Until only a few days ago, the most I knew about LITTLE DEATHS is that it had played this year’s SXSW festival amongst a plethora of other genre films that garnered as much, if not a whole lot more, attention than it did. In all honesty, in the time between the festival and up until about a week ago, I had all but forgotten that the film even existed. It was recently brought back to my attention due to the involvement of one of my favorite voices in independent cinema today: Simon Rumley. Rumley is far from being a household name just yet but he has made two features, both of which garnered some serious attention at international film festivals in the past few years: THE LIVING AND THE DEAD and last year’s rather notoriously dark, RED WHITE & BLUE. This film, LITTLE DEATHS, holds a distinct position in Rumley’s career up until now as it is the first film in which he shares directorial credit. The reason for this is that LITTLE DEATHS is not a sole narrative, it is an anthology and a unique and twisted (I don’t say this lightly) one at that.
If one goes out of their way to read much about this film prior to viewing it – namely other reviews – you’re going to hear a lot about the copious amount of bodily fluids seen in the film as well as about how sexual it is. Yes, these things are rather important but they’re not all that the film has to offer. That said, if the sight of urine, semen and/or blood bothers you, please direct your attention elsewhere. Outside of being composed of three different stories, LITTLE DEATHS has nothing in common with other horror anthology fare like CREEPSHOW and/or TRICK ‘R TREAT. This is not generic genre fodder and it is destined to either be embraced or outright dismissed for being such. Regardless, LITTLE DEATHS is going to be an impossible film for many to forget once they do see it and if you don’t like the idea of images of a bound and gagged woman being urinated on being burned into your psyche, than perhaps you should just stop here and forget that this film even exists.
LITTLE DEATHS is comprised of three films, each from a different filmmaker and each working within different genre conventions. The first, “House and Home” is the most straight forward of the three and easily the weakest. It is directed by Sean Hogan (a filmmaker I’m completely unfamiliar with) and though he has style to spare, there is really nothing memorable about his segment. However, what his film lacks in originality is made up for with some rather jarring, intense imagery that will definitely polarize viewers early on. If anything, the tone and subject matter (which I will not spoil) really set the stage for what is going to follow and it serves as a rather nice, albeit generic, primer for what LITTLE DEATHS has to offer.
The second of the segments, titled “Mutant Tool” is all sorts of fucked up. I really don’t even know how to prepare the viewer for this one. It involves Nazi experiments, semen harvesting and organ removal, amongst other titillating subjects. This one is all over the place, in a good way. The director, Andrew Parkinson, has a way with utilizing parallel narratives to his advantage and this segment really tells two stories which lead to a climax that is…rather special. I don’t want to ruin this one by revealing the actual narrative as it contains some of the better surprises in the film, but it is very reminiscent of a couple Cronenberg features that I think many genre fans will catch on to rather quickly. This one would definitely work well on its own as a short film outside the context of the anthology as a whole.
The final, and best, segment of the bunch is Simon Rumley’s offering rather boldly titled “Bitch”. This one is flat-out disturbing. Any of you that have seen RED WHITE & BLUE know what to expect from Rumley and know that his vision is rather bleak and uncompromising. Well, I’m happy to tell you: “You haven’t seen anything yet”. “Bitch”, in many ways, is every bit as haunting and visceral an experience as Rumley’s much praised feature work. There are images in here that I have not been able to shake for days, and I’m not sure that I want to shake them. This is a film about abuse – psychological and physical – and, as such, is going to be the hardest of the bunch for many to view. This is not exploitative like the first entry could be considered to be, it is not as shocking as the second segment but it is the most human and seemingly personal of all of the films, something that RED WHITE & BLUE really used to its advantage as well. If this film were released on its own, it would stand as one of my favorite films of 2011 thus far. However, appearing at the end of this anthology does not do it justice and presents it in a manner that sensationalizes the content in a way that seems inappropriate. That said, at least it is going to be made available and, through the wonders of home video, can be viewed alone if preferable.
LITTLE DEATHS is a challenging film. Not only is it difficult to view, but it is difficult to recommend as well. This is rather potent work and, as such, it can (and will) polarize many viewers. There are those that will embrace the taboo nature of the content and will revel in every urine soaked, Nazi experiment referenced moment and there are those that will dismiss it as exploitative and amateurish. Perhaps it is those things, but it is also not easy to forget. In a time where the genre is saturated with remakes, sequels and DTV fodder, it is hard to completely dismiss something as unique as much of this is, regardless of what the content may suggest.