Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Written by Eric Jay Beck & Rob Kowsaluk
I have no problem with torture porn. I think if the film is done right, it can be both entertaining and effective. Why should they need to wrestle with plot and character development when the real reason the audience there is to squirm in their seats and watch the blood flow? Unfortunately Vile attempted to be a film solely about torture, without showing us any of the torturing.
The plot of the film follows a quartet of friends as they are heading home from a trip. They see a well-dressed woman in need of a ride and offer to help her out. Just as they have dropped her back at her car, and are setting back out home, they are ambushed by some chemical fog that knocks them unconscious. The next thing we see is all of them waking up in a house with strangers that have all been brought there under similar circumstances.
Here is where the plot gets murky. The house they are held in is impenetrable. The doors and windows are all solid steel. The rooms each have cameras for surveillance, and one room has a large television which shows a talking head. This woman on the monitor explains the rules of their detention. You see, each of these newly imprisoned hostages has just been outfitted with a stent at the back of their heads which drains to a small glass vile. They are all being held here to collect a certain volume of various brain chemicals. If they, as a group, can collect this amount of fluids within 22 hours, then they are free to go. These chemical are primarily produced when a person fears for their life and experiences pain. The mismatched group of hopeful survivors makes a pact to divvy up the remaining balance of pain, and dole it out in an organized fashion.
While I hate to be the one to criticize logical and realism in horror films, this obvious and nonsensical plot device made me get an eye cramp from rolling my eyes repeatedly. In what world would this be the most cost effective way to collect any bodily chemical? Why would these strangers (or are they?) need to torture one another to satisfy the needs of a seemingly well connected drug lord or pharmaceutical company? My suspension of disbelief just flew out the fortified window with this absurd premise.
But not all needed to have been lost. After all, torture centered films can redeem themselves be having excellent effects. Sigh. This too is another place where Vile let me down. The torture that takes place is not really shown. You see the tortured housemates scream and wince, and bite down on a wooden spoon to suffer through their trials gracefully, but it is rare that you actually get to see the maiming. A camera that is constantly flinching away from the action does not make a convincing film. And as each person is selected for their turn at the receiving end of the violence, the group always chooses a new way to harm that person. After finding an especially time-efficient way to produce this brain chemical, they abandon that method and start from scratch on their next victim.
While I would love to skewer Vile further, it is interesting to note that certain scenes of the film are quite beautiful. Scattered throughout the film are scenes that are quiet, with excellently matched music, that show the simple beauty in the moment of their lives. While most of these are found at the beginning of the film, before the ill-fated group is hauled into the fortress house, many of them appear intermittently during the rest of it. These scenes are not frequent, or striking enough, to act as a contrast between the bloody mayhem of torture, but they do act as a sweet pause to highlight how frightened our group is. One such scene that really sticks out is when the group decides they need to make a system to determine the order of the victims. One of the women leads an already wounded friend into the kitchen. The non-bleeding one smashes a plate on the floor, and the other writes numbers on the larger shards of plate using a bleeding finger as an ersatz fountain pen. This is the sort of editorial reflection that can make small budget films feel much bigger than they are, and Vile would have been a better film if it included more of them.
The absurd plot and lack of blood make Vile almost not worth your time, but the occasional glimpses into its indie roots which nearly save it. But only nearly.