Director: Gaspar Noe Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander Screenplay: Gaspar Noe Country: France
Wait...what the hell did I just see?
A week later and I'm still trying to process it. Enter The Voidmight just very well be the most maddening yet visually stunning mind-fuck committed to celluloid.
Let's wind things back a bit. I've seen French director Gaspar Noe's previous films I Stand Aloneand Irreversible, and liked them both (well, I use the term 'liked' loosely - they're not the sort of films you enjoy along the lines of, say, pap like The Naked Gun or Police Story). Noe isn't afraid of pushing the envelope in terms of on-screen violence, sex, depravity and controversy, and he doesn't disappoint in his latest film. However, I Stand Alone and Irreversible are positively mainstream compared to Enter The Void, at least in terms of a coherent plot and characterisation.
The plot, what little of it exists, involves two siblings, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who even into adulthood are struggling to deal with the automobile deaths of their parents, to which they were witnesses. As kids they made a blood pact that they would never be separated. However after the death of their parents they are taken away to live at different foster homes. As an adult, Oscar moves to the neon-soaked lights of Tokyo and begins to sell drugs in order to pay for Linda to fly over to stay with him. Unfortunately the life Oscar leads is fraught with danger. He reads from 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead' which concerns itself with life after death experiences amongst other things, and without saying too much more some of the revelations within that book come true. What follows is a mind-bending trip through, under and over Tokyo as we follow Oscar's experiences and the people around him.
That's pretty much it without spoiling too much of what happens. Because, to be honest, Enter The Void is best experienced knowing as little about it as possible. Visually it's astonishing, one of the most unique-looking films I've ever seen. Virtually the entire film is shown through Oscar's eyes, and there's never been a first-person POV done as well as it has in Void. We get our first good look at Oscar when he goes to the bathroom in his apartment, and I'll be buggered if I know how Noe and his team pulled off the visual trickery here - it's perfect, with every head tilt, hand gesture and eye blink in place. Yes, we get to see Oscar's eye blinks, which is a very odd experience to say the least; at first I thought it was an annoying anomaly to be attributed to a bad Blu-Ray pressing, but quickly realised that we are literally living the film through Oscar's eyes. And when Oscar takes a hit of a strong hallucinogen the screen breaks into freakish kaleidoscopic effects for what feels like an eternity, and you can't help but sit transfixed at the screen simultaneously wondering what the hell it is you're watching and at the same time hoping it doesn't end. God help anyone who actually watches Enter The Void under the influence of mind-altering drugs; you'll probably end up tearing your eyeballs out and jumping off the nearest balcony.
Unfortunately after the brilliant first half hour, the film ends up as a series of extended scenes abridged by overhead transitions as we float from one location to the next, like we're moving from scene to scene via a really fancy version of Google Maps. At first this is an interesting technique, but soon enough due to its overuse it becomes tiresome. And this has a cumulative effect when it's combined with the actual dialogue and action scenes themselves, because it's not like they're shot in a traditional style either. No, we see most of the action from behind people's heads, or from the ceiling, or the camera decides to morph into a fish-eye lens view (a really nice effect, it has to be said), or the camera is swaying and swirling around like the disconcerting opening scene of Irreversible, or there are visual flairs or warps or bleeds wherever we look.
Now this visual style would be fine if Enter The Void was 90 minutes long, because it's about this point that I became mentally exhausted from watching it. There are some genuinely disturbing and distressing scenes, so combine that with all the visual nuttiness and you feel like you've just sat through the entire Police Academy series Clockwork Orange-style. It's an odd experience: you're exhilarated for much of the time, yet there are points where Enter The Void really does test your patience, and if you're watching the extended version, which runs at a bum-numbing 161 minutes, you begin wondering not only what the hell the point of the film is but how could Noe possibly fill up that time without splashing more kaleidoscopic-wankery on the screen. To be honest, I sat down to watch the film thinking it was probably going to run 90 minutes, maybe 100 minutes at most. When I passed those milestones, I thought "surely this can't be longer than two hours". Needless to say, there was a fair amount of watch-checking after the two hour mark.
