Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Faces of death

Naomi Watts writhes and falls in her torture-porn debut

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Normally the mere prospect of seeing Naomi Watts writhe in her underwear for a half hour would be nearly enough to recommend a movie, but this indefensibly crass, hateful slab of detritus makes even the comely frame of Ms. Watts nauseating.

This is a shot-for-shot English remake of German director Michael Haneke's own 1997 movie, a savage repudiation of film violence that also manages to be the squirmiest exercise yet in the dodgy and done genre of "torture porn." Haneke is not some snot-nosed film-punk bozo like Eli Roth; he's a fairly accomplished middle-aged "artist" who has made thoughtful pictures (La Pianiste), all of which makes this self-consciously arch civics lecture in the guise of popcorn entertainment all the more despicable and tedious.

While there's obvious craftsmanship at work here with first-rate acting and pacing, it's all in the service of glib provocation, tarted up with distracting tricks that wink and shrug and defeat the very purpose of building tension in the first place.

The bare-bones plot involves a bourgeois couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) and their 10-year-old boy away for a weekend in their country home, where they are assaulted and abused by a pair of reprehensible trust-fund sadists who casually toy with their prey like it was an evening of Pictionary. With their floppy blond locks and starched tennis whites, these twerps are the wimpiest psychos in movie history, barely strong enough to slice up a wheel of Brie, let alone lay siege to intelligent humans. Not that the victims behave in believable ways (a hobbled Roth at one point spends agonizing minutes attempting to dry a cell phone with a hair dryer, instead of arming himself for his captors' inevitable return). Watts fares no better, tending to weep and seethe instead of taking positive action. The husband is an ineffectual pussy and the wife's an emotional wreck; both are shallow critiques of indolent American consumers, meant as proxies for the audience, which is expected to gratefully sit through this trash. It's insulting.

In fact, the lead thug, played with icy detachment and onerous conceit by Michael Pitt, goes so far as to look straight into the camera and call-out us assholes for enjoying this voyeuristic torment, never mind that the wagging finger of blame finger should be firmly pointed at the creep who made it.

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