Enter The Void

Director    Gaspar Noé
Starring    Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Olly Alexander
Release    24 SEPT (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars


24th September 2010

Thanks to the brutally graphic rape scene in his last movie Irréversible, Gaspar Noé has joined the ranks of notorious filmmakers who court controversial subjects. But the problem with this is that people tend to focus only on the 'shock factor', at the expense of the film as a whole. So, while trying to avoid doing just that, let's talk about Enter The Void, a film that gives a first-person account of a gruesome death and an ambivalent afterlife via hallucinatory drugs, explicit sex and incest. Oh.

The fact is, Enter The Void is full of distractions. If the hard-hitting scenes of distress or seedy sex don't grab you, then the POV camera shots and frankly wild use of visual effects and computer-generated colours throughout will certainly make you pay attention. But this is a film that is far from gimmicky - the unnerving themes and imaginative film techniques all serve a purpose in telling an extremely personal, thought-provoking story in a way that has never been done before, and that is the truly shocking attribute of this film.

With the camera acting as Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) eyes, we are forced to become voyeurs as he goes about a day in his life in the dingy flat he shares with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) in Tokyo. After some fairly mundane lazing around, Oscar goes out to sell drugs to a client which turns into a police raid and results in him being shot dead. At this point, with the camera still maintaining his viewpoint, Oscar's consciousness rises above his body and drifts between locations as he witnesses the effect that his death has on his sister and friend Victor (Alexander). Simultaneously, Oscar flashes back to memories throughout his life, including the car crash that killed his parents and the promise that he made to his sister to always watch over her, even in death.

[gallery]It's a striking concept for a film: depicting the afterlife (according to the name-checked Tibetan Book Of The Dead) without much of a story other than to explore the very nature of life itself. Ultimately, it plays out like a harrowing, uncompromising tale of grief as Oscar silently witnesses Linda struggling to cope without her big brother, and Victor taking to the streets in order to avoid police questioning, but the very idea is so epic, it becomes a compellingly universal study of existentialism.

And if the mind-melting themes don't send you into a deep furrow, then the abusive use of colour certainly will. An early scene heavily riffs of Kubrick's 2001 stargate sequence as Oscar experiences a DMT-fuelled hallucination consisting of a kaleidoscope of organic shapes shifting into each other, filling every inch of the screen with rich colour, for what seems like an eternity. Later on, Oscar's spirit frequently delves deeply in bright sources of light, forcing us to swim in pure luminosity for several minutes at a time. And as the film progresses, even the bubblegum neon lights of Tokyo vibrate out to become a vivid nightmarish haze of colour. It's fair to say that, during these moments, the film becomes a merciless trial of endurance, but it is a cathartic experience rather than a thankless ordeal.

And then, yes, there are the shocking scenes. Oscar entering the body of his sister's lover mid-coitus to heavily imply incestuous feelings (as if the scene in which he privately sniffs her panties wasn't implication enough) is one such moment, as is the close up of an aborted foetus abandoned on a clinic tray. However, the prize for the best 'I Can't Believe I'm Watching This' moment goes to the scene in which Oscar watches his sister have sex from within her vagina, so that all we see is a giant CGI penis pounding towards the camera. It's meant as a rare moment of oddball humour, but you'll be too busy thinking, 'Thank fuck this isn't in 3D' to laugh.

The end result is a kind of beautiful, horrifying lunacy that will polarise viewers but deeply affect everyone, whether they like it or not. From a filmmaker's perspective at least, it is an undeniable masterpiece. The way the film is shot and the impressive use of visual effects is inventive to the point of genius, but the film suffers slightly from the occasional moment that, quite literally in the case of the giant CGI penis, overshoots the mark.

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