Sunday 5 September 2010

Long Pigs (2007)

Directors: Chris Power and Nathan Hynes
Star: Anthony Alviano

Tony Prince is a DJ on KNGY and he wants to talk about meat. He wonders why it's OK to eat cow and pig but not cat and dog, but given that the film is called Long Pigs it's pretty obvious which particular meat we'll end up talking about. This is an indie Canadian take on the groundbreaking 1992 gem Man Bites Dog, which was shot by a trio of Belgian film students in black and white and in French. While it carries this influence on its sleeve, Long Pigs stands on its own, upping the stakes by more than shooting in English and colour: instead of being a documentary about a serial killer, it's a documentary about a serial killer who's also a cannibal. Much of the approach is the same, demonstrating how easy it is for filmmakers to lose their impartiality, but it plays the journalistic integrity card a little differently. Not only is there plenty of comment about the two men making this film but more about that DJ, Tony Prince, and his motivations too.

Directors Chris Power and Nathan Hynes play themselves as filmmakers shooting a documentary about a cannibal serial killer called Anthony McAlistar, who at first glance is just a regular guy. He's a working man, a valet at a high class restaurant. He cares deeply for his mother, who is in a home suffering from Alzheimer's. He's honest, he's modest and he has an obvious passion for what he does. Yet what he does is kill people and eat them, hardly a socially acceptable hobby. He's played by Anthony Alviano, another nod to Man Bites Dog which also gave its characters the same names as the actors playing them. While Anthony is obviously a sociopath, he has a good deal of charisma and, even while talking about the most horrible things, comes across as a pleasant fellow who you wouldn't mind inviting to dinner, just as long as he didn't cook. He talks candidly about his tastes and his history, opening up his entire life for scrutiny.

As you can imagine, this becomes in turns brutal, cruel and uncomfortable. Anthony picks up a large prostitute called Lucy and takes her home, with Chris and Nathan in the back seat of the car all the while. When he murders her in front of them, mid conversation, one promptly vomits in the corner. When he strings her carcass up and slits her carotid artery, the cameraman faints. Yet even as he admits to murdering and eating a young child, Ashley Sedgwick, because he was curious about whether younger meat would be more tender, this sociopathic monster still tugs at our sympathy through pure honesty and passion. We never feel that for the filmmakers, who are already complicit in one murder and promptly descend into the depths. They shoot footage of Ashley's father, who talks about her in the present tense and thanks them for their help, but they never let on that the man who killed her is there in the room helping them with the equipment.

By the time Anthony gets the call that his mother has died, they start to show pangs of guilt, but promptly ignore them. 'Should I be taping this?' one asks. 'Could be the best part of the movie,' replies the other. A rift appears, as they want to film the funeral and the scattering of the ashes, but have to work hard to persuade Anthony that it's all for the movie. Yet again, the sociopathic cannibalistic serial killer offers up the human element and the men shooting his story appear to be the bad guys. DJ Tony Prince punctuates the story with his opinions on events of the day, but as we're continually treated to better information than him, we quickly realise how judgemental he really is up there on his soapbox. After he proudly proclaims that one victim deserved what he got, he's forced to apologise when more information comes to light. Victims are still victims, regardless who they are or what they've done. Playing with morality is dangerous territory.
And this is the point, however much this appears on the surface to be a horror movie. It's about a cannibalistic serial killer, after all, and we're treated to some gruesome footage of very realistic corpses as Anthony strings up his victims, strips them naked with scissors, slits their throats, ties their anuses and dismembers them for food. At least the second one is done with sped up film. Chris Bridges is the man behind the effects and they're impeccable. No wonder this is one of the more obscure titles in his filmography, made the same year he supervised the make up effects for George A Romero's Diary of the Dead. But the horror story falls apart at the first thought, as the concept of a cannibalistic serial killer inviting a documentary film crew to follow him around and record his crimes is absurd. The extreme subject matter merely highlights the story's real points about integrity and morality, just like Man Bites Dog and Cannibal Holocaust.

Anthony Alviano is excellent as the focal point of the film within a film. While it would have been the easiest thing in the world to ham it up, he downplays the whole part, ably highlighting that it's the normal people who are the scariest, not the ones with long hair and tattoos who thrive on indie movies like this. He gets most of the screen time and most of the lines. 'I'm not a freak or anything like that,' he tells us. On his favourite subject, he points out, 'If it was so wrong to eat it, then why would it taste so good?' The supporting cast are solid, especially Paul Fowles as Merle Sedgwick, Ashley's grieving father; Shane Harbinson as Det Ken Walby, a cop working missing persons cases; and, most of all, Roger King as DJ Tony Prince, who is good enough to do that for a living. Maybe he does, as this is his only film credit. Hynes and Power are important characters but their success is easier to recognise as the writers and directors of the film.

Perhaps their biggest success was to make the film at all, given that the pair of them were two Canadian wannabe directors with no prior experience, working with less budget than they would have liked. In fact they finished the script, written specifically for Alviano, before they set out to find the funding to make it. They didn't just have to pay the wages of their actors and cover the inevitable post production work to turn raw footage into a finished product, they started so much from scratch that they even had to buy a camera and an editing suite and they learned entirely as they went. Most of the picture was shot in 2003 but it took a few years of reshoots to get it right and it wasn't released to film festivals until 2007. It won Best Horror Picture at my debut festival but while I didn't see it then I have a feeling I bumped into one of the directors and enjoyed his enthusiasm. I look forward to the pair's next picture, which is now well overdue.

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