Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sweatshop (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anton Bitel
In the prologue to Stacy Davidson's Sweatshop, a young woman (ViVi Sterling) wakes, naked, shivering and frightened, on a cement floor. Her only distinguishing feature is a prominent tattoo of the logo from the Canadian electronic outfit Skinny Puppy, which serves as a badge of the sensibility that informs this film. For its soundtrack pounds with the sort of industrial dance music that Skinny Puppy pioneered, its dance-happy cybergoth characters resemble the band's audience and personnel, and its impressionistic showcase of shocking images and horror motifs could come straight from one of Skinny Puppy's music videos (several of which have been banned).
Viewed as an extreme music video, Sweatshop almost works. In essence, it is a slasher, as a group of venal, drugged-up, oversexed young rave organisers break into an abandoned warehouse, only to be stalked, mutilated and murdered by the Beast (Jeremy Sumrall), a silent behemoth in welder's mask and animal furs who wields, amongst other weapons, a truly enormous, body-crushing hammer of metal.
The slasher genre has always been by numbers, and Davidson certainly knows the beats, building the tension with a series of false scares, turning each torture-cum-death into a grand guignol set-piece, ensuring that all sexual acts are rapidly punished, confounding our expectations of who will be the 'final girl', even embracing the he's-behind-you cliché of concealing the killer in a car's backseat.
In other words, there is genre connoisseurship at work here. When Davidson shows the Beast holding a pair of bloody garden shears open over his head, he wants us to recognise the key image from Tony Maylam's The Burning (1981). When the Beast clears the dance floor in his own inimitably destructive way, Davidson wants us to recall the similar sequences from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) and even Blade (1998). Given the film's Texan setting, an allusion to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) seems inevitable, and it comes in the grotesque collision of unwilling table guests and a deadly hammer.
What is more, Davidson (who has a background in visual effects) crafts some of the most impressively icky carnage to have splattered our screens in decades. Heads fly, brains squish, guts knot, bones are skinned, and bodies are subjected to unimaginable violations, despoliations and fragmentations. Put simply, for all the modesty of its budget, Sweatshop delivers high-impact gore by the bucket load.
Yet if all this works as a sort of dance-driven horror sampler (and a calling card for Davidson's next gig), it falls very short as a piece of feature-length narrative. The prologue feels incomplete, and its lacunae (eg what happened to the policeman?) are not satisfactorily supplemented in subsequent scenes. The ending seems both arbitrary and perfunctory. The apparently supernatural Beast and his crew of contortionist 'ghost girls' have no obvious motive and make no sense as anything other than mere genre vehicles, while the human characters are repellently unengaging and often disinguishable only by their hair styles. The dialogue, focused largely on sex, is uneconomic, inane and excruciating.
Ted Geoghegan's screenplay, co-written by Davidson, is serviceable in linking one bloody spectacle to the next, but fails to settle on a compelling story to connect the dots. Several of the rave organisers are making money on the side with some illicit activities – but does this subplot add anything apart from duration to the overall film? A vengeful raver has laced a beer bottle with an unspecified poison - but it is hard to care when there is a much bigger danger on the loose. Betrayal amongst friends becomes an express motif – but given that not all of the Beast's victims are treacherous, whereas a survivor most certainly is, this theme seems to lack any moral (or even narrative) purpose. Rather, it is just another thing for the characters to discuss aimlessly while we wait for the next graphic kill.
Two of the more priapic male characters in Sweatshop end up with their penises severed. It is an apt metaphor for a film which, in the absence of a decent script, cannot help but seem half-cocked. If only Davidson could find a writer whose abilities match the polyhyphenate director/producer/cinematographer/editor/VFX supervisor/sound designer's undoubted audiovisual talents, the result might be full-blown horror to leave viewers wincing only for the right reasons.Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2011