When the Japanese release a film named "Grotesque" you can be sure the title will be aptly chosen. When the cover says it makes Saw and Hostel look like kid's fair, you can only wonder if marketing isn't trying to sell the film to the wrong crowd. And if you notice the film only lasts for 70 minutes, you know they will get right down to business. Grotesque is not for the queasy, so buckle up.
Somewhat out of the blue Grotesque was released onto Western audiences. To ease people into checking it out the cover links it to Saw and Hostel, trying to make sure people don't suspect another Asian ghost flick which they are bored of watching. While this might sound like a smart thing to do, many people will be getting something they aren't expecting. Even though Grotesque shares some common elements with Saw and Hostel, it's in an different league entirely.
It's fashionable to call horror flicks featuring torture sequences "torture porn", especially those films that are pushing the boundaries. Grotesque kindly demonstrates where the exact difference lies between graphic horrors featuring torture and actual torture porn. Grotesque doesn't really bother with a storyline. The setup is shown during the opening credits, one or two flashbacks are added to give a little more depth to the situation, but aside from that it's all about torture. This minimal setup is highly reminiscent of Flowers of Flesh and Blood (for those of you who know about the Guinea Pig series), only with a little background added. A madman captures a young couple, hangs them in his basement and tries to get sexual pleasure from their will to survive. Want more than that, find another film.
About five minutes into the film the torture starts. The films goes through a loop of psychological, sexual and purely physical torture at high speed. The spectacle is indeed quite grotesque as everything is done to embarrass and mutilate the young couple as much as possible. The fact that they are played out against each other helps a lot in making it a more painful experience for the viewer. Another strong-point of the film is actor Shigeo Osako who puts in a tremendous effort in playing the deranged kidnapper. Even though his manners are timid and polite, his eyes flare with evil and his stern expression breaths fear into his subjects.
Visually Grotesque is quite nice too, which is rather surprising. Camera work is decent, but the use of color in particular adds a lot of atmosphere to the visual side. Many shots are taken up close, resembling the Japanese punk style, though with the added effect that it helps to cover the amount of gore just a little. This might sound strange, though in the end this film is not about the gore. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of classic music creating a contrasting atmosphere between the often soothing music and the gruesome images. All things considered, Grotesque is not quite unlike Cerda's Aftermath, which can only be a good thing.
The final "test" for the couple is pretty inventive and sick at the same time. It would be quite something to see Saw's Jigsaw pull such a stunt, that's for sure. Things do get a little out of control at the end, but that's Japanese film for you. And even though the actual ending doesn't come as a surprise, it's really the only way to end this film.
Grotesque is a bit more than a simple exercise in gore effects, but not by much. It builds upon Flowers of Flesh and Blood by adding a small storyline, including a second victim and keeping the kidnapper more believable, but the story is really kept to a minimum. Stylistically it's an accomplished movie which is quite rare for these type of films. And finally, linking it the likes of Saw or Hostel is really no fair since it aims only to shock and repulse in ways as direct as possible, without wasting much time on character development or story lines.
Grotesque is for all those people who need a lesson in what torture porn flicks really are. And hopefully it will cure them from saying horror flicks like Saw or Hostel, even Martyrs fall into this category. It might not be as gory as you'd image, but it sure is sick enough and has its focus straight. Grotesque is what this film is, and it's damn good at it too.