CAPSULE: LITTLE DEATHS (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson,

FEATURING: Jodie Jameson, Luke de Lacey, Siubhan Harrison, Holly Lucas, Tom Sawyer, Kate Braithwaite

PLOT: Three anthologized shorts: a wealthy couple toys with a homeless girl, an ex-junkie and ex-prostitute joins a pharmaceutical trial, and a young couple’s sadomasochistic relationship turns sour.

Still from Little Deaths (2011)

COMMENTS: For weird purposes, we can dispose of two of the three sexually-charged horrors that make up Little Deaths quickly. The opener, “House & Home,” is a well-produced but obvious R-rated “Twilight Zone” thing where a couple who exploit homeless women find the tables turned. Even though you might not guess the exact details, the twist is something less than a surprise when it arrives. The closer, “Bitch,” is a bit more involving because of its depiction of unusual fetishes (canine roleplay among them) in the context of a very dysfunctional S&M relationship, and its exceptionally cruel ending. It’s essentially sleazy sex life portraiture, though with a climax that’s equal parts troubling and ridiculous.

That leaves the middle segment, “Mutant Tool,” which is indeed about as weird as its title suggests. The central character is Jen, a recovering junkie and ex-prostitute who’s finding it hard to go straight. Her drug-dealing boyfriend enrolls her in an experimental pharmaceutical treatment with a major side effect: she hallucinates about a strange man (or monster) hanging in a cage. The plot gradually brings an old Nazi experiments and a develops a cyclical pharmaceutical ecosystem somewhat reminiscent of the one in Upstream Color (2013) (if less rigorously developed). The film is visually murky, with only brief glimpses of the dingy mutant behind a face shield and a shower curtain, though the restrained imagery can be effective—and there is one WTF closeup that is both creepy and sort of funny.  The exposition can be a bit clumsy: Jen keeps taking calls from her escort agency, even though she claims to be no longer working for them, just so we can sense the pressure she’s under. And there’s a crusty old caretaker character who keeps coming up with excuses to volunteer mutant backstory to a trainee. Plus, it seems like an awfully bad idea for Frank to refer Jen to Dr. Reese, considering the ghoulish nature of his prior dealings with the physician. Still, if you can overlook those narrative shortcuts, “Mutant Tool” has a strong and weird conceit, and also has the only likeable characters in the triptych—Jen and Frank are lowlifes, sure, but they’re at least trying to escape from the horror rather than hurtling into it like the others.

Although perversity abounds throughout, and “Mutant Tool” perks some interest for seekers of the eerie, none of Little Deaths offerings are essential shock-horror. But at thirty minutes each, none of them outstay their welcome, either.

Little Deaths has been accused of misogyny, and although there’s some basis for the charge (e.g. the uncomfortable verbal lingering over a rape scene), it’s overblown in general. In Little Deaths, people are simply cruel to one another, and males are victims as much as females. The one exception might be that final episode, Rumley’s provocatively-titled “Bitch,” which invites (though doesn’t demand) the misogyny-minded to identify with its emasculated antihero. To their credit, the directors do anticipate these charges and address them in a series of interviews included on the DVD—although Parkinson has nothing to answer for, and Rumley glibly dismisses the objection with a shrug.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…three tales of the strange, the weird, and the fantastic… ‘Mutant Tool’ is Andrew Parkinson’s way-strange contribution… [‘Mutant Tool’] is some pretty weird and (to use the word yet again) ‘dark’ stuff, made all the more so by being played as straight drama…  LITTLE DEATHS as a whole is pleasantly unsettling and worth watching for horror fans on the lookout for something different.”–Porfle Popnecker, “HK and Cult Film News” (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Donatien,” who qualified his recommendation: “i don’t think all three short films can be classified as weird, only the 3rd one.” Maybe he misremembered the order of the tales? Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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