Written and directed by Karim Hussain
Karim Hussain is a Canadian director who has written and directed three feature films. None of them are currently available in the United States, despite his latest (The Beautiful Beast
or La Belle bête
) winning the Director's Award for Best Film at this year's Boston Underground Film Festival. La Belle bête
is easily Hussain's most accessible film, which says a lot for his other two features: it's the story of a severely dysfunctional family living in an isolated mansion. The mother verbally abuses her daughter at every opportunity, and has a sexual relationship with her developmentally-disabled son, which causes her daughter in turn to abuse and neglect him. Also, it's entirely in French. And again, this is Hussain's most accessible
Hussain's second film, Ascension
, is openly confrontational. It's driven almost entirely by dialogue, because it is basically a film about three women climbing a very tall stairwell in an abandoned factory. The story goes that some force has killed God, thereby dispersing God's power among all of humanity-- suddenly, everyone is immortal and has the ability to create and destroy at will. The force that killed God resides at the top of a tower, and three women venture into the tower to confront and destroy it in order to end the world. Their powers are nullified in the tower, but the force that resides there is at no such disadvantage: the women come across other pilgrims who attempted the same feat and who have met their demise. The film is mostly a series of long dialogues between the women, often ponderously philosophical, as they climb the stairs.
To date, however, Hussain's most traditionally confrontational film is his debut as writer/director: Subconscious Cruelty
. The film is a series of vignettes with no overarching storyline other than the early statement "THE CINEMA IS A LIE" and a recurring imperative to "KILL THE LEFT BRAIN." Shot on 16mm film, the film often has the look of a particularly accomplished student film. It was clearly a labor of love for those involved, which makes its extremely disturbing content all the more unsettling. On his website, Hussain explains that the film took over six years to complete, and that he started shooting it when he was 19: "Being a film that I began when I was only 19 years old, I see in it today a pure, rage-drenched honesty and analytical frustration against the world that I find almost endearing, if not somewhat naive- but in the most beautiful sense."
In the film's first extended sequence, a brother and sister live in a collapsing house where the brother spies on his sister's trysts with various men. He often fantasizes about making love to his sister, but the fantasies veer off into the realm of more than simple incestual disgust. When she becomes pregnant, he pampers her while he plans a sort of revenge on all women, a grotesque parody of the birth process, that is not revealed until he engages in the act itself. This lengthy story is followed by a few minutes of nude people frolicking and eventually making love to the earth itself, biting off leaves that bleed copiously into their mouths and smearing themselves in mud.
The constant assault acts as a set-up for the centerpiece in the film's last section, and (unsurprisingly) the most controversial scene in the film. After a man wearing a cross necklace masturbates watching hardcore pornography, he is given a horrific vision of three demonic women violently assaulting a "Martyr" on a cross. Images of the mass are intercut with gruesome parody: during the transubstantiation of bread into flesh, one of the women tears a strip of skin from the Martyr and shoves it into her mouth. It's pretty strong stuff, to be sure, but Hussain leaves it up to the viewer whether he intends this sequence to be an assault on Christianity itself or a violent blasting of the blatant hypocrisy of the modern church.
While it may be some time before we see any official US releases of his films, Subconscious Cruelty
has built a strong cult following throughout the world with its relentless nightmare imagery and Hussain's willingness to confront his audience and their preconceived notions about just about anything (religion, family, reality, etc.). His most mainstream appearance in US film so far has been as co-writer of Nacho Cerdà's feature film debut The Abandoned
, and after seeing his other films his influence on the tone of that film is evident. Hussain, along with Cerdà and other filmmakers such as Douglas Buck, could very well represent the best of what the horror genre has to offer going forward: artful, original, thought-provoking films that find new ways to unsettle their audience. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Karim Hussain's films are available through import sites such as Diabolik DVD
and Xploited Cinema