Porno

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Porno
"Smart, deceptively sophisticated and beautifully crafted, this is artisan cheese."

For many young people there's something almost sacred about those first glimpses of pornography. It's not so much the imagery in itself but the sense of a rite of passage, a gateway to another world. These days the easy availability of porn through the internet means this is changing - there is no longer the same sense of the forbidden - but in some communities outside the mainstream, it retains its power.

Abe (Evan Daves), Todd (Larry Saperstein), Chaz (Jillian Mueller) and Ricky (Glenn Stott) are students at a Christian high school, in their final year, getting ready for the separation and excitement of college life. They're all vocal about their devotion to Christ but that doesn't mean they don't have normal teenage urges. One night, whilst enjoying a lock-in at the small cinema they help to run, they encounter a drunken old man who crashes through one of the walls, revealing a secret room. Following him, they uncover a number of surprises, among them a reel of film with unknown contents. Curious as to what it is, and tired of arguing over whether they should watch Encino Man or A League Of Their Own, they pop it into the projector - and unleash something for which nothing in their short and sheltered lives has remotely prepared them.

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Taking on the very specific late Seventies/early Eighties version of low budget occult horror typified by the likes of Demons and Evilspeak, and doing so with the far superior tools that even the most straitened of today's productions can now bring to the table, it's hard to avoid coming off as supercilious and smug. Porno director Keola Racela is clearly not intimidated by this prospect and throws in some Ken Russell-style arthouse pizzazz for good measure. It's all played with such sincerity that, against the odds, it works. The result will charm genre fans who know their stuff and provide plenty of entertainment for newcomers who will not have seen anything quite like this.

One might not expect a film involving teenagers, a succubus, a crazed enchanter and bucketfuls of gore to provide more than the cheapest of cheap thrills, but Racela's film is incredibly stylish, even when it's not playing the film-within-a-film game. It may contain some very crude humour, with certain jokes knowingly taken too far, but it's beautifully framed and Katelyn Pearce's judiciously off-kilter performance as the creature from the Other Side is suitably beguiling. Naturally there's nudity, but the film doesn't rely on it - rented as a porno, it would disappoint. Both the horror and the eroticism emerge from the gulf between the occult world and that of the wide-eyed teenagers.

Far from fitting the smug stereotype of self-consciously Christian kids, these young people are genuinely sweet. Screenwriters Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli resist the temptation to mock their beliefs or force them to choose between two extreme positions. Even as their new experiences put the things they have been taught in a new light and prompt them to open up to one another, they remain true to themselves. This makes it a lot easier to care about them (regardless of one's own beliefs) and has the effect of inviting the average viewer to see the world from a different perspective. It also makes for a much more satisfying story because they lack the cynicism of most contemporary teenage protagonists and we don't have to get all their bullshit out of the way before the action can commence.

Smart, deceptively sophisticated and beautifully crafted, this is artisan cheese. It blends the awkwardness of adolescence with playful grotesquerie to great effect, adding a little existential terror in the closing stages just where it's needed. It may not quite equal the moment when you first got your hands on one of those magazines, but it'll show you a good time.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2019
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When five teenage employees at the local cinema in a small Christian town discover a mysterious old film hidden in it's basement, they unleash an alluring succubus who gives them a sex education written in blood.

Director: Keola Racela

Writer: Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli

Starring: Evan Davis, Larry Saperstein, Jillian Mueller, Glenn Stott, Katelyn Pearce, Robbie Tann, Bill Phillips

Year: 2019

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

SXSW 2019

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