Film & TV

Film Review – Society (1989) (Mayhem 2015)

There are some things you can never un-see. Brian Yuzna’s 1980s ‘body-horror’ is one of them. First released in 1989, almost 30 years ago, it is no less disconcerting for having aged. So, if you’re a horror fans rejoice who couldn’t care less about sleep, this is definitely the film for you!

Billy Whitney (Billy Warlock) is living the dream. He lives in Beverley hills with his wealthy parents and sister, he’s running for class president and has a popular cheerleading girlfriend. So why does he need a therapist? Despite his material wealth, Billy is paranoid about his family. In truth, he’s never really ‘fit-in’. They look different, treat him differently, and keep secrets. He’s beginning to question if they really are his family at all.

Everything comes to a head when Blanchard (Tim Bartell) gives him a recorded tape of his family’s conversations. What’s follows is a discussion of perverse sexual practices which almost leaves Billy speechless. Yet when he takes the tape to Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack) the vilifying content has been replaced with mundane conversation. Convinced that he’s not crazy, Billy sets off to uncover the truth about his family.

So far, so normal. It doesn’t sound too creepy. That’s because most of the horror takes place in the final act, but going into any more detail would ruin the shock factor which accompanies this. As a whole, the film is oddly paced. The first hour is a steady build-up of tension, which feeds off Billy’s precarious mental state. Are his fears justified, or is he just paranoid? Such uncertainty is a staple of the horror genre, but it’s effective nonetheless.

“The film offers an interesting critique of class systems and ‘the American dream’”

However, everything changes in the last half hour. Somehow, the film moves from slow-burning psychological thriller to avant-garde body horror. This is not managed subtly, and the sudden tonal shift jars with everything that came before. Having said that, the visual imagery is striking in its weirdness. As you’d imagine from an 80s era film, there is very little CGI present. For the most part, Yuzna relies on practical effects. To this end, the make-up team should be “applauded” for having created some of the genres most unsettling images.

Apart from this, the film offers an interesting critique of class systems and “the American dream”. How is it that we are all “equal” when some people are born into an elitist “upper-class”? How effective is social mobility when the rich survive from “working-class” labour? All of these questions, and more, are posed during the films 90 minute run-time. The differences between rich and poor are expressed in a highly visual, somewhat literal way. Not bad for an 80s ‘body-horror’.

“The film moves from slow-burning psychological thriller to avant-garde body horror”

How do you sum-up a film that is utterly disjointed? A slow-burning, fast-paced social critique, with psychological tension and avant-garde body-horror. Sound strange? If so, then this description fits the source-material well. Towards the latter half, audiences are barraged with a stream of unpalatable images. Occasionally, it feels as though this weirdness is merely for the sake of being weird, nothing more. Society is a “unique” film that will split critics and audiences alike. Although it won’t appeal to everyone, it’s a chilling tale, and truly deserved its place at Mayhem 2015.


Joe Jones

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