So it's fair to say I'm conflicted over the film, just as I expect a lot of people will be. It's certainly controversy-baiting, much like Irreversible was - any film that covers sex, death, drug use, abortion, possible incest, and other heavy themes couldn't help but be controversial, and in Noe's hands it's practically taken to another level. The acting is fairly decent, but then it's hard to truly get a sense of the characters when the visual flair threatens to take over the proceedings at any time.
But Enter The Void is truly a one-of-a-kind, and you have to admire Noe for his audacity and unwillingness to compromise his vision. The opening credit sequence, for one, is truly eye-popping, one of the most memorable sequences ever made. The credits combined with the truly brilliant opening half-hour represents Noe's finest work yet. It's just a pity that he didn't rein himself in after that, because by the time it's over you feel like you've been violated by some sort of alien mind-rape device. For every sequence of beauty or brilliance, you're bombarded with another sequence that feels overdone, overlong or unnecessary. It's a deeply unpleasant film, almost nihilistic, yet like Irreversible suggests that even in the darkest moments there is hope.
Much like Noe's other work, be warned that Enter The Voidis anything but typical cinematic fare. It's brutal, uncompromising and visually astonishing. It's also frustrating, baffling and occasionally brilliant. You may walk (or stagger) away thinking it's the best thing committed to film, or that it's utter wank. I prefer to think of it as a mightily flawed but astonishing achievement, a visual overload where you're certain to see things you thought would never be captured on film.
Enter The Void is a hard one to gauge visually compared with other films. It's certainly striking, the use of colours is bold, but because there's so much visual noise going on it's hard to call this a gorgeous picture as opposed to something like Hugo. Scenes are grainy, smudged, distorted, and some are purposefully shot out-of-focus. There's some form of visual manipulation in every shot, so let's just say that Enter The Void looks (presumably) exactly how its creator intended and, in that case, the video quality on Blu-Ray is a success.
The 5.1 audio track is strong, though dialogue is sometimes difficult to understand, which might have been intentional. There's certainly lots of immersive city noise, and when big sounds come (the nightclub music, the shocking car accident) they certainly make use of your setup (I jumped every time Noe decides to flash back to the death of Oscar and Linda's parents, damn him). But there's lots of background noise too; droning sounds, ominous noises, subterranean growls. Much like the visual style, the soundtrack is dense, complex and often overwhelming.
There's a bunch of extra stuff on the US Blu-Ray, but most of it is pretty forgettable. The one feature I really would have liked - the shorter cut of the film (approx. 142 mins) - is absent. It would have been nice to see if the shorter cut is less indulgent and the better version.
However what we have is a fair grab-bag of goodies, but strangely no making-ofs, no behind-the-scenes, no talking heads explaining anything about the film. Perhaps Noe and his collaborators wanted to maintain the film's mystique. So, what we do have are:
Deleted scenes: Jesus wept! More footage! Thankfully excised from the final cut, here some more scenes showing off some more fly-bys and technical wizardry.
There are Teasers and Trailers for Enter the Void, as well as Unused Trailers. Obviously you'd want to watch the film before you see any of these, as they would surely rob the film of some of its impact and power. And you can see why the Unused Trailers remained unused.
The VFX featurette seemed promising - I was looking forward to seeing how some of the amazing visual effects, particularly the POV shots, were done - but alas this is just a series of effects shots, essentially a demo reel.
The Vortex and DMT features are basically those surreal, kaleidoscopic shots from the film repeated here to music in case you wanted to play them in the background whilst you were having your own Enter The Void "party" or...whatever the hell you'd use them for, I don't know.
Posters is a series of promotional posters for the film. Yawn.
Enter The Void is not going to be for everyone. In fact, it's probably not going to be for many people at all. It's a challenging, uncompromising, brutal experience that visually assaults you like no other film to date has been able to do. It contains some of the most astonishing scenes you're ever likely to see, but its extreme running time and repetitive nature works against it. My suggestion is to go into it with an open mind and an appreciation that you might end up loving it and hating it at the same time.