Graphic Horror: The Chair
The Chair 2016
This is one of the few movie fundraisers that I actually contributed money to. At the time (and now, and always but that’s not important) I didn’t have enough spare cash to contribute more than the minimum $1, but dammit I helped! But since this is an independent feature and I am an independent movie reviewer, I managed to get a hold of the screener of this film to watch it early so I can review it here for you ahead of its release here in a couple weeks and you can search for a theatrical release at tugg.com or host one of your own. The film itself is based on an indie comic from the founder of an indie comics label called Alterna comics and from the beginning it owes much of its visual style to what you might think of when it comes to a horror comic. It’s a film that doesn’t make you feel comfortable during its brief run time, and I honestly believe that’s entirely intended. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, you can see the seams of its budget show through here and there, but for the most part, it’s an intense and riveting psychological and visceral horror.
The basics about this film is that it centers around essentially a very small and corrupt prison run by a sadistic warden who likes to experiment on and torture his prisoners whenever he gets the chance. We’re also introduced to one specific prisoner named Sullivan who claims to be innocent and appears to be someone caught in the wrong end of the legal system for years on end and is just trying to survive any way he can. As the movie goes on, we get to see what life is like in this prison where no one has any regard for the lives or well being of these prisoners, and yet there is some small amount of sympathy given even to some of the worst of the guards.
One of the best performances is a bit of a sad note, as the late Roddy Piper plays the main guard Murphy. He comes off like a self-important, sadistic person who wants nothing more than to torment these prisoners as much as possible. But he just creates this fascinating character who is constantly playing with this toothpick in his mouth, and as he walks down the hallway denying the prisoners their food he whistles to himself. But it’s not just a typical whistle, it’s the whistle of someone who doesn’t really know how to whistle properly so it’s mostly just this soundless blowing of air with only the faintest hint of an actual whistle. He even gets his one slightly redeeming moment, or at least a moment to explain some of his motivations as he describes the murders and other crimes that Sullivan is accused to have committed which essentially gives Murphy the excuse to do anything he wants to Sullivan because he deserves it. At least according to Murphy’s mind. Bill Oberst Jr. is also fantastic as the warden himself. There’s just this look to him, whether he’s wearing the visually interesting goggles or even when he’s dressed much more normally. He has this presence that conveys his sadistic mind, but there’s also an air of normalcy to what he’s doing, especially when it comes to the more day to day runnings of the prison.
Not everything in this film is as good as those two main performances. While it was nice to see the filmmakers stick to practical effects over digital ones, there was a lack of experience and/or budget so some of the moments weren’t quite up to par with some of the better exploitation gore fests of yesteryear, and during some of the scenes of beatings, it was very obvious that they were pulling their punches and/or not connecting with their nightsticks. The main character Sullivan, played by Timothy Muskatell was also not as impressive of a performance when compared to the other two mentioned earlier. He was never bad in the role, but there wasn’t much room for him to stand out as his role is generally understated for most of the film aside from some of his hallucinations.
What this film does do well is to have this overwhelming sense of uncomfortableness to it. While Sullivan spends most of the movie claiming his innocence, there is the question of whether he is actually innocent or not, and that question becomes blurrier as the film goes on. The guards and warden are also quite complicit in the deaths of more than one inmate, and the torture by rape scene of the inmate who isn’t quite all there is something that doesn’t cross the line into the torture porn category, but it makes you as the viewer incredibly uncomfortable towards what’s happening in front of you. There’s also several moments of visual prowess that help sell the fact that this is based on a graphic novel including a great use of a panning overhead shot that transitions between the two prison cells. The ending of the film also adds to the feeling of uncomfortability when some of mystery surrounding the flashbacks we’ve seen is finally revealed, but the ending is ultimately unsatisfying. Not necessarily for the viewer, but definitely for the characters. This film is far from what I would consider a fun horror film. It takes a dark look and presents the viewer with a small number of characters where it’s hard to find anyone to truly root for, but there’s also at least a small amount of sympathy given to each character for that hint of possible redemption. It’s worth checking out at the very least. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.