This movie has received a 5 minute long standing ovation when it was screened at the Cannes film festival. Last year, at the same festival, You Were Never Really Here has received 7 minutes of standing ovation. The only conclusion that I can reach is that the good people attending the Cannes film festival are some deeply disturbed individuals. The year is not over yet, but I can pretty much guarantee that this movie will be in my top 5 worse of 2018. Currently is sitting at nr.1. I might change up the order somewhat later on, based on further reflection, but heaven help me if I have to sit through any worse stink bombs than this. Now, this is not the worst film that I ever saw, but it is not that far out. Also, there will be spoilers, so be warned…
The story is not complicated. Red Miller, played by Nicolas Cage, is a lumberjack that lives rather far from civilization, together with his girlfriend, Mandy. On day, Mandy’s path crosses with some sect members, the leader of which decides that he must have her. With the help of some deeply disturbed bikers, the cult kidnaps and kills Mandy, leaving Red tied up with barb wire, waiting to die. Unfortunately for them, Red has other plans… And, oh yeah, the story is set in the early 80’s.
I don’t even know where to begin with this movie. For one, it is too long. The run-time is of 2 hours, but the way the movie is paced, it takes forever. And there isn’t enough material for 2 hours, so segments are being dragged out. This movie should not have exceeded 90 minutes by any means. But fine, I could let this slide. What I cannot is that this movie commits 2 cardinal sins all at once, and namely: it is a pointless thing made only as a delivery platform for gore and senseless killing AND it does it with an “artistic” twist trying to appear so sophisticated. Please…. This movie is a gore fest with a side of LSD. And if there would be a point for all the gore and violence and everything, but there is not! I get that everybody on the screen is fucked up in the head, but didn’t anybody had a shotgun to speed things up? Was there really necessary for me to see how Nick Cage is forging the most useless axe of all time that will be ignored in most of the action scenes? And yes, suddenly, at mid movie, the dude turns into a blacksmith with no explanation whatsoever. Honestly, that axe looks like something Prince would have designed and not some lumberjack, that our protagonist clearly is in the opening of the movie. This movie is senseless. And while it could be categorized as a revenge film, I reject this possibility. Take any revenge film that is worth something and there will be some conflict, some struggle, internal or external, that the protagonist must overcome. Some catharsis is reached; some growth is achieved. Here? The protagonist does some drugs and goes medieval on everybody’s asses. The deeply disturbed bikers, who according to sources, have killed a bunch of people and are deadly? No problem for our guy Red, he kills them one by one, even though he gets captured by them first and has multiple injuries. The sect members? Also dropping like flies. And the root of it all, the sect leader? He gets his head crushed in by Reds bare hands. Also, at certain point, a tiger is let loose, purposefully, but nothing happens. The last 40 minutes of this movie is pure slaughter, and the previous 80 minutes were just the build-up. Besides the various acts of killing, nothing else happens. I recognize the fact that many consider that art should evoke a reaction in the viewer, and that the stronger the reaction the better. That art should provoke. But I firmly believe that provoking just for the sake of being provocative is useless. I can get behind any kind of depiction of violence, gore and what-have-you if it is justified, if there is a purpose to it. This is not the case here. This is a glorification of slaughter, with some artsy-farts revenge film as an excuse for its existence.
But, even if I hate the concept and the core of the movie, there are things in its execution that I must recognize as good, or even excellent. Visually, the movie is stunning. The DP, Benjamin Loeb, is a name to look after for. There were a number of shots in this movie that I would not have any problems seeing in a proper art gallery, hanging on the walls. The composition of colors, the use of darkness and light were really something. Also, the art department did a great job designing the biker gang, but what got most of my attention was the design of the house Red lived in, respectively the church where the sect worshipped. Both had an original take on a fairly traditional subject matter and the end results were rather appealing to me. Nicolas Cage delivers one of his best performances to date. The way his physical and emotional trauma comes through the screen is Oscar worthy. It is a well-known fact that Cage can dial up his intensity to 11, which in most cases comes off as being over the top, but here his level of intensity is matched by the movies. One might say that this role was custom made for him. It certainly puts Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting in The Revenant to shame. The last thing I must mention here is the score of the movie. One of the last scores composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson. It is intense, dark, but enjoyable. For some reason, I can imagine myself listening to it on its own.
All in all, I detest this movie and I cannot recommend it to anyone. And there is some truly excellent work done on this movie. But that excellent work is wasted on a snuff film, which makes thing eve worse.