Director Tom Six is running out of patience.
The mind behind the “Human Centipede” trilogy dials down the gore, but not the discomfort, with “The Onania Club.” The film explores our need to see others suffer, one of many themes Six evokes in his startling, black-and-white film.
He wrapped “Club” several years ago but can’t find a distributor to bring it to the public. They ignore his profitable VOD track record and brand loyalty in horror circles. Forbes.com called the films “the perfect allegory for our times” while Roger Ebert refused to give the first “Centipede” any stars — “It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.”
Do distributors have a point? It’s possible, but given Six’s track record and the culture’s hunger for shock it seems sharing “The Onania Club” is hardly an unsafe bet.
The movie follows Hanna (Jessica Morris), a married mother of one who learns she can only get sexually excited by the suffering of others. That revelation leads her to the titular club, where other women revel in pain, torture and death for their sexual pleasure.
“The Human Centipede director tops himself with a story of rich Los Angeles women who gather together to masturbate while watching news footage of the world’s misery. Often wrongheaded but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it has been rejected by film distributors worldwide. All I can say is that the movie sure as hell delivers. You will probably never be able to see it. Maybe that’s a good thing…”
The film pushes the satirical boundaries much like Six’s “Human Centipede” trilogy. It’s uncomfortable to watch, shoves bleak material in our faces and dares us to look away.
And, often, makes us think about subjects loitering just outside the frame.
Six’s brand is repulsion with a purpose. It might not always be clear at first. Even when he’s working in black and white his imagery can be hard to process.
“Not for the faint of heart” gets a workout with Six behind the camera.
His breakout hit “The Human Centipede” (2009) isn’t as drenched in gore as you remember. The grisly details are often implied, with the filmmaker showing just enough to seal the deal.
Six’s subversive style drove the third “Centipede” film into a ditch, making us forget just how conventionally solid the first part of the trilogy remains. The late Dieter Laser’s work in the film as the maddest of scientists remains a revelation.
The director reverses course with “The Onania Club.” Yes, the budget is low and the shocks are increasingly over the top. The satirical edge is sharper this time, drawing more blood than what’s seen on screen.
Where to begin?
Are the club members worse than those who capture muggings with their smart phones but never call the police? What about the teens who torture their peers with endless cyber bullying?
Consider an administration that refuses to secure the southern border, letting drug cartels and mules have their say over countless lives.
The media sure loves to push torture-like imagery whenever possible, as do social media accounts spreading “Dr. Pimple Popper”-style clips. And we’re about to revisit the torture porn era via the latest “Saw” prequel.
Six’s need to rub our faces in it doesn’t always work to the story’s advantage. His quest for jaw-dropping reveals can lap his narrative impulses.
The director says he’s been working the film circuit for more than four years without securing a distributor. Most ignored his queries. Others, he says, told him “the market has changed.”
The film festivals ignored his entreaties, too.
Six says his film skewers the “elites” in Hollywood and elsewhere, conspiracy theories, racism, Big Pharma and more. That’s ultimately in the eye of the beholder, but it’s indisputable he has more on his mind than revulsion.
He dubs his style “misanthropic satire,” and few would argue the point.
The COVID-19 pandemic drained the color from the film. Literally. He switched to a black and white canvas early in the production because his take on humanity “became so bleak and drained of color” during the pandemic.
His bigger fear? The film’s failure to snag a release – he won’t settle for a self-produced vision – could doom his chances for follow-up features.
Six’s oeuvre isn’t for everyone, but he’s one of the few directors willing to stand up for speech at a critical time in our culture. The least the film world could do is give “The Onania Club” a release date.