind, let's talk about the ending a bit. Spoiler warning, of course. Avoid the next few paragraphs and jump to the conclusion is you want to avoid it.
When the heroes finally do get the chemical amounts that the organization needs, they're told that it's time to go and get the chemicals drained from the odd inserts that were placed on the back of their heads/necks. So they go and start doing that, and each person, one by one, is allowed out through a rotating wall when they do it. Great. However, because they're incredibly stupid, they leave the horribly badly injured guy who can't possibly stand on his own to go second-to-last, leaving only the lead girl there to help him. This is done so that the horribly injured guy can die (for unclear reasons) with her still with him, which causes the organization to no longer register his portion of the chemicals (I'm not really sure why...do the chemicals already produced suddenly cease to be when he dies?) so the girl is trapped to. This is done so we can get a charming scene of her having to torture herself to rapidly raise up roughly 15% of their overall meter again (which she does astonishingly quickly considering how much work had to be done to the poor guy to get it to happen in the first place) so she can try again to escape. But really...why would you leave the most wounded guy in the group with only one person to help him? They actually carry a corpse to the exit before him, and then leave right after it, leaving only the girl to assist him! And it isn't like the entire group except her said to forget about him...the other more heroic guys who argued in favor of helping him leave too!
But that goes wrong as well because it turns out one of the guys that was in with them was an inside man. When everyone escapes, he just kills them off one by one as they get free. The lead guy discovers it thanks to his buddy calling out a warning before he steps out, and goes out armed, but the inside man engages the poison that was hidden in everyone's neck attachments and they all start dying. Except that the lead guy kills the inside man and gets an antidote. Except that everyone else is dead by the time he gets back to them. So, all the work the lead girl did to torture herself in some pretty excruciatingly painful scenes to watch...meaningless. They don't even get to talk to each other one more time or anything. There's literally no ultimate purpose to her torturing herself other than showing her torturing herself. I mean...heroes can fail in films. That happens, and that is a perfectly legitimate way of handling a plot. But in this case, it's like all her effort is just tossed aside and forgotten. It would be one thing if she did all that, got free, and then was killed--or maybe, better, if she did all that and got free only to see him die somehow (maybe he only got one pill and he gives it to her, or something). Then you still get the crushing feeling of defeat in the film, but without making a character torture herself for absolutely no payoff.
The villainous turn doesn't exactly come out of nowhere--there are some hints throughout the film that this guy has something weird about him. Regardless...it doesn't make much sense. We're lead to believe that this organization puts an inside man into groups that are then told to torture each other--they put an inside man into groups that are going to be pushed to their absolute limits, and are obviously of questionable morality to begin with. Furthermore, this person has evidently been through the process 5 times. Sorry, but I don't buy it. Going through a situation like that 5 times without fatal injury...given how things went in the early going in this one, that doesn't seem likely at all. We really couldn't have just had the evil lady from the video be out there with a silenced gun or a knife or a poison sprayer or a hell of a lot of henchmen? There's no real reason she needs an inside man, anyway. She just lays out the rules, and it either happens (and they die afterwards, but they don't know that) or it doesn't and they die now. As a matter of fact, the point is made early on that they've all got lethal poison stored in their neck attachments, so there is literally no reason you even have to have someone on hand to deal with them! You just wait until everyone's put their chemicals in and then press the "kill them all" button, probable color: red. There's no reason for a henchman to exist other than to give the hero someone to stab to give people a little bit of catharsis...and to be frank, the movie takes care of that just fine moments later, as the hero is shown tracking down people related to the organization at the movie's close! It's really just kind of..."Yay! We're free!" "Nuh-uh, now I'm the villain!" "Oh noes! You have killed my friends and now I must kill you! Huzzah! You are dead! Now I will mourn and turn to a life of vengeance." Not exactly compelling.
Overall...Vile isn't absolutely awful. It's a pretty competent little film that handles an uncomfortable subject without embracing the horror of it fully, and I think it handles a lot of things quite well. Unfortunately, it just doesn't have a particularly strong plot, and it shoots itself in the foot a few times with portrayals that remove sympathy from its characters and choices or events that introduce nagging questions in its plot or break suspension of disbelief. This is a case where I think that this could be a strong film, and it wouldn't even take that many changes. Switch up the order of some things a bit, find a few stronger justifications or ways to remove some of the characters from involvement in some of the events, and I think you'd have a decent film. As it is, it's...not terrible, but definitely quite flawed. I would really encourage the people involved in this film to continue to try their hand at further filmmaking, as I think they have some potential...they just haven't reached it with Vile.