Heir to the moral scorn heaped onto slasher films in the 80s, torture porn films have not demonstrated lasting power in this new century. An arc of cultural newness could be traced from Saw to Hostel, and ending in a creative flat line of films interrupted only by the occasional blip of life coming from a movie rising above the mediocrity.
Vile does rise above the staleness of the genre, even if it doesn’t achieve greatness. The plot itself is no great change of pace. A group of attractive young actors must inflict great pain on one another to earn their release from captivity. Bodily fluids secreted during this pain are harvested and used for some kind of pill, but this portion of the story never fully develops. The tension of Vile comes from the actors looking at a computer screen displaying the percentage of pain they still need to dispense, then looking at knives and irons and deciding how to torture each other.
This plot adds nothing to the genre, but the filmmaker’s sense of tone gives Vile an identity of its own. Unlike most films in the torture porn genre, Vile uses sad alt-folk to punch up scenes instead of using darker, more doomed music. The color palate of the film feels warm and sickly instead of cold and sterile.
In short, Vile feels like a film about despairing for the pain that’s coming, instead of the doom a character still believes they can avoid. This makes the film more cynical and insidious – it’s not about a potential escape, it’s about tolerating trauma. After all, the lead male character wears a Wrigley Field shirt in an early scene, perhaps hinting that he, like all Cubs fans, has already learned something about tolerating suffering. If the film improved its dialogue and recast a few actors unable to convincingly complete their character arcs, it might have become a horrific indie character study. Instead, Vile is an interesting attempt to achieve more than the rest of its torture porn peers.
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