Movie Review #40 / 250 : ‘VIDEODROME’

I’ve been lost for words in my reviews previously. Whether that be down to the movie I’ve seen having awestruck me into abject silence, or whether I’ve been dumbfounded by the likes of M Night Shyamalan or Paul Blart, this phenomenon has reared its ugly head before. Only, this time, I think ‘confused’ was what the director was aiming for.

Yep, we’re back to David Cronenberg, who I last looked at in my review of The Fly, which as it turns out, I hugely enjoyed. Videodrome precedes Fly by a few years, but this didn’t deter me – I’m sure all Dave’s films are as enjoyable and as gripping as the last. Right?

Videodrome… God. Erm. Even Writing the synopsis is tricky. Videodrome focuses on the main protagonist, the sleazy Max Renn (James Woods), an executive for a pornography-and-violence TV channel way off into the (obviously dystopian) future. Via an equally sleazy video pirate, Renn comes across a transmission of simulated torture like he’s never seen. He immediately wants hold of this project for his own station – despite being warned from most angles. It transpires that Renn should have heeded warnings while he could, as the transmission not only starts to play with his own perception of reality, but also leads into a much more sinister project beneath the surface.

That’s really as basic as I can dilute it. The first half an hour builds up to a revelation you were expecting from the first few scenes onwards, and from then on… just get incredibly surreal. Like the world in which Renn inhabits, the movie’s narrative, and its reliability, start self-destructing before our eyes. The horrific twists slide in almost effortlessly and without warning or indeed much foreshadowing – and by the final act, the viewer (well, definitely me, in any case) is left at a bit of a loss as to what in the name of all that is holy is going on.

Let’s focus on the positives. The acting, for the most part, is actually pretty natural. There’s very little ham in the characters. That, as you’ll soon discover, is left up to the amazing visceral body horror that genuinely puts other rubbery guts-and-gore scenes out of films like The Thing to shame. The effects here are just as shocking, and as effective, as those that Cronenberg would pick up again for Fly a few years later. The pacing is also marvellously speedy, with little time spent on exposition, or on allowing any one scene in particular to get stale too quickly.

This is all fine. This would all be put to brilliant use if the story, the twists and turns, and revelations, weren’t so confusing, nor haphazard. Videodrome prides itself on being a philosophical work; and it’s unfortunately clear that this self-awareness clouds the enjoyment factor. For anyone paying even close attention, this is a verychard film to follow – but, as a ‘surrealist’ movie, I guess that’s already a given.

While Videodrome is definitely memorable, it’s probable it actually suffers from its advanced pacing – very little about the scary future the movie is based in is given any airing, nor are we given much chance to digest the various lumps of surrealism that fling themselves full on into our faces. It seems to be a movie focused on honing and delivering its message in the way it sees fit, neglecting the needs of the audience somewhat. This is why, despite it being pretty damn impressive in visuals and concepts, I was left pretty underwhelmed.

PRO: Great cast, great visuals and effects.

CON: Actually suffers from lack of exposition and extended sequences. Confusing and twisting narrative. Excludes the audience.

5/10. Not terrible. Not in the slightest. But, despite it having been critically lauded, it’s perhaps a little too thick on the surreal to be transferable to a general audience. But then, it’s not for a general audience. It feels like a blockbuster movie that decides it’s an arthouse film halfway through. How am I going to cope with Naked Lunch?!

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