There's a lot of things you can say about Brutal. One look at the box practically screams "Torture porn ahead!" The plot synopsis on the back is no help at all. But once you get past the heavily flawed box, what you find inside is a strange little package of ups and downs, of what might have been and what might be great.

What Wiley has brought forth is the story of several attractive young women, kidnapped and messily killed with various tools and implements and suchlike--including hedge clippers. Which I have to give Wiley some kudos for--I can't recall the last time I saw murder by hedge clippers. And of course, the murders are drawing attention from local law enforcement, one member of which august body happens to be, surprise surprise, an attractive young woman herself. Which means not only will said attractive young woman be chasing our garden implement killer, but also will likely be his target.

There's a lot to hate about Brutal. Wiley's work is frequently shot in conditions so dark that making out details is hard to follow. His characters occasionally look like floating heads. His plotline is just one long string of repetition--kill shapely co-ed, police try to catch up, kill, catch, repeat until end of film or budget, whichever comes first. Nothing that hasn't been seen and laughed out of the business before.

And yet, Brutal is not without its pluses. The foresight to include Jeffrey Combs gives me a little more respect for Brutal. I can't fault the inclusion of Jeffrey Combs under any circumstances because the man turns in a good performance no matter what he's in.

I also have to give some respect to Wiley's clever "murdericus interruptus" scene. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that something actually gets to one victim before the killer does.

Further, he's tacked on an interesting subplot involving an adulterous sheriff in the midst of a reelection campaign, and some truly baffling attachments to flowers.

It's sad. It's truly very sad. Wiley could have been pretty clever, but his clever work is buried under convention and missteps so deep you could almost call it torture porn and not be too far off!

Perhaps I'm being uncharitable. Perhaps Brutal only has elements of torture porn. Sure, every chick in this film turns out to be a skank, an adulteress, or a thief in skank's clothing. Sure, we're spending a whole lot of time on hunt-and-kill. Sure, that shot with the hedge trimmer went on maybe a bit too long.

So maybe, in the end, it's just torture softcore.

The ending isn't half bad, but I'm still not very satisfied by the whole proceeding. Fibonacci sequences as a plot device? Come on, Wiley, that's stretching things a bit.

The special features include Spanish subtitles, English closed captions, a behind the scenes featurette, a still gallery, and trailers for Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck, Drive Thru, Curse of the Zodiac, The Abandoned, H.P. Lovecraft's The Tomb, Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield and Diary of a Cannibal.

All in all, Brutal is pioneering. A subgenre of a subgenre, and maybe one of the first examples of torture softcore to come out of the torture porn collapse, Brutal has some excellent points to it, but they're lost in a morass of poor visibility and a plot too heavily reliant on more-of-the-same. Though heavily flawed, there's enough good in Brutal to make me wonder just what Ethan Wiley's true capability is.

Cinemark Movie Club
Evan Jacobs