Sazuma Trading // 2000 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // June 18th, 2005
Blood, gore, sex, death, and religion...what more could you ask for?
We are asked to open up our mind to a new kind of perception. According to the narrator, how we see ourselves is how we see the world. In order to prove said point, a naked woman has a large incision made in her side. A grue-covered eyeball is removed from her pelvic area: the element that provides said inner vision.
Next, a young man longs for an incestual relationship with his slutty sister. Realizing that sex is centered on creation, he decides to play God and determine when said conception occurs. After several disturbing dreams, many of which revolve around sexual pleasure and pain, he realizes that his sister is pregnant by one of her anonymous man friends. Waiting for the day she delivers, our psychotic sibling plots the death of the fetus. He will play creator. He will play destroyer as well.
In a beautiful meadow in a dreamlike landscape, nude figures writhe and wriggle on the ground. Some are male, some are female. All are fornicating with the land, rubbing it into their genitals, opening bloody fissures in the field and engaging is acts of personal perversion. Mother Nature arrives, a knife-like phallus between her legs. One lucky land lover services her.
In the meantime, a businessman sits in a bar, watching couples in the act of courting. Growing more and more frustrated, he heads home to the comfort of his couch. There, he puts on some pornography and proceeds to masturbate. After sexually satisfying himself, the guilt of his strict religious upbringing starts to overpower him. That night, as he sleeps, he has a dream. His conscience shreds his penis. He then witnesses Jesus being assaulted by three demonic women.
Though it is incredibly self-indulgent, heavy-handed with its symbolism, and lacking a real transcendent moment that makes all its excesses gel into a cohesive vision, Subconscious Cruelty is still a very effective, very disturbing little independent movie. Long censored for its reliance on gore and hardcore sexual imagery to make its many, sometimes muddled points, it is an achingly avant-garde work of graphic experimentation, filled with metaphors meant to shock and disgust. It is also an occasionally clever confrontation of many of society's strictest taboos, and the repulsed reactions to same. Writer/director Karim Hussain uses his strident, sickening visuals to touch on some troubling, insightful aspects of human nature, making people prone to dismiss the vileness of the world actually sit up and take notice of their own inherent nastiness. While his communication often gets mislaid in the blood, guts, and gross-out gratuity, we can still see it beckoning to us through the vileness and the viscera.
Believe it or not, the main theme of Subconscious Cruelty is philosophical, not physical. Hussain starts his film with an argument against being closed-minded. He wants the creative and carefree aspect of the intellect to overwhelm and undermine the rational and the routine. He wants people to see the world for what it really is -- a stifling, hollow place filled with as much awfulness and brutality as grace and beauty. By using incest and religion as his two main subjects, Hussain has areas that can branch off from and into regions both corporeal and less concrete. With an almost-artist's hand at composition and imagery, mixed with a then-19 year old's view of the ethereal, this can be a very irresponsible endeavor. Occasionally, our filmmaker is just out to distress and nauseate, but when he gets away from the Grand Guignol, our labored lad has some fascinating ideas about the nature of man.
Of the four vignettes that make up the movie's main narrative thrust, the middle sections succeed the best. In depicting the madness in a man sexually obsessed with his pregnant sister, Hussain successfully taps into a kind of Eraserhead style foulness, filling the screen with bleakness and despair. The use of gore and other graphic elements seems warranted, since they fuel the psychosis in our corrupt character's mind. While the final birth/murder scene is very horrific and over the top, it also illustrates its intended point extremely well. Since Hussain is more or less following a standard story arc, we feel a real sense of closure and completeness when it's over.
Equally compelling is the short sequence showing how humanity literally loves/hates nature. The images of naked men actually raping the planet, combined with the cruel and carnal cabaret of nude woman writhing in dirt, does a brilliant, bold job of equally taking environmentalists and their cold capitalist opponents to task. Of course, our filmmaker can't leave well enough alone, and has to include those final images of a man giving Mother Earth oral sex. The deity is outfitted with a long, sharp sword for her genitals, and the act is quite horrifying in its mixture of visceral violations. While there may be a very valid point here about how humanity "loves" nature to its own detriment, the manner is very ham-fisted, the imagery almost obliterating the point to be made.
