I'm a sucker for films that are supposedly going to push the boundaries of cinema as we know it. That's a lot of hype to live up to, so of course I'm always skeptical that I'm actually going to find that original piece of art that I've been promised. More often than not though, most of the films that attempt such a feat end up being a huge disappointment. Either they've borrowed heavily from numerous other films before it, or the concept or themes at play simply aren't executed well enough. Fortunately, the last year or so has been good to me in regards to finding films that offered something fresh. Take for example, Lars Von Trier's highly controversial film, Antichrist, Criterion's Blu-ray release of Videodrome (yes, I can't believe I've never seen it before either), or most notably, the highly praised Black Swan. Now, with perhaps the exception of Black Swan, the films I mentioned are difficult to define under the typical 'good' or 'bad' classification system that we critique by... but I find that to be part of their allure. I have a deep appreciation for anything that strives to, if nothing else, stand out amongst the rest of the garbage that Hollywood has been force feeding us over the years. Even if a unique film isn't particularly 'good' or doesn't really possess strong replay value, it's really the experience and the long lasting effect that make or break such an effort. Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void is the latest example of this to hit Blu-ray, as it's not exactly a film that I would probably want to sit down and watch again... but I'll be damned if it isn't exactly what Noe wanted it to be - A cinematic experience unlike anything we've ever seen before. And for that, I say 'bravo' Gaspar Noe... bravo, indeed.
Oscar, living in Tokyo with his sister, may be the main character in Enter the Void, but he really isn't anyone special. Looking for a way to make some cash without having to subject himself to the 'slavery' of the daily grind, he's become a drug dealer. However, his loving sister is concerned that Oscar is getting himself too involved with his own product, and that he's even on the verge of becoming a junkie. Telling himself that she's wrong and that he's got a grip on reality, Oscar whips out his pipe and smokes some DMT, a drug that's known to possibly play a major role in dreaming, as well as with visions that occur during near-death experiences. Oscar leaves reality as we know it, and hallucinates taking a journey through a colorful, organic display of earthy tentacles and vines.
His trip is interrupted by his friend in need, Victor, who asks Oscar to come to a bar/club named 'The Void' so he can buy some product. Oscar reluctantly agrees despite the fact he's still tripping, and goes to the bathroom to splash a little water on his face and snap out of his high. Before he has a chance to leave, his friend Alex drops by. Alex is no stranger to drugs and psychedelics himself, but he's concerned about Oscar as well, and warns him not to 'fry his brain'. In order to help Oscar find a good balance between harmless fun and addiction, Alex tries to inject a little spirituality into his life by letting him borrow The Tibetan Book of the Dead. On the way to The Void, Alex explains the general concept behind it - Sometimes a dead person's spirit will stay amongst the living, watching over the ones they love. It sounds like it's a sweet gig, almost like being someone's guardian angel, but eventually the spirit begins to hallucinate and experience nightmares, almost like having a bad trip, and the spirit is forced to go on with this dreadful experience until they're able to reincarnate. Eventually, Oscar and Alex reach The Void. Alex stays outside while Oscar runs in to sell to Victor, but the deal goes awry when the cops show up. In a panic, Oscar locks himself in the bathroom and attempts to flush his product, but when that doesn't work, he informs the officers that he has a gun and that he'll use it if he has to. Instead of that buying him more time to get rid of the evidence though, gunfire rips through the bathroom door and kills Oscar. Unable to believe what's happening, he leaves his body and witnesses his cold carcass sprawled across the floor, and begins an afterlife journey as told in the book Alex let him borrow.
By the way, don't worry. I didn't spoil the movie for you. All of this happens within the first half-hour of Enter the Void, and is only the basic setup for the experience Gaspar Noe is aiming to provide. What happens from the very moment Oscar gets shot, and moving forward, is the real meat of the film. As long as I'm making a quick side note here about what expectations you should have for this film, I want to make something perfectly clear - Despite the fact the marketing campaign for Enter the Void makes this movie out to look like a black light party on LSD, it's really anything but. It's a head-trip, for sure, but not just for the psychedelic imagery that's on display throughout. The underbelly of Tokyo that Oscar and his sister have exposed themselves to is a very dark place, and the film thoroughly reflects that tone throughout its entire 161 minute runtime. Gaspar Noe isn't a director that's afraid to use what might be considered taboo imagery to convey that tone either, as is evidenced by Oscar's traumatic back story (part of his out of body experience is to see his entire life flash before his eyes), multitudes of cold and mechanical hardcore sex, and even a close-up of an aborted fetus. Don't expect this to be a film that's going to be acceptable for a viewing party with a bunch of your friends. It's dark and quite depressing at times, and furthermore, this may not be everybody's ' choice of drug'. But, more on that in a bit.
