Thursday, 31 March 2016

15 Second Review: Faces of Snuff (2016)

Faces of Snuff is difficult to contextualise since the film has no credit sequences (at least in the version I saw). There is a website associated with the film, but it contains no identifiable production information (at the time of writing). The film itself is a compilation of unrelated clips, each of which is snuff themed. As the title suggests (with its direct reference to Faces of Death (1978)), this is the faux-snuff equivalent of the mondo film. The premise works well given the crossovers between mondo and pseudo-snuff, both of which typically include ostensibly real death footage.
The implicit question haunting Faces of Snuff is whether any of its footage is genuine. Most of it (as with Faces of Death) certainly is not. Some of the sequences are clearly staged, and some of the acting is unconvincing (although those sequences highlight just how realistic other parts of the film are). Other segments have overt narrative arcs and even “twist” endings. There are also some familiar faces here; some clips are derived from existing faux-snuff films, and a public information film provides a leitmotif throughout: I won’t name these familiar assets here, since identifying them will be part of the fun for fans of the subgenre. Still, the inclusion of pre-existing footage  - which is one of the mondo film's common tropes - and the lack of credits might suggest that this is a compilation of clips sourced from the web (as with MDPOPE (2013)), and in that case there is a possibility that some of the footage might display genuine death, even if that was not the compiler’s intention. Again, despite my natural scepticism, the room for doubt is part of what makes such films (and the snuff mythos) intriguing.  
What I will say is this: the compilation certainly hasn’t been pieced together in a sloppy, accidental fashion. Faces of Snuff has a clear internal logic. I doubt that the film has been created by a single director since it appears that while most of the footage is American, some has been sourced from other countries (one being the UK). Yet the film has been arranged by individual/s who understand how to carry the viewer through a compilation that is over two hours in duration. The film encompasses clips of various lengths and the aesthetic continually shifts. Faces of Snuff does not just contain hand-held POV material. Aside from the aforementioned public information footage, Faces of Snuff includes inserts from a fictional 1970s film (again, I won’t name it here in case readers want to identify it themselves). One of the early clips is a talking-head interview with an individual who discusses the snuff myth. The film also encompasses (what is presented as) tube site streaming, digital cam footage, analogue VHS, and grungy 8mm (complete with projection noise). The final, highly stylised sequence is even reminiscent of a music video. Rather than being jarring, the continually shifting aesthetic makes the film easier to watch.
This strategy is also what sets Faces of Snuff apart from Murder Collection V.1 (2009), another contemporary mondo-style faux-snuff/death footage compilation. While the latter was linked together via a host (Balan) waxing philosophical about the nature of life and death, Faces of Snuff is akin to a video essay on the snuff myth. The public information footage refers to the kinds of panics surrounding horror comics and pornography that led to snuff paranoia (and which fed into “video nasties” panic in the UK). Simultaneously, the ostensibly genuine death images contained in that public information film were intended to shock viewers into following ideological and behavioural norms; by recontexualising that footage as part of Faces of Snuff, the hypocrisy of that “public service” agenda is underscored. The 1970’s fictional movie inserts are reminiscent of Snuff (1975), evoking the outrage that followed from the release of its infamous and (obviously) contrived final sequence. The inclusion of explicit sex in Faces of Snuff highlights ways in which contemporary hardcore horror draws on pornographic tropes in order to distinguish itself as “extreme”, reifying the unfounded complaints some feminist protesters charged Snuff with at the time of its release. The ‘talking head’ interview segment is reminiscent of the various documentaries that have been made about the snuff myth, including Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera (2008) or, perhaps more perversely, J.T. Petty’s boundary blurring snuff fauxumentary S&Man (2006). The ‘2 Girls, 1 Victim’ sequence refers to a popular mode of titling genuine murder footage (‘3 Guys, 1 Hammer’, ‘1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick’) for distribution on the internet. Although the latter will age incredibly quickly, Faces of Snuff also underscores the potential anachronism of such contemporary references; one segment is built around Y2K panic, for example.
It is not the place of a film like this to dissect and critique the snuff myth, but Faces of Snuff is clearly compiled by individual/s who are cognisant of the origins of the myth it builds upon. Rather than reproducing faux-snuff in 2016 – which would feel especially tired after a decade of found-footage saturation – Faces of Snuff steps back, takes stock, and forges bridges between past and present, shining a light on the hysteria that perpetuated and has continued to sustain the snuff myth. Faces of Snuff is not strictly an enjoyable film, and most viewers are likely to be repulsed by it. This is to be expected given its format and content. Nevertheless, there is a self-awareness underneath the gore that sets it apart from other films of its ilk.

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