When Grotesque received a banning from the British Board of Film Classification back in 2008, it effectively earned its fifteen minutes of fame. It took me half that length of time into the film before I let out my first exasperated sigh.
Grotesque is about a young couple (note the lack of names, an indicator of the film’s level of characterization) who, after a date in which they’ve both confessed their fondness for each other, are kidnapped by a mysterious sledge hammer-wielding man. When they both come to, they discover that they are both strapped onto upright gurneys, gagged and facing each other. The man proposes that he will release the two if they satisfy his sexual desires and then out come the torture implements. You get the rest.
It’s kind of hard to imagine what director and screenwriter Koji Shiraishi was thinking when he created this Saw-alike. Shiraishi had started off his resume well enough with Noroi The Curse (2005) and Ju-Rei: The Uncanny (2004), a couple of decent Ringu-alikes. Maybe this is part of the problem, Shiraishi might just be following where the money is. A look at the tagline on the film’s poster (see left), “KING OF JAPANESE GROTESUQE (sic)”, is probably a better indicator of Grotesque‘s origins, though. In all likelihood, Shiraishi was hoping that his film would join the ranks of other notorious J-shockers such as the Red Room series (1999-2000), Muzan-E (1999), and the Guinea Pig series (1985-1990). But, if that’s the case, why even bother with a plot at all, especially one with an improbable, dull-as-dog spit mid-film “twist”? For sure, Grotesque has its own catalog of gross gore which is impressive considering the film’s low budget, but it’s nothing that an avid gore fan hasn’t seen before. There’s also some sort of subtext involving intimacy and relationships which, given the status of relationships in Japan (in summary: negative population growth), is certainly relevant, but this subtext is handled in such a muddled, stupid matter with wooden performances from the cast and that’s a formula of unpleasantness that’s just hard to sit through for the wrong reasons.
So, ultimately, this is Grotesque‘s problem: for gore fans, it’s a movie that just doesn’t go all the way and, for everyone else, it’s just a movie that, in its 73 minutes running time, doesn’t go away soon enough.