Monday 27 November 2017

Fake Blood

Blood in the Snow Film Festival is an annual film fest held in Toronto with a mandate to support, promote, and exhibit independent Canadian horror, genre, and underground film.

I'm here faced with a difficult task: reviewing a movie I know is good and which everyone likes for good reason, but one I had a hard time buying into. This is a me-problem of the first order; there is absolutely nothing wrong with Fake Blood. The issue is me.

Some context first. In the 1980s and early into the 90s much ado was made about violent media. In much the same way rock music was blamed for a perceived decline in Western civilization, horror movies and video games have been demonized by people looking to explain why the world is changing in ways they don't like or understand. Time and again these theories have been proven false. Violent media does not beget more violence, and for me, the topic has been put to bed.

And then along comes Fake Blood, part documentary, part mocumentary, which seeks to explore the topic of movie violence in relation to violence IRL. The film begins with real-life filmmaker Rob Grant receiving a fan video in which a guy tours a hardware store, pointing out which tools he would use to dismember a corpse. The video sparks a discussion between Rob and his best friend (and leading man) Mike Kovac about the nature of movie violence and their responsibility as filmmakers as to how that violence is depicted.

Rob and Mike decided to explore this topic further by researching violence. What follows is a genuinely interesting and entertaining investigation into real-world violence, and it made me recall times in my life when I've witnessed violence of one sort or another. When Rob gets his ass kicked by a buddy trained in martial arts, I thought about when I trained in martial arts and got punched in the face (while wearing protection) during sparring class. A discussion about actual fights brought back memories of that time my friends and I witnessed a street fight outside a bar. Mostly it was a lot of fronting, and girls yelling. Then one guy walked into a punch and it was suddenly over. These recollections jived with what was being said on screen. Fights in real life are short and messy. Nobody wants to see that recreated on film—they're over too quick.

After getting his ass handed to him, Rob and friends hit up a gun range where they shoot popular movie guns, including a pump-action shotgun and the exalted Desert Eagle. One hilarious comparison later, and you come away with a better understanding of just how unrealistic movie gun play really is.

Not yet satisfied in their quest for enlightenment, Rob and Mike make the narratively important decision to interview John, a sort of violence consultant. John tells them harrowing tales of murder and has some insights to offer on the topic of fake vs real violence and their consequences. This experience takes the film in a new direction, one which puts a great deal of strain on the filmmakers’ friendship.

And here we come to the real moral centre of the film—the movie’s not really about violence at all but about the obsessive pursuit of story. Rob talks himself in believing he now has a responsibility to show the consequences of violence, to explore how it impacts people’s lives. He goes so far down that rabbit hole that he winds up putting himself and his friends in danger. Rob and Mike become their own subjects and the film turns in on itself before reaching its conclusion.

Everything about Fake Blood is good, but the standout moments for me are the re-enactments of John’s stories. These sequences are beautifully shot in dreamy slow-motion, and I honestly can’t say if it was intentional or not to bring so much artistry to these depictions of violence. Each sequence ends with a hard cut which most definitely is intentional—slapping the audience back to reality.

During the Q&A, the filmmakers explained that Rob is a sensitive guy and when he received that fan video it sparked a crisis of conscience. He really did face an moral dilemma, and worried about the fallout from making super gory, violent movies. Again, not something I spend a lot of time thinking about but hearing this story did help me get on board with Fake Blood’s premise. It also reminded me of another Q&A I attended years ago. That film was extremely violent and not in an artsy or stylized way. When called on, a woman in the audience berated the filmmaker for his negative portrayal of his country and its people, and told him he, as an artist, had a responsibility to produce beautiful things.

“I’m a filmmaker,” he said. “My only responsibility is to make movies.”


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