REVIEW: The Special (2020)

dir. B. Harrison Smith.

Suspecting his wife of infidelity, ad exec Jerry (Davy Raphaely) is persuaded by best bud Mike (Dave Sheridan) that the only way to get revenge is with his own one night stand. However the fling Mike has in mind is somewhat unconventional, and involves taking Jerry to a psychic-cum-brothel where a Special service is offered.

Smith’s sleazy, skeazy body horror plays out like a sticky fusion between David Cronenberg and an old morality play, for as Jerry descends deeper into an undulating pit of sexual desire the walls close in tight, holding him fast. The carnal pleasure of this world is beyond the boundaries which mortal man might imagine, recalling instead the transgressive risk of Escalante’s The Untamed (2016) to conceptualise an untethered freefall into orgiastic oblivion.

Thematically too there is the reek of misogyny and addiction, the latent toxicity inside Jerry quickly awoken to a fervent, sweaty entitlement. Pursuing ever more dangerous courses with which to feed his lust, Jerry’s path resembles that of Cronenbergian anti-heroes Brundle and Renn, a man overtaken by the flesh as his identity oozes out from between his fingers, his sense of self decorporealising.

The gooey finale – and some diegetic signposting from a background TV – hammer home the metaphorical message, though if it lands a little heavy it still packs a punch. There’s an awful poetry to Jerry’s journey, a decent into a peculiar hell that is both unique and yet familiar: you may not have seen anything like this before, but you still know the score.

Tim Coleman

THE SPECIAL has it’s World Premiere at Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition on 8th October 2020.

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