Now, Enter the Void isn't the first film to tackle The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but it's certainly the most ambitious. Besides the shocking imagery (shocking by mainstream standards, that is) and depressing emotional themes that this movie has at the ready,Enter the Void could have been a complete bore without what I can only call, the experience. I know, I know. I keep using that word - experience. There's really no other way to describe it though. Enter the Void is exactly as it proclaims to be on the back of the packaging - "...a cinematic experience like no other." What makes Enter the Void so effective and unique, is that the entire film is seen in first-person, through Oscar's eyes. Every second of it. Gaspar Noe has spared no detail in ensuring his audience would actually feel like they were the main character. We hear the thoughts in Oscar's head, we see his wild hallucinations come to life when he's tripping, and even the simple act of blinking his eyes is simulated with brief cuts of black. That sounds like it could be a distraction, and for some people that might be the case, but I thought it was brilliant that such a minute detail was used to make the 'experience' that much more realistic. Even the way Oscar walks is simulated more realistically than I've seen done by camera before - Meaning, it doesn't bounce around wildly like a hand-cam. Instead, there's a natural swagger to the way the camera effortlessly shifts as Oscar walks from his apartment to his final moments at The Void. Noe's effective technique at putting me in Oscar's shoes is what really made this flick live up to its self-proclaimed hype. The entire movie feels like it's seamless, thanks to some incredible camera-crane work and CGI to make us feel like we're flying through the air, from one location to the next.
That being said, it's hard to give an accurate statement on if this movie is 'good' or not. It's really not the kind of movie you can slap such a label on. But, for the sake of this review, the director's cut on this release is 161 minutes in length, and honestly, I really think this movie could have used some trimming. I think a good 40 minutes could have been cut from the film and it wouldn't have really hurt the final product. I understand that what Gaspar Noe was trying to achieve might have felt more like a movie if things moved along at a quicker pace, but regardless of the director's intent, this is a movie. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and Mr. Noe never found that line. It's too bad that the 142 minute cut isn't available on this release, as I'd be interested to see if it doesn't have that same 'dragging' effect in the last 30-40 minutes that the director's cut has. This is probably the only reason why I would ever hesitate to watch Enter the Void again, be it tomorrow, in a month, or even a year from now - It just feels entirely too long. It's a shame, too, because I'm a firm believer that the best directors out there not only blow their audiences away creatively, but also know when to cut the fat. This is the only film I've seen of Noe's thus far, but Enter the Void certainly shows me that he needs to look at his work a little more critically, and not be afraid to chop some of the unnecessary stuff away. If it wasn't for the first-person, spiritual experience that this film provided from beginning to end, I would have stopped watching long before it even reached the two hour mark.
But, taking the entire package into consideration, Enter the Void is most certainly a film I would recommend everyone sees at least once. Despite its long runtime and sluggish pace in the latter half, Gaspar Noe has nonetheless crafted a film that I can't stop thinking about after the fact. No matter how hard I try, no matter what flaws this film may have... my mind has been blown. I guess that's about as good of a recommendation that I can give to any film, right? It may have its issues, but as a movie-goer that can appreciate any movie that offers something that's never been seen before, Enter the Void is pretty much a masterpiece, flaws and all. I know what I'm saying is contradictory, but if you're able to find an appreciation for fresh ideas and leave it at that, then you'll just have to see Enter the Void to see what I mean. You probably won't be sorry you did. If, however, you have little to no tolerance for a fresh idea if it's not executed with a traditional pace or in a traditional way, then proceed with caution. Despite the fact I consider Enter the Void to be absolutely mind-blowing, I can also say that it's not a film for everyone. Some people will think this is the most disjointed, boring piece of crap they've ever seen... and that's fine. But even they can't deny they've never seen anything like it before. These opinions have clashed on the internet for a while now... and that's just another part of the allure of watching films like this. It sparks discussion, debate, and perhaps even controversy. Love it or hate it, you're forced to acknowledge it in some way, shape, or form. In my book, it's for these very reasons that Enter the Void is a winner.
Enter the Void may be full of hallucinogenic imagery that's saturated in neon lighting, but this 1080p AVC encode (2.34:1) isn't something you're going to want to use to show off your home theater. Not because of the transfer itself, mind you, but because a good chunk of this flick was shot with 16mm film. For those of you that have a problem with film grain, you're going to find this to be an ugly looking flick. Of course, that's exactly what Gaspar Noe wanted for Enter the Void. The aftermath that is witnessed from Oscar's perspective in the afterlife is grim, with hopelessness and despair dominating the lives of the people he loved. For Noe to want his film to look the part is only natural, and his choice to use 16mm to do so is effective and just. If you're saying to yourself, "But this is supposed to be a real experience through life and death. Why would things appear to be grainy in Oscar's perspective?" You may have a bit of a point there, but heavy grain structure does convey the sense of an 'unpolished for Hollywood' reality. To my eyes though, it only seems like the afterlife sequences (which is most of the movie) were shot using 16mm, and Oscar's perspective is blurred and warped around the edges during his out of body experience (again, not as distracting as it sounds), so what he sees post-death is sort of skewed anyway. Some people may find themselves disappointed in what they see as a result, but I respect the director's artistic intent.
