In this anthology of the subversive, four tales are told with bloody realism. A woman is cut open while naked to remove something from her body, a man obsessed with his sister helps her give birth with dire consequences, a group rolls around outside in mud and blood, a man masturbates until the end and a group of women worship a man in a very particular way.
From writer/director Karim Hussain, the film takes these four stories and tells them in a manner that is cohesive and surprising at every turn. The film is almost 2 decades old and still holds up which is very much due to Hussain’s work and how he tells the stories here. His writing paired with his direction creates a piece of cinematic work that could only come from his brain and be put on screen through his eyes. As cinematographer of experience now, this early work of his allowed him to work on something that was entirely his vision, with an assist from co-director of photography Francois Bourdon.
Hussein’s vision is something to behold, and for this film, the cast was very important even when they did not have any lines as their performances could have kept the film from working. The characters are important here and the acting, albeit unusual, had to be on point. The opening segment, called “Ovarian Eyeball”, has a strong performance by Sophie Lauziere as the woman who gets opened up. Her performance is not one filled with lines but one that took a screen presence and the guts to take it where it needed to do, both of which she does with aplomb. In the segment “Human Larvae”, the sister at the center of the obsession is played by Brea Asher who plays her as both strong and confident, then switches her to a softer persona which lets actor Ivaylo Founev who plays her brother take over as the more dominant character. This switch in power is interesting to watch within the confines of this story. The segment called “Rebirth” feels more like a group effort as it’s more performance art than acting, it does have interesting visuals and will make some scratch their heads in terms of story, but it is visually interesting in great part due to the performers. The last segment, “ Right Brain/Martyrdom” has interesting performance on a performance art level as well, the acting being most from a the businessman played by Christopher Piggins and from the martyr played by Eric Pettigrew who both give good performances. Once again, this segment is more about the performance art by each group involved. The group from the “Martyrdom” storyline is particularly gutsy and goes for the maximum effect, which works beautifully well.
The special effects in this film are part of the interest as they are central to most of the segments, with the “Rebirth” segment having the less with just a lot of blood involved with mud. The other segments have bodies being opened, an eyeball showing up where it should not be, a man being cut open for pleasure, etc. These effects are done very much with practical effects that are stunning in their execution and prove that practical is the way to go if you want your film to age well. Here the effects look like things we could see in 2017 and would still be good and properly gross. The effects are done in this film with consultant Adrien Morot and a full team including Gail Mocker, Patrick St-Pierre, and a bunch of other including writer/director/etc Karim Hussain, who clearly had his hands on every aspect of this project.
The word subversive is used more and more to try and sell films with various levels of quality and success, here with this 2000 film, the terms applies better than it has for many films of recent years. Subconscious Cruelty is a film that may be hard to come by but worth finding. It’s one of those that push the boundaries successfully. It takes themes of obsession, pleasure, pain, death, and religion/spirituality and pushes them to their extreme end, something often attempted but rarely managed successfully. Here the film uses images some with dialog, some with narration, some with music and sounds alone, and creates something that will have most horror fans and those of the subversive glued to their screens from beginning to end. It is however not a film for everyone as violence, blood, gore, sex abound and, often, co-mingle.