Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chaos (2005)

Infamous for its extreme content already, this sadistic sack of shit pretty much defeats the purpose of criticism: If I'm talking about it, even as a nauseating waste of time and good celluloid, at least I'm keeping its name out in the ether. Bad publicity is still good publicity when a film like this is concerned, so I'm not going to bother explicating how wretched, sad and ugly this thing is. Being sad and ugly doesn't necessarily make a film worthless anyway -- plenty of striking works, from Salo to Cannibal Holocaust, have found artistry, however dubious, in baseness and nihilism. The real reason this film is so completely useless is that it's already existed in an even more infamous form since 1972 -- Chaos is a bald, point-by-point rip-off of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left except with a new ending that proves the filmmakers didn't (maybe couldn't) understand what Craven, however crudely, was trying to say with his film. (Helpful note: I acknowledge the importance and influence of Last House even as I think it's schizophrenic junk.) That the lead-lined minds behind this could steal from a work so thoroughly and still miss its soul, to me, is even more offensive than the film's disquieting violence or its embracing of hatefulness.

Grade: F


Blogger nowickis said...

Steve, Michael Haneke's FUNNY GAMES is well-liked by critics, but to me it's pretty much the examplar of the "sicko" movie-- the sort of film it seems a person can only enjoy if he likes watching innocent people tortured and murdered by sadistic freaks-- where the director himself seems to get off on the mayhem depicted. (I know it's far from the goriest film ever, but it's still repulsive.) Close seconds in this cateory are NATURAL BORN KILLERS and the original HITCHER-- I didn't see last year's remake). I'd be curious to know how this film stacks up next to FG in your opinion, or if you have a different take on FG.
--Andy Nowicki

1:16 PM  
Blogger nowickis said...

By the way, I think this would make an interesting blog entry: a list of "most disturbing movies ever that I liked" and a list of "most disturbing movies ever that I did not like" I might make such an entry myself sometime if I feel motivated enough.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I think Funny Games is an uncomfortable masterwork for exactly the reasons you explicate -- it's the kind of thing, as you put it, "a person can only enjoy if he likes watching innocent people tortured and murdered by sadistic freaks." The thing is, though, that's the point -- Haneke WANTS to repulse and sicken you. He isn't looking to entertain; rather, he wants you to step back and consider your complicity in the creation and distribution of such images. After seeing it, I hated it for about a day before realizing that was the response Haneke wanted. To quote the invaluable Theo P., "It's the opposite of escapism - you want to escape from it, back into the real world. Which, if you think about it, is probably a good thing."

6:13 PM  
Blogger nowickis said...

Points taken, although I disagree--it seems to me that Haenke wants to rub our faces in the violence, and seems to take pleasure in mockomg us for wanting to see justice prevail, which is what we SHOULD want to see; I don't feel we should be indicted for that.

So how does Chaos differ from Funny Games in this regard? Do you think in this case that the director of Chaos IS aiming to entertain, instead of sicken and repulse? Is this the crucial difference?

9:46 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

See, I don't think Haneke is necessarily mocking us for wanting the catharsis in seeing justice prevail -- he's berating us for creating a culture in which said catharsis is generally only meted out after horrific violent acts.

[SPOILERS for both Funny Games and Chaos follow.]

The main difference between Funny Games and Chaos, in my eyes, is that there's an intellectual process at work in the former. Haneke wields his ugly material for a greater purpose; the hucksters behind Chaos are using it merely to drum up controversy and get people to see their lawsuit-ready ripoff. Here's the crucial difference: There's some truly stomach-churning violence in Chaos (severed nipples, crotch impalings, that sort of thing), all of which are shown in loving detail. While atrocities happen in Funny Games, most of what we're shown is the aftermath -- there's very little on-screen violence. The only moment of actual gore I can think of is the bit where the wife blows away the meeker of the two attackers -- which is, of course, then reversed and negated. Cruel? Sure. But not as cruel as pushing our face in gore and sickness just for the sake of doing so.

In the end, both films have a certain nihilism about them, especially in their catharsis-denying endings. Haneke's film, though, undermines the pleasures of the revenge narrative as a way to get us to interrogate our desire for such narratives and maybe, just maybe, turn us into better people; Chaos ends with its monster triumphant because, yo, evil's cool and shit.

But then, remember that I'm also a fan of I Spit on Your Grave... :-)

1:44 PM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

I concede that you might be right about FUNNY GAMES; however, I confess that I don't feel any desire to see it again to explore whether you are right or not. I was so scarred by that flick that I've avoided other movies by Haneke; I guess that's my loss, or my gain.

On a related note (and still on the subject of "extreme" movies), I have overheard you dissing HOSTEL-- a film I actually liked, just to show I'm not a prude when it comes to extreme content-- and I'm wondering, would you have liked it better if it didn't feature a cathartic revenge ending? Or did you dislike it on other grounds, unrelated to the question of cathariss? (And doesn't I SPIT also feature the heroine getting revenge on her tormenters?)

11:22 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I don't have a problem with catharsis -- my issues with Hostel were unrelated to issues of its morality. (I think Eli Roth is talented but has no frame of reference outside of whatever movie he saw last night.) Plenty of movies of which I'm fond (including, yes, I Spit on Your Grave) end with cathartic acts of revenge; however, I've noticed that a lot of the films I appreciate in this vein, even the sleazy '70s ones (Grave, Straw Dogs, Thriller: A Cruel Picture), at least bring some manner of moral thorniness to the table. When a film offers up that violent revenge without consideration of the psychic and spiritual cost (I'm thinking of you, Lady Vengeance), I find that distasteful.

Similarly, I have no intrinsic problem with nihilism, as long as there's a reason and an intellectual process behind it. Films like Chaos, in essence, are useless precisely because we have films like Funny Games to show them up for the empty provocations that they are.

11:44 AM  

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