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Simon Read [Celluloid 04.22.19] Canada horror comedy

In G. Patrick Condon's debut feature a hapless film-maker (named G. Patrick Condon and played by Stephen Oates) must convince actors to star in his low-budget horror film after spending the entire production budget by mistake. He owes money to some shady people, and shooting the film quickly and cheaply is his only chance to recoup some funds and pay them back.

This is a film full of meta-textual tricks, and how much one enjoys it will in part come down to one's tolerance for a director wanting people to know how clever they are. Condon's central conceit, that of a director killing his actors in the name of art (and cash) is nothing new. Nor is the idea of inserting oneself into one's own screenplay. What does work here though are several moments of outright craziness and an agreeable strain of dark, ironic humour which keeps the film from getting too precious about itself.

So, 'Condon' in the film is a schlubby loser who has spent all of his production money and finds himself heavily in debt. Somehow he manages to 'hire' a group of actors, three women and one man (who also bears a striking resemblance to 'Condon', or Oates, or maybe both?) and rents a remote farmhouse for a weekend. The actors are instructed to play out scenes received by fax, which are filmed by security cameras placed around the house. Condon remains hidden, watching events from his computer station in the attic.

For much of the time Incredible Violence is a fairly solid dark comedy. We watch the actors getting settled into the house, and witness the petty judgements they make and flirtations they share, before they get to work in acting out the same faxed pages over and over, attempting to create the perfect scene on camera. Somewhat inexplicably, 'Condon' seems to have lost his mind however, and begins to stalk the house with a machete, picking off his cast one by one, following slasher movie lore to the letter. (It goes without saying that one lone female will remain at the end, etc.)

The film only falls down when it overreaches itself and becomes willfully contrived. While I enjoyed occasional flashes of a bizarre television game show called 'Celebrity Autopsy', featuring the corpse of disgraced rapper "The Killer", and his E!-style profile, this worked best as something of a non sequitur and attempts to work it into the plot muddies an already muddy narrative.

Similarly, as characters question their involvement in what may (or may not) be genuinely violent acts taking place at the house, their personalities shift and merge until we're not sure who's who. When one character wanders into the woods and finds an actual professional film crew milling around a craft services table, the film overloads on its meta ambitions. What is real and what isn't? It's never entirely clear.

Somewhere there is a neat, smart little horror film in all of this, but it's often buried under layers of 'huh'. I did enjoy M.J. Kehler's tense performance as the naive Grace, and Micheal Worthman as the boorish Foster, and there are several striking scenes and moments of left field humour. Condon's mania isn't explained, but it doesn't really need to be. His character isn't so much playing a part as fulfilling a role - psychopathic masked murderer.

Incredible Violence is not your typical horror film, and for that reason it may be worth checking out. Is there a coherent story here? A fellow audience member suggested logical reasons for the film's fractured ending, but I don't think we're meant to overthink it. Just enjoy the ride.

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