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Joss Whedon attacked : Could critics of ’torture porn’ at least watch the movies ?

mardi 26 juin 2007, par Webmaster

The current cycle of horror movies subjecting victims – usually young women – to prolonged, graphic ordeals shows no sign of letting up. But, asks Nigel Floyd, has media coverage distorted the true nature and aims of such films ?

Being a specialist horror film critic has its perils. Whenever the genre enters one of its grislier phases, female friends start to question how a seemingly feminist-friendly man could enjoy and write about such apparently misogynist fare. The imminent UK releases of Roland Joffé’s ‘Captivity’ and Eli Roth’s ‘Hostel : Part II’ – part of the current cycle of so-called ‘torture porn’ – have once again touched a raw nerve.

A recent Guardian feature on the subject, by women’s editor Kira Cochrane, provoked many such comments. As in most pieces by journalists who have not seen all the films they cite and lack detailed knowledge of the horror genre’s complex genealogy, the article lumped together a number of distinct titles : the then-unseen ‘Hostel : Part II’, the lame ‘Turistas’ (aka ‘Paradise Lost’), Rob Zombie’s tawdry fan-boy trash ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ and Greg McLean’s fiercely intelligent ‘Wolf Creek’. As any discerning horror fan will know, conflating these titles is at best sloppy, at worst misleading and prejudicial. Based on an actual viewing of these films, what they purportedly have in common is far less telling than the ways in which they differ.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, writer Joss Whedon, genre-savvy creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, launched an online attack on the billboard campaign for ‘Captivity’. The four-panel ads used horrific, exploitative images and titles – Abduction, Confinement, Torture, Termination – to present what Whedon astutely called ‘a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman’. Yet even he condemned the film on the basis of its publicity alone. Now, I had seen the first cut of ‘Captivity’, prior to re-shoots seemingly designed to make it even more like ‘Saw’, the hit shocker that kick-started the ‘torture porn’ trend. Since a third of the footage and the ending had been re-shot, however, it seemed only fair to refrain from comment until I’d seen the finished version.

The most interesting part of Whedon’s commentary is the parallel he draws between the supposed narrative of ‘Captivity’ and the stoning to death of Iraqi teenager D’ua Khalil Aswad in a so-called ‘honour’ killing, an atrocity which several of those involved filmed on their mobile phones. Supporting his argument, ‘Six Feet Under’ writer Jill Soloway, writing on the Huffington Post website, remarked that the ‘Captivity’ billboard campaign came from ‘such a despicable place that it somehow managed to recall Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, porn and snuff movies all at once’. Surely this is the salient point. ‘Captivity’ and ‘Hostel : Part II’ are not the spontaneous products of diseased minds ; they reflect and engage with violent behaviour and contemporary fears about the ubiquity of voyeuristic digital images.

Like the bloodhounds used as the logo for the Elite Hunting torture factory in ‘Hostel : Part II’, horror filmmakers sniff the air and smell the depravity that surrounds them. There is no denying that post-‘Saw’ torture movies have tapped into something in the ether : Roth’s film echoes (and derives associative potency from) the appalling images from Abu Ghraib, but one would be hard pressed to claim that it advances our understanding of the torturer’s mindset. Nor does the reworked ‘Captivity’ say anything new about the sadistic, controlling gaze of voyeurism.

In the end, that confused and repellent film depressingly lives down to the generalist critics’ expectations. ‘Hostel : Part II’, on the other hand, while boring, does not entirely conform to their reductive template. Its most gratifying element is the way it anticipates and wrong-foots its critics, cleverly subverting their assumptions about its inevitable misogyny. Operating an equal opportunities policy for torturers and victims, Roth hits the male audience members right where it hurts. But it is only by analysing and contextualising the actual film that one can cut through the fat to the heart of the matter.


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  • This is a fine example of bullshit trying to baffle brains. You cannot justify the use of torture to provide entertainment however much you wrap it up in fine meaningless words. That is Pol Pots "cleansing" Mao’s "purifying" and the Nazis’ "racial integrity" Do not torture, and do not depict torture for the gratification of the sad little minds that like these aberrations. We know that it is all about making money, usually at the expense of respect for humanity, especially females, stop trying to justify this vile genre.

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