Grotesque (2009) – By Cary Conley

Well, now, here we have a Japanese film with a title that describes the movie perfectly. An insane doctor kidnaps victims and tortures then kills them, pitting them against one another in a series of grueling tests to see just how much the human body and mind can endure.

A young couple on their first date are attacked and kidnapped by the crazy doctor. They awaken in the evil doctor’s torture chamber where they are forced to endure both sexual humiliation as well as various forms of torture. The doctor asks them just enough questions to figure out they are a new couple and asks them each if they would die for the other. The girl shakes her head no, but the young man says that yes, he would die for her. Thus begins some of the most intense scenes of torture ever committed to celluloid. The tagline for the film is "Saw and Hostel were just appetizers" and these filmmakers weren’t kidding. Featuring chainsaw dismemberment, eye-gouging and genital mutilation–just in the first round–the film is definitely hard to watch.

The doctor promises if they can last long enough for him to become excited, he will release them, turn himself in and give his vast fortune to the unlucky couple. The doctor does become excited and quickly treats their wounds then slowly nurses the couple back to health over many weeks, all the while promising to set them free (even though they remained chained to their hospital beds) when they are healthy enough to leave. Once he pronounces them healthy, he tells them they will be leaving in a matter of days, reminds them to take their medication, and walks out of the hospital room. Cut to the next scene and we are back in the torture chamber. No surprise that the doctor has reneged on his promise. He needs more excitement.

This time he opens the belly of the young man, ties his intestines to a hook and forces the man to walk toward the woman. A pair of scissors have been placed on the floor near the woman. The doctor explains that if the man can get to the scissors, cut his own intestines and free himself, he can then cut the ropes that bind the woman. While the man will inevitably die by doing this, he can save the woman he loves, who will be released immediately. Well, the man makes it, but of course the doctor has no intention of freeing any of his victims, so he has hidden a wire inside the rope the woman is tied with, making it impossible for the man to free her. The man dies trying and the doctor then kills the woman. In the last scene, we see the doctor hanging the scissors with the wire between the graves of the man and woman. As the camera pulls away, we see dozens of makeshift tombstones just like the new ones: the doctor has been playing his games for a long time…

While there is a bit of exposition near the end that tries to explain the doctor’s needs for torture and why he has descended into insanity, basically this is just another entry into the torture-porn arena. I’ve actually seen much bloodier scenes, but director Koji Shiraishi does direct with some tension–or maybe, knowing the Japanese penchant for not holding back on the gruesomeness, I was just expecting some hard-core gore in the Flower of Flesh and Blood style (perhaps the very first torture porn film). In other words, my expectations were high, but the reality is that while the film is quite gory and bloody, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it might be. Much of the humiliation and torture is sexual in nature, which got the film completely banned in England–and the film is only for mature audiences.

The film is totally predictable–no one can really believe that the good doctor is going to nurse the unfortunate couple to health and release them–and unrealistic. In an early scene, the girl stops the young man and asks him if he would die for her. This is a clumsy attempt at foreshadowing by the filmmakers, but given the obvious plot of the film, the audience already knows that question will be answered by film’s end. Besides, who asks someone a question like that on the first date? The girls laughs and explains she’s only joking, but the entire seem comes across as ludicrous and hokey.

Aside from the effects, which are a high point of the film, and should be, the musical score is also good. Featuring some upbeat snippets of music juxtaposed with the downbeat images, it makes the scenes a bit discordant which increases the tension for the audience. I particularly enjoyed the traditional wedding music during the final scene as the man tries to reach the woman as he pulls his own innards out. I’ve already explained that while certainly grueling by most standards, the director does actually hold back a bit in some places. The effects are very good and I didn’t really notice any obvious CGI effects until the bloody climax, where the girl gets a chainsaw in the belly before being decapitated by the saw. The overuse of CGI partially ruins these scenes. I much rather would have seen actual physical effects than the cheap CGI that is used, but that is a fairly minor complaint as it happens only briefly at the end of the film.

Grotesque is definitely not a film for everyone. It is hard to watch and the overtly sexualized material makes the film even more depressing and nihilistic. This is a film that is only for those who know what they are getting into. Not so much a film to be enjoyed as much as a film to be endured, and then only for those who have been properly trained in hardcore gore.