Wednesday 16 April 2014

STRESS POSITION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Creepy Canuck Avant-Garde Thriller with Guantanamo overtones serves up visceral shocks and astounding, imaginative visuals in its claustrophobic space. An interesting bourgeois perspective that isn't wholly exploited keeps the pic from being a solid grand slam.

Just a little higher & this fella's getting an unwanted penile implant
or a very uncomfortable butt-plug.
This is a very sick man.
VERY, VERY sick.
Stress Position (2013) ***
Dir. A.J. Bond, Scr. A.J. Bond
Starring: A.J. Bond, David Amito, Margeurite Moreau

Review By Greg Klymkiw

At first you think you're possibly watching an Ulrich Seidl-inspired documentary with delightfully youthful pretensions as two young gentlemen face each other in gorgeously lit and composed profile shots. They engage in a casual conversation about who they are, how they met, what they do and how they've been inspired to engage in a perverse psychological experiment. Their inspiration to plunge into this experiential enterprise was borne out of previous conversations about enhanced torture methods in the notorious Guantanamo Bay and how they might be able to conduct and survive such inhuman and immoral torments. A.J. (writer-director Bond) happily wins a rock, paper, scissors toss and his pal David (David Amito) must be the first to succumb to the torture. There is a substantial cash prize at stake, but also the strength of character victory achieved by the person who doesn't crack first. When we enter an elaborately designed movie set with a bizarre metallic (and delectably phallic) structure in the middle of a blazing white room, adorned with a huge two-way mirror and populated with hooded figures manning a variety of cameras, we pretty much abandon the notion of this being a twee mock-doc and feel we're entering the world of a nasty thriller - a kind of Michael Haneke on crack, if you will. And then, the torture begins.

It's harrowingly vicious and personal. From simple spitting in the face, through to denial of washroom privileges to bondage and demands of self-inflicted pain to generate self portraits upon the white floor with bodily parts and, uh, fluids. As the torture intensifies, the friendship between the men appears to have a lot left unsaid until now.

Entering the mix is a chilly babe-o-licious ice goddess (Margeurite Moreau) behind the scenes. She's A.J.'s partner in torture and she's the arbiter of what's real and what isn't. She pushes A.J. to not fake it, so that David will, in turn, not be faking it. She demands that she has to believe what she's seeing. A.J. comes to his senses (if one wishes to call them that) and begins to push the torture to such extremes that even our Valkyrie-like babe is taken aback.

Eventually, the tables turn.

And it ain't pretty.

This man is a sick-fuck!
Stress Position is, for the most part an effective and entertaining thriller. It's unfortunate that the tale doesn't push the political implications of the two male characters and their actions within the bourgeois context they're both clearly derived from. There's a sense of a wasted opportunity to take this so much further. As well, it sometimes feel like the film is actually holding back on really going the distance in terms of the sick-o-meter.

Given that it's a low budget affair with little of the usual nonsense that plagues even indies, one keeps waiting for us to travel along the paths of true demented nastiness like, for example, the brilliant Carré blanc by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti or the Soska Sisters' astonishing American Mary. By hammering home both their respective political bents with utter extremities of depravity, both of those movies take us to genuinely shocking places that eventually yield surprising cores of humanity. Stress Position never goes there and yet it feels like a movie that wants to go there. In the end, the movie feels a lot colder and clinical than I think it needed to be.

In spite of this, though, the movie is dazzlingly shot and designed and the performances, especially by Bond (this guy could surely moonlight as a character actor in roles of total scumbaggery), are always engaging. Even more happily, the film is bereft of that horrendous Canadian tweeness that plagues so much of the country's output and importantly, one feels like we're watching the work of a filmmaker with a voice as opposed to that annoying tendency of too many Canadian directors looking to generate their "Look Ma, I can use a dolly and direct series television" calling card nonsense.

Watching the film, you at least feel you're on the ground floor of a filmmaker who's new and exciting, rather than some competent loser-hack looking for a gig.

Stress Position opens theatrically at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema in Toronto on April 18, 2014 and will hopefully roll out across the rest of the country soon.