Monday, February 14, 2011


A somewhat hidden gem of a film, Senseless is a 2008 film from director Simon Hynd. It's based on a novel by Stona Fitch about an American capitalist, Eliott Gast (played by Jason Behr), who is kidnapped, held captive and tortured by a terrorist. The terrorist describes Eliott as a "man of the senses," and so he, over the course of the film, removes each of his senses, all while commanding Eliott to confess his sins as an American imperialist to the live Internet audience.

When we first meet Eliott, he appears to be like any other wealthy American businessman. He's having dinner with presumably clients in Paris, talking about wines. He admits he used to work for the government, but playfully says the details are classified. Once he's kidnapped, all the audience can realistically convict him of is a bit of greed. Once we meet his captor, nicknamed only in the credits as Blackbeard, a charismatic, cocksure man concealed by a stark black mask covering his eyes, spouting anti-American rhetoric, Elliot's sins are quickly forgotten in the face of this frightening man (expertly played by Joe Ferrara).

Once we reach the first torture scene, in which Eliott's tongue is burned with an iron, we see the fear and desperation on Elliot's face, making the scene all the more unbearable. Sound and gore effects throughout the film are impeccable; not one of the five torture sequences are watchable without some sort of squeal or scream, even from the most seasoned gore-hound, and it's because you're there. The sounds and Eliott's wonderfully sympathetic performance puts you right there as each of his senses are destroyed one by one.

Later in the film it is revealed that Eliott is a bit more guilty than we were led to believe; he gave bad loans to foreign governments, making them politically indebted to America. By this point in the film, though, Eliott has suffered so much and been through such hell at the hands of such a cruel and hate-filled man that we're all too willing to forgive him.

This film is really a giant ball of energy and tension, and much of the energy and tension is created through the plot. Most films create a lot of their excitement through music and quick edits. This film does that also, but the passion shown by Blackbeard in his emotionally-charged anti-American propaganda, and the anger desperation he's able to draw out of Eliott compound the stress and tension of the film, making the peaks and valleys, twists and turns of this roller-coaster ride even higher and even more turbulent.

The sense of foreboding in the film is incredible. The paradigm of the five senses is established within the first twenty minutes of the film. Therefore we know what tortures will be coming, creating an unbelievable amount of anticipation. Also the cover of the DVD has the tagline "Removing an eye is easy. All it takes is a confident man and a coffee spoon." Once we see that written on the wall of Eliott's room toward the end of the film, we know what's coming; we're just not sure when and how. We wait, wondering how it's gonna happen, how much we're gonna see. When the eye removal finally comes, just after a devastating betrayal by a supposedly helpful liaison-slash-nurse, we are paralyzed with fear (I'll save the gory details for inside the film).
Senseless is one of the most exhausting movie experiences I've ever endured. However, I am fully aware that the film has its flaws. The story brings with it many of the conventions and clichés of the trapped-in-a-room movies such as Saw, and has too many side and background themes for it to really cohere into a polemic. But the film is remarkable just for its insane torture sequences, in addition to its excitement and political fury, and not to mention a mesmerizing denouement that I'll leave for you to see for yourselves.

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