Monday, February 10, 2014

How Hungry Are You

Does the idea of watching Samuel Jackson sever the head of a frat boy send tingles of anticipation down your spine? Or does the notion of Sigourney Weaver getting experimented on by aliens before an imminent death make you excitable? Then you are a savage beast who knows that an appreciation for the B-movie requires both a spectacularly unrefined and brilliant sensibility that revels in irony, exaggeration, and the awesomely artificial. But if you are also a more serious horror movie buff like me, you know that place deep down where you admit to yourself the truths you don’t want to be truths, you’ll find something deliciously appealing about psychological tripping, and the questioning of humanity. And that is why many of us keep coming back to horror movies like kids to the candy store.

Let’s talk about the bad things first, and there are many. As the movie opens, five strangers wake up in a dingy, black cave. None of them recall how or why they got there. The gang of five include Grant, the intrepid, alpha male who everyone mistrusts at first; Jordan, the rational surgeon with a strong set of morals—I wonder who will survive; Luke, the criminal with no principles who everyone wants to strangle; Anna, the manipulative and promiscuous woman; and Alex, the timid recluse who is easily maneuvered. Soon, we discover that they are being watched through video cameras installed throughout the cave. After the initial deluge of conniptions and despair exhibited by the victims, and the eventual realization that they all need to work together, a disembodied voice eerily informs them that the average person can survive without food for 30 days. Left with just water, and a small knife—that of course Jordan identifies as a scalpel perfect for cutting through human flesh—the victims realize in horror what their captor wants them to do. Although the gang is made up of stereotypical horror movie characters, we later come to understand that these choices were pre-meditated by the mastermind. There’s no mystery as to who has the strongest will, and who will be taking the first bites. While this trope might be intriguing, the movie is too slow building to encourage viewers to connect the dots and realize there might be more potential for a plot twist. In this way, the movie is as much a psychological mind game for the viewers as it is for the victims. But if we don’t want to play the game, the movie loses its thrust and pull.

The movie spends too much time building the predictable struggle of what we know will be a futile attempt at escape for the victims. Hence, we watch them all carve out and kick bricks for a good 30 min., even though we know that it will only lead to a dead end. Naturally, the victims begin to break into factions, teaming up to plot again one another, all the while starting to look at each other like they’re slabs of fillet mignon. Moreover, even in the midst of starvation, we can’t forget to have a scene where the beautiful, wanton woman gets to be in the throes of passion right before she dies. We are forced to trudge along through endless certainty before we can get to anything substantial.  

When we get there, the crux—and perhaps only redeeming quality of the film, lies in its deeper inquiry about the moral permissibility of cannibalism. If someone asked us whether we would kill and eat another human to survive, we’d probably say no immediately. Of course not. Never. No. Nooooo. But then, ask yourselves, what is morality in the face of death? Nietchze once said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But what he failed to emphasize is that it almost kills you. It might be plausible that we wouldn’t kill someone and then eat their remains to survive, but the thought experiment doesn’t let us off quite so easily. What if one of the victims was dying anyways? Or already dead?

This leads us to talk about the mastermind behind this disturbing trap. The unnamed captor is a scientist who we later learn is conducting this experiment to rationalize his own cannibalistic experience in which he was forced to eat his mother to survive when they were trapped in a car from a traffic accident. For some reason, the camera pans to allow us to see the captor only from behind, where we are given a view of distinctly ginger hair. This may not seem significant, but this image is shown enough for me to become fixated with that detail. I don’t know if this is supposed to be a play on popularized ginger-mocking like in South Park’s episode where we are introduced to the term “day-walkers,” and the idea that gingers are disgusting, in-humans who have no souls, but I think I can say that this isn’t anything new in the arena of ginger stereotypes. This seems to be the only other significant character development I detected, which is oddly specific.

More importantly, I don’t know if I would go as far to venture that this scientist’s actions seemed like a logical reaction or defense mechanism against experiencing such a trauma as a child, but there is something intriguing about testing the limits of the human desire to self-preserve. What we are watching is a real, philosophical and psychological theory being tested. You could say that it forces us to open up for discussion and consider questions of what makes us human, why we have such an innate aversion to cannibalism, if cannibalism is ever justifiable, and what that means for broader animal rights issues, to name a few. The movie almost succeeds in drawing out these philosophical issues.

However, with surprisingly sufficient acting and nothing overwhelmingly graphic or cheesy enough for viewers to mock, Hunger teeters on the border of both the B-movie genre and also trying to achieve something more substantial with a profound moral. Ultimately, it doesn’t hit the mark. A horror movie that isn’t quite disturbing enough to be truly horrifying, or witty enough to be psychologically scarring, I’d only recommend watching this movie if you are bored and have nothing better to watch—which may well be never.

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