Indeed, it's at this moment where things start to go a bit pear-shaped for Subconscious Cruelty. Before the barf-inducing BJ, we feel Hussain is in control of his corruption. But the minute we enter the final segment, an all-out assault on how religion inspires sexual frustration and guilt, the director goes daffy. Instead of the slow and careful consideration of the previous pieces, he breaks into a kinetic, almost hyperactive style of cinema that tests your patience and your tolerance for rapid-fire editing. While the pornographic material is distracting in its graphicness, it's the rape and cannibalizing of Christ that is the most outright disturbing. Certainly, there probably isn't a single confirmed Christian who hasn't wondered about the whole "body and blood" thing, but to see it shown literally -- complete with gaping wounds being tongued by women of wickedness -- is just repugnant.
This is the main problem with this film. For every moment it gets right (the obsessed brother dream of his sister's period, a true torrent of tissue and grue), we are forced to confront something so brazenly excessive that the focus becomes marred. The first major storyline works because we see a single narrative strand explored, expanded, and ended. When Jesus is being anally jousted by a tree branch, you stop seeing the supposed point and start focusing on the befouled mentality of the moviemakers themselves. You are shaken off the proposed connotation and left to wonder about how the actors could demean themselves this way. As with most geek cinema, there is an entire "could/should" dichotomy at play here. Just because you could show something doesn't mean you should. Had Subconscious Cruelty taken this to heart, we would have had a much better film. As it stands, this is an intermittently fascinating, often offensive movie that can't seem to make up its mind between the logical and the lurid. While this may have been the point of the piece, it certainly doesn't lend itself to easy enjoyment or entertainment.
Sazuma Trading gives this long-banned movie a brilliant Region 2 treatment that will have fans from other areas drooling for a chance to taste its technical treats. The 1.33:1 full screen image is amazingly clear and crisp, considering that this was a no budget movie made by teens in the mid-'90s. Hussain's decision to shoot on film really pays off, as the negative has been restored and the remastering has brought out the arcane ambiance in his visual variables. You are given the option of viewing the movie in a "widescreen friendly" cropped 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer, but without the 16X9 capability it seems kind of pointless. It really adds nothing artistic or aesthetically pleasing. There is also a ten-minute intro by Hussain that provides little more than a chance for the filmmaker to gloat and feel full of himself.
The aural attributes are equally astounding. The DVD gives us a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix that is just stellar. Combing the fantastic musical score by composer Teruhiko Suzuki with several ambient elements (sound effects, random anonymous noises) and always decipherable narration, the demanding visuals are meshed with an equally challenging soundscape that overwhelms us with sonic sensory input.
As this is a two-disc special edition, one would expect a wealth of added content from Sazuma, and frankly, the company does not disappoint. Disc Two begins with a 77-minute making-of that focuses on the hard work and dedication of the cast and crew. A lot of the questions about how actors and actresses managed under the stress of some of the more "notorious" sequences get answered, and how many of the nastier aspects were accomplished get a decent effects overview. In general, what we see is a genial and carefree set filled with decent, dedicated young people, something that appears antithetical to the movie that resulted.
We also get two short films, one by Hussain as well as one by producer Mitch Davis. La Derniere Voix, which Hussain co-directed with Julien Fonfrede, is an evocative sci-fi parable about communication, while Davis's Divided Into Zero is a highly unsettling portrayal of a child killer. Both feature bold, redolent visuals and indicate the true level of talent held by these indie auteurs. Frankly, much of the material in Zero is far more disturbing than anything in Subconscious Cruelty, if that's possible. Add in more behind-the-scenes features, a text interview with Hussain and Davis, a comic strip interpretation of the film, and a freaky photo gallery, and you've got a DVD package that demands attention.
But be warned, Subconscious Cruelty is far from a pleasant experience. Like any work of so-called art, it is meant to evoke emotion and invoke reaction. You may shudder at some of its sequences and feel violated by many of its visuals, but it will be hard to deny the power in its putrescence. If you're prepared to open your mind and let the shock of envisioned violence teach you something quite salient about the human condition, Subconscious Cruelty is a fairly fresh, if often disquieting lesson. And just like any confrontation of life's bitter realities, it is by no means a pleasant picture.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Sazuma Trading
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Introduction by Karim Hussain
* 77-minute Making-Of Documentary
* Short Film: Divided into Zero by Mitch Davis
* The Making of Divided into Zero
* Divided into Zero Trailer
* Introduction by Mitch Davis
* Text Interviews with Karim Hussain and Mitch Davis
* Short Film: La Derniere Voix by Karim Hussain and Julien Fonfrede
* Clips from Earlier Short Films by Mitch Davis
* Unreleased Audio Track by David Kristian
* Photo Gallery
* Subconscious Cruelty Comic Strip by Rick Trembles
* Enclosed Booklet
* Official Site