S&Man (2006)

(Streaming on Netflix as of 10/1/2011)

I recommend this movie, but with some reservation. My biggest criticism is one of missed potential (much like my feelings about Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon). But the core of S&Man is strong, and I think it would be a mistake for people to ignore it.

S&Man (pronounced “Sandman”) explores the underground world of extreme horror—the far edge of gratuitous on screen violence—to ask some important questions.

Here’s what works in this movie:

It raises some provocative questions about the lines we draw individually and collectively that divide what we are comfortable calling entertainment and what we are not.

So if you’ve ever wondered things like…

  • Is it wrong that audiences flock to each new Final Destination sequel to watch gleefully as people die in ever more elaborate Rube Goldberg inspired scenarios?
  • Why are people willing to watch a disaster movie like 2012 in which humans die by the hundreds of thousands yet recoil at the on screen killing of a pet?
  • Or a question I’ve wondered about myself: How is it that I’m equally drawn to movies about violent horror and movies about loving kindness?

…then you will appreciate S&Man as a valuable part of this complicated conversation.

If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…

I also really liked the way candid shots of the interview subjects (that extra footage that accumulates in between takes) were intercut with their formal answers. It offers subtle, yet revealing insights into who these people are and how they might really feel about the work they do, despite what they tell us in their interviews.

Here’s what doesn’t work in this movie:

As soon as the filmmakers begin to question whether or not the underground “S&Man” series DVDs are real or fake, the wheels come off the train. The acting in those supposed “S&Man” excerpts is so bad, there’s no question that they’re fake, no matter how real the killings may or may not look. And so it becomes clear that there’s an agenda here: to spring a third act twist on us by getting us to wonder if we’re actually seeing people killed for real.

Filmmakers have agendas all the time; it’s when the agenda becomes obvious that the film risks losing the viewer. It’s why I can’t take an Oliver Stone movie seriously.

And for the record, I have no objection to mixing fiction with documentary footage to make a point about art or start an important cultural conversation. I just think they went for the wrong point.

They had an opportunity to dig really deep into the question of why do we watch this horrific stuff, instead of changing to the question of would we recognize a real killing if we saw it. To me, the former is a question of profound cultural significance, the latter is no more profound than a Las Vegas magic show.

Ultimately I come away from S&Man craving a true documentary that could provide some real insight into the ways and “whys” we are drawn to experience feelings in a movie theater that we wouldn’t want to experience in real life. Until we get that documentary, this movie will have to do.

More info at IMDb , RottenTomatoes, and Amazon.com.

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