“Horror” comes in all sorts of varieties. Yes it’s true that the majority of what is released for public consumption dealers with our garden variety fears. Monsters of all sorts, killers, the undead, and unquiet spirits make up the vast majority of what genre fans watch read and discuss. Yet for those that want something more, for something that burrows into psyche and stays with the audience in the hours, days and weeks afterwards, psychological horror holds special appeal. It’s one that can force the viewers to confront their own fears, their own desires and admit things to themselves that would send them screaming from a room if they ever voiced these thoughts out loud and in public.
Montreal’s Matthew Saliba has crafted a number of erotically charged short horror film in the past few years. His last short, Amy’s In The Attic, was an over the top and fun as it pulled back the curtain of certain BDSM dynamics. His latest short, Eroticide continues exploration on the them but does so with far more intensity this time around. The “horror” from the work comes less from the combustible ending, and more from the dynamic from its trio of players, centered on one man’s lack of self worth.
Eroticide focuses on a young couple Yan (Jocelin Haas) and Elise (Stephanie van Rijn) and the change in the relationship dynamic when Yan’s ex-girlfriend Kendra (Lisa di Capa) makes a sudden and unexpected reappearance in his life. It’s clear from Yan’s discomfort and Kendra’s bluntness and domineering manner that the relationship was not a traditional “vanilla” one. As Elise sits in stunned horror, Kendra completely emasculates Yan with a handful of sharply delivered barbs before leaving the young lovers to a meal that must now taste like ash in their mouths.
The horror in Eroticide stems from Yan’s inability to accept himself and his utter lack of self worth. He accepts degradation from Kendra while keeping Elise at arm’s length because he believes he doesn’t deserve love, warmth or respect. He loathes himself and his base urges and Kendra is all too willing to tap into those feelings and grind Yan down into nothingness for her own pleasure. Saliba provides unique and heartbreaking insights to Yan and Elise’s intimacy issues when he provides brief glimpses into Yan’s psyche as the couple make love. The only way he can consummate the act is through his fantasies of being degraded and of watching his lover humiliated as well. The thought of her forced to crawl on all fours fills his head as he fills Elise. There’s no question Yan will knock on Kendra’s door, the only question is how fast he’ll make his way there. There’s something terrible but fascinating about Yan’s complete lack of worth and how he feels undeserving of the love Elise wants nothing more but to provide him with.
Eroticide hinges on its performances and luckily all three players deliver in standout fashion. Haas does a masterful job conveying Yan’s internal struggles through pained facial expressions and halting speech that w. When he finally lashes out at Elise in the cruelest way imaginable, you know that he’s condemning himself through his words and his tone. That’s of small consolation to van Rijn’s Elise, whose comes off as sweet, loving and completely over her head when trying to understand what’s going on between Yan and Kendra. Your heart will break right alongside hers on screen.
While all three performances are outstanding, special mention has to be made of Lisa Di Capa’s performance as Yan’s Domme. She’s completely self assured in the role, reducing her submissive to a pile of jelly with barely a withering glance or sharply delivered insult. What stands out more than anything is her utter confidence in the role. What you’re not going to find is a leather clad devil wielding a crop in one and a whip in the other. This isn’t a stereotypical performance as a dominant. Di Capa’s weapon of choice are her tongue and ice cold look of disapproval which she uses to cut Yan down with little effort. Her submissives are denied any aftercare (the act of restoring a sub’s sense of self esteem and leaving him no worse mentally than when arrived after a scene ends), in fact the term is probably a foreign one all together.
One of the more inspired choices Saliba makes with the film is the complete lack of score. Music is often used to steer the audience’s emotions in specific directions. By eschewing music Saliba forces his audience to confront their own feelings on a subject manner and situations that are far removed from the average viewer’s comfort level and personal experience. Will watching someone spit in another person’s mouth squick you out? Will it turn you on, even just a little? If it does, how do you feel about that? How does it feel to watch one person eviscerate another with such cruel precision?
In a year filled with tremendous short genre films, Eroticide stands head and shoulders above anything else I’ve come across. It’s also far and away the most difficult film I’ve had to review, and I’m afraid my attempts to do so above aren’t doing justice to the skill Saliba displays with this challenging but beautiful piece of work. As someone with his own submissive streak and really struggles with what it means to me, Eroticide had an impact that few other films have.
EROTICIDE makes its U.S. premiere Saturday February 8th at the Somerville Theater as part of our SATURDAY NIGHT SCREAMS “HORRORITCA” program.