Besides the aesthetic choices that rightfully make this movie just as ugly as it is a feast for the eyes, the technical side of things is pretty damn good. Color reproduction is fantastic, black levels can be deep and inky, and there's definitely no edge enhancement or noise reduction to worry about. Contrast is intentionally muted at times throughout the film though, so blacks can look a little murky, but that's another artistic choice by the director. The only complaint I could possibly have about this release would come in the form of some slight compression issues. Banding is plain as day during a few effects shots in the film, there's a touch of minor macroblocking here and there(you have to look for it to really see it), and the grain structure can look a little noisy at times. Pretty much every shot in the film has some CGI to bring Noe's vision to life however, so it's difficult to tell is this is a fault of the transfer, or just how the final product happened to look. The bitrate at times could dip as low as 17-19 mb/s, but a good chunk of the film ranges from 25-37 mb/s... so I'm willing to bet it's the latter, and that Enter the Void looks exactly how it was meant to.
Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't the most impressive experience to show off your home theater, but the director's intent comes across just as it was intended to. Sound effects aren't constantly circling the rears as one might expect for an out of body experience, but there's just enough going on to provide a dark ambience, which suits the visual tone of the film perfectly. Music in the opening credits (a seizure inducing sight if there ever was one) and in the clubs is loud and never distorted... unless of course that's what Noe's artistic vision calls for. The LFE really pumps on the downbeats, and that's really the most use it gets throughout the film, with the exception of a life-shattering moment that is revealed from Oscar's younger days. Dialogue is crisp and clear when it needs to be, but also has a tendency to be soft, even at times verging on unintelligible. Again though... director's intent. The experience that is Enter the Void is not typical for what we've come to expect from feature films, and both the video and audio reflects that. This is a very accurate encode of what Noe wanted for his film. Like it or lump it, I can't imagine this to sound any better than it already does.
Deleted Scenes - There are 8 deleted and extended scenes here in all, but I'm not sure why they were cut from the film. Sure, they don't add any additional substance to the film and Enter the Void does well enough on its own without them, but the movie feels pretty bloated as is. Why these particular scenes ended up on the cutting room floor as opposed to some others is beyond me. These scenes are no better or worse than anything else in the film. Furthermore, I'm not sure why there were only 8 deleted/extended scenes.
VFX - Such a stylish film that relied heavily on realistic looking CGI (as well as some trippy CGI, as well) in combination with amazing camera-crane work, deserves an in-depth 'making of' type of featurette. Unfortunately, this is just a musical montage with a bunch of before and after effects shots. With the lack of an audio commentary on this release, I was really hoping VFX would have been something more.
Vortex - This is an awesome 'trip' through a hallucinogenic maze of CGI.
DMT Loop - The actual 'trip' scene from the film is included here, and it just loops over, and over, and over again. If you're going to watch Enter the Void under the influence of anything legal or illegal, I would strongly suggest this is what you stick to. Watching this film 'on' something is going to give you a buzz kill, the likes of which you've never had the misfortune to experience before.
Also included are some Teaser trailers, the French and World Trailers, a U.S. Trailer, some Unused Trailers, and even a picture gallery of 23 Posters that were made for the film.
After all is said and done, Enter the Void isn't a film for everyone. Some are going to find it to be absolutely brilliant (such as myself), even if they find the replay value to be virtually nil due to the bloated runtime, and others are probably going to feel like it's the most boring experiment ever committed to celluloid. Either way, people on both sides of the fence will be sure to agree on one thing - Enter the Void is unlike anything ever seen before. Is it good? Is it bad? Such a classification is irrelevant. Love it or hate it, it's a film that's going to resonate with you long after the fact, and it will definitely warrant some in-depth discussion with others who have already seen it.
One other thought I'd like to leave you with comes in the form of a public service announcement of sorts - Do not watch this movie under the influence of drugs. The trailers may have you tempted to do so (if that's your sort of thing), but this movie is already like a nightmarish trip on LSD. Also, if you're epileptic, you may want to skip this film entirely. Other than that, everyone else should check their expectations at the door, and ready themselves to see an unconventional film that will blow their minds. It's an ugly looking film due to the artistic choice of the director, so Blu-ray is the only way to go if you want to squeeze every last bit of detail out of what's actually there. The sound design is haunting to boot, and also flawlessly represented with a lossless track. The only real disappointment on this release is the lack of extras. It really would have been nice to have a director's commentary or a 'making of' featurette. Regardless, this film comes highly recommended. Once you Enter the Void, you'll never be able to leave... and once again, I say bravo, Gaspar Noe... bravo.