Harrow

What better way to celebrate Hallows’ Eve than to return to treacherous terrain that’s bedeviled (hehe) Write All Nite since its inception: the horror genre.

Given the house of horrors that has been 2018, it’s no surprise that three of the year’s scariest movies are documentaries.

Take The Bleeding Edge. Medical breakthroughs are always celebrated, but what about the horror stories of developments gone wrong? Lax government regulations are ostensibly designed to allow science to flourish as fast as possible, under the guise of being able to help as many people as possible, but are such unfettered advancements truly worth the pain they cause the unwitting guinea pigs? How many of us blindly trust the advice of doctors, without checking if they’re on the payrolls of companies hawking new, largely-untested, and pricey technological apparatuses (appparati? apparatu?).

Terrifying questions, right? Just wait until you hear the gory first-person testimonials of the victims of such medical malpractice in this cinematic expose; how easily the cutting edge becomes the bleeding edge. But with proper oversight, pushing the envelope can come without bone-deep paper cuts.

And then there’s Free Solo. For those unaware, free soloing is the most death-defying form of rock climbing: no ropes, no nets, no nothing. Through chronicling Alex Honnold’s climb up Yosemite’s El Capitan, the movie presents an intimate and probing portrait of someone who must put their life on the line to live. Though a majority of the duration focuses on the build-up to the day of his ascent, the footage of him scaling a free-fall rock-face, which serves as the extended climax, is the epitome of nerve-wracking; you’ll be squirming in your seat the whole time.

And finally, we come to the profoundly-profane Caniba. It starts as a bizarre interview, both in content and execution, with Issei Sagawa, a reformed but unrepentant cannibal, conducted largely by his seemingly-average brother Jun. But as we spend more time with the latter, his illicit eccentricities come to light; namely, he’s a violently sadomasochistic self-flagellator, matching the sexual predilections of his fraternal flesh-and-blood.

Oh, did I mention all of the above is shown, onscreen, in the goriest of detail? As the painful minutes of unflinching barbarity pile up, it’s impossible not to ponder: what’s the point?

An apt question given the topics at hand. It might be easier to look away, but perhaps by descending down such rabbit holes, we’ll begin to understand how they form in the first place. With the knowledge of what conditions bred such misery, maybe we can prevent future generations from suffering through similar fates.

And yet, Caniba‘s conclusions provide little comfort. Like Caniba, Free Solo’s also interested in psychologically exploring what fuels Honnold’s recklessness. Fictional approaches to these tales probably would’ve implied a source to such behavior, but both documentaries seem to espouse similar existential world-views: it’s impossible to explain the ineffable multitudes of humanity.

There’s an obvious key difference between them: to get their kicks, Honnold, and even Jun, only put themselves in harm’s way, while Issei exacts his imbalance on others, with devastating consequences. Why did these men turn out like this? If they grew up together, why couldn’t both brothers keep their predilections to themselves? The further we delve, the more we realize there are no answers. Ah, the mystery of life. Shit just happens. How comforting!

To cinematically reflect this enigmatic quality, Caniba‘s directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel frame their subjects by taking a page out of the horror handbook: they film them like the classic movie monsters whose totality smart cinematographers obscured to enhance the fear; what we imagine is always worse than what anyone else can conjure for us…with some expressively suggestive, sadistic prompting, of course. The camera roams over their faces in extreme close-up, never letting us get a complete picture of anything. The sound flows in and out, further disorienting our conventional senses. The message seems clear: what cannot be fully conceived of always petrifies the most.

And what’s more inconceivable, and thus horrifying, than the complexity of real life?

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