Film Review: ‘Enter the Void’

Film Review: ‘Enter the Void’

Thanks to Netflix Watch Instantly, a lot of us are getting to catch some movies that didn’t make it to our cineplexes the first time around. Last week I had the opportunity to watch Dogtooth, an independent film that had run the festival circuit with lots of word of mouth, but I never got to see it in my hometown.

The film has been officially nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film, and I must say that this is a very bold, unexpected choice for the normally stodgy academy voters.  I have decided to refrain from actually reviewing Dogtooth, because I have no idea how to do so.  It defies genre and logic, yet it is very interesting. Check it out, if you are so inclined.

This week I saw another film I had been hearing about for ages:  Enter the Void.  When I was at Fantastic Fest last fall, the single screening of this film sold out in mere moments.  Following the screening, viewers were giddy, touting the film as a visual masterpiece that had to be seen on the big screen.

I, for one, am very glad that I didn’t see the film on the big screen.  I had a great deal of concern over the strobe-light effects that were reported to be pervasive in the film.  My fears were not unwarranted.  In the comfort of my basement, I broke the film up into two viewings, which worked well for me. I am not sure that I could have sat through the entire running time in a theater.

For the uninitiated, Enter the Void is the latest film offering from controversial filmmaker Gaspar Noé.  His 20o2 film Irreversible is considered one of the most disturbing movies ever made, thanks to a punishing and prolongated rape scene.

Enter the Void is already a cult classic, and deservedly so.  Noé offers up one of the most innovative and visually compelling films you are likely to ever see.  There is no doubt that the man is a mad genius of sorts.  Based on technical merit alone, any cinephile worth their salt needs to watch this.  It will be discussed for decades.

That  being said, it is not a particularly good film.  The acting is atrocious, and the storyline is non-existent. It is waaaaay too long, without deserving the running time (many cuts have been out there, I saw the 2 hour, 23 minute one). I kept thinking how mind-blowing the film would have been as a short.  It could  have been unrivaled for sheer visual appeal, and I believe that a short would have served the subject matter well.

In a nutshell, Enter the Void is the story of a twenty-something man whose life is cut short when a drug deal goes bad in Tokyo, Japan.  Although the character is English-speaking (more on that later), Tokyo serves as a stunning backdrop for the rest of the movie.

After the young man dies, his ghost travels above the city, and frequently observes the lives of those he was close to.  We see everything through his character’s eyes, so the film has an undeniably voyeuristic feel. It is quite graphic, as we witness a brutal abortion scene (that literally made my insides hurt) and various couplings and such.

Front and center is the man’s sister, played by Paz de la Huerta.  Through some horrifying flashbacks, we see how the two were separated (in foster homes) following the unexpected and jarring death of their parents in a car wreck.  The scenes between the young siblings are gut-wrenching, and carried a lot of emotional weight.  Seeing the two wrenched apart, while screaming, is flat out  traumatizing.

The man has finally raised enough money (via selling drugs) to fly his estranged sister to Tokyo to live with him.  She’s obviously damaged goods. She immediately gets a job stripping, and promptly bones the owner of the club.  I felt like Noé did an excellent job depicting the absolute dissolution of innocence for the girl.

The ghost storyline allows opportunity for some truly stunning shots.  The being floats, dives, dissolves through walls, and enters a vagina, amongst other things.  I’m no filmmaker, and it positively makes my head hurt to contemplate how some of this was done.

So why no ringing endorsement on my end?  For starters, the acting is just awful.  It is so bad that I convinced my husband that the movie was dubbed (thoroughly believing that was the case myself).  I found out two days later that no, all that unintelligible  mumbling was in English.  Yikes. I would rather watch Tommy Wiseau butcher his lines than this crap.

I did some quick research, and it seems that Noe did not want subtitles to detract from the visuals.  That is a valid argument, but the actors are so bad that they detract from the visuals, so it is kind of a wash.

Lead character Oscar is played by a soft-spoken, incoherent Nathaniel Brown.  His sister Linda is played by Paz de la Huerta.  The only way I can describe her accurately is to say that she is the “bizarro world” Juliette Lewis.  Without a shred of talent.

As for my gripes about the running time, I just found a lot of the movie to be completely redundant.  Key scenes keep rewinding, which is entirely unnecessary.  For instance, we see the car wreck that kills Oscar and Linda’s parents over and over again, but we also relive lots of other scenes.  It just didn’t work for me.

I’m glad I saw the movie (though I’ll probably never revisit it).  I highly recommend it for any serious film fan, but for anyone else, it is a no go.