Words: Paul Dean
'Enter The Void' (UK Release: 24 September)
Director: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown, Cyril Roy
Gaspar Noé's 'Enter The Void' is the most horrible film I have ever seen. My assessment isn't that it is badly made, technically incompetent or cheap. It's evident that it is very finely, very precisely crafted. It is a detailed and very deliberate work, even boasting some suitably organic and attractive visual effects.
Unfortunately, none of these attributes prevent it from often being a thoroughly horrid cinematic experience. The most positive comment I can make about 'Enter The Void' is that its very best moments are merely mildly engaging. Otherwise, it's alternately boring or bullying its viewers. When it's boring, it's dull as can be. The rest of the time it's busy being a horrid, excessive and sustained assault on both your senses and your sanity. Let me try to explain how this film made me feel both physically and mentally unwell.
'Enter The Void' is about a brother and sister tightly bonded by the tragedies they have endured. They move to Japan in an attempt to fulfil a childhood dream, but to make ends meet the brother finds himself trading drugs and the sister becomes an exotic dancer. Then, the brother is shot and his dying mind hallucinates its way through the past, present and future. Much of this is shot from the brother's point of view, using a first-person perspective and internal narration. At other times it features Noé's characteristic giddying crane work and gliding, spinning transitions which have the camera flying over buildings, passing through walls and, at one point, flying up the sister’s vagina.
Yes, that's right. Gaspar Noé has made a film where a flying camera whooshes up a woman's vagina. The world must surely be a better place.
The film's opening scenes are pretty mild. The lazy dialogue, the gentle pans and the first-person portrayal of an evening drug trip might cause the lazy to dub this "'The Blair Witch Project' on acid", but a more accurate description of what comes to pass would be "'Mulholland Drive' on pot" - discontinuous, languid, digressing and increasingly prone to ever more extended episodes of sickening mania.
As soon as the narrative joins the brother on his hallucinatory death trip, it morphs into a variety of flashbacks and flashforwards. Some of these are plodding and predictable extensions of the plot shot in long and turgid scenes, while others are brief memories which, while they are perhaps supposed to broaden the character or highlight various themes or connections in his life, add nothing to the film but elaborate padding. Most significant are others still that illustrate (or reinforce, or revisit) gruesomely violent, tragic or immensely disturbing events around which the key parts of the plot hang. Chief among these is the harrowing and horrible car crash experienced by the siblings as young children, its most horrific moment being a shot of the screaming, struggling sister trapped by her own seatbelt behind the dead bodies of her parents and covered in their blood.
After repeatedly depicting its car crash, showing and returning to close-up images of an aborted foetus and endlessly panning over an extended, pointless and very boring sex montage, the whole film climaxes, quite literally, with a wholly unnecessary shot from inside a birth canal in which a thrusting penis ejaculates towards the viewer. Some people may find some or all of these things disgusting. To me this felt more like an it felt like an attempt to connect as many nasty or potentially offensive things as possible, punctuating them repeatedly with shocking yet merit-less moments.
Furthermore, throughout almost the entire film, with its dizzying transitions, terrible revelations and even its mundane extrapolations, Noé has underlined events with a relentless, unsettling, unforgiving and often overpowering soundtrack of throbs, hums, buzzes and rumbles which serves to make absolutely everything unpleasant.
I don’t mind that 'Enter The Void' is graphic or controversial. No, my main objection is that it’s very difficult for me to work out exactly who would gain any pleasure from either making or watching a film like this. Almost nothing about it is entertaining, rewarding or gratifying. Instead, its primary goal is to make its viewers profoundly uncomfortable, to give them not one, but a series of extraordinarily unpleasant and extremely unsettling experiences.
Comparisons have been drawn with '2001: A Space Odyssey' and indeed, 'Enter The Void' contains extended trippy transitions and inventive use of colour. However, if it must be identified with Kubrick, it would be far more appropriate to name 'A Clockwork Orange', as it could very easily serve as the sickening film that constitutes Malcolm McDowell's aversion therapy.
'Enter The Void' is in selected UK cinemas now. For more details about the film, go here.