(Canada, 81 min.)
Dir. Rob Grant, Writ. Rob Grant, Mike Kovac
If there are two forms of filmmaking that go hand-in-hand with low budgets, they’re documentary and B-horror. Director Rob Grant and actor/writer Mike Kovac have ample experience with the latter having made oodles of horror flicks in Canada’s underground scene. Screaming girls, squishy guts, and squirm-inducing gore are all staples of their filmography, which includes B-movies like Mon Ami and Yesterday. A pretense to realism, however, is not something to which they aspire with their splat-n-chuckle violence. Their latest film Fake Blood is an experiment in the responsibilities of violent filmmaking and the consequences that movie mayhem brings. The realer the violence, the scarier it gets.
Many horror movies use the well-worn tropes of mockumentary and found footage to play with notions of realism within constrained budgets. Rather than take a cue from other filmmakers who run around and play Blair Witch on the thinnest of shoestrings, Grant and Kovac try something new by leading themselves down a rabbit hole filled with allegedly real-life monsters and victims who, unlike the fatalities in their movies, don’t get back up when they fall down. They stay dead.
Their inquiry begins when Grant receives a creepy video from a fan. It’s a personal letter that mirrors a scene from Mon Ami in which two characters visit a hardware store and debate which tools are best for disposing of a body. The fan, whose voice is disguised with eerie distortion, recreates the scene by walking the aisles of the same store and caressing the saws and thingamajigs that would have done a better job of chopping bones, slicing flesh, and ripping tendons. It’s nasty stuff.
The video inspires Grant to ask if a filmmaker has any responsibility to appreciate and convey the consequences of violence. What happens in the movies is nothing like what happens in life and he and Kovac debate the ethical role a filmmaker should play while inflicting violence upon their characters.
Grant and Kovac interview some friends to learn about their experiences with violence. They speak with a peer who was impaled with a fire poker during an altercation—and only realized it moments later when he looked down to see some guts protruding from his abdomen. They go to a shooting range, fire some guns, and grasp that even John Woo lies when he shows Nicholas Cage with pistols a-blazing. A trip to the dojo puts Grant in a sparring match that leaves him nursing his pain with an ice pack. The filmmakers encounter ample evidence to support the thesis that the violence of their films doesn’t mirror everyday life. They agree that it’s more responsible to show the blood and let audiences see pain and suffering if one chooses to use violence in a film. A hard R rating is more responsible than a safe and bloodless PG-13.
Then they pursue another interview that radically alters the film. The pair meets a shady character dubbed John Doe who offered their colleague advice during a movie shoot that implied knowledge of real murderers. (He basically told them how a body “falls” after taking a bullet.) John Doe agrees to an interview and he tells stories about being present while disposing of some members of the Vancouver drug scene. He leaves the filmmakers wanting more. Dramatic re-enactments visualize the crimes, but they aren’t necessary: the salaciousness of John Doe’s storytelling is enough.
John Doe leads Grant and Kovac into dangerous territory as they pursue the brother of one of his alleged victims. The man puts them face to face with the devastating sense of loss created by violent crime. This move also introduces the film’s first true offender since “Darren” isn’t a particularly convincing actor, especially when he erupts at Grant for asking inappropriate questions.
Bad acting aside, Fake Blood succeeds in straddling a suspension of disbelief and an engaging style of investigatory authenticity. The filmmakers blur questions about ethics and responsibility within an exercise that plays with audiences’ complicity in granting perceived realism more legitimacy than obvious fiction. Grant and Kovac admirably redact enough facts and names from the alleged crimes of John Doe that a few quick Google searches can’t easily support or refute the validity of what transpires onscreen. Similarly, Grant and Kovac create a film that is impossible to pin down stylistically: look for a hiccup in the continuity or an overtly stylish trick that proves it’s fake and one might be hard pressed to find one. The recreations of John Doe’s crimes are high calibre genre-work, and the meta-levels of filmmaking force discerning viewers to separate life from entertainment. While the filmmakers get greedy letting their study spiral out of control with a few farfetched plot twists and convenient dramatic turns, the questions that Fake Blood raises are undeniably valid even if the events that inspire them are fiction.
Fake Blood doesn’t always work as it interrogates the consequences of movie violence, but it ingeniously carves something new in the gray area between meta-movie and mockumentary. Some of the discussion treads well-worn territory, like the debate whether violent films make people aggressive or if violent people simply consume movies that sate their bloodlust. On the other hand,Fake Blood inspires a valid conversation on the responsibility of filmmaking, authorship, and toxic masculinity in the film community, particularly following Uma Thurman’s bombshell revelations about misogyny on the shoots of Quentin Tarantino films. Unlike Tarantino, Grant and Kovac aren’t strangling their actresses with their own hands, spitting in their faces, or strapping them into faulty cars in pursuit of visceral violence, but Fake Blood provocatively asks audience where to draw the line between ethics and entertainment.
Fake Blood opens in Toronto at the Carlton on Feb. 9 and hits iTunes on Feb. 13.