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Bunny Game, The
Experiencing the darkness
Loves: Experimental film
Likes: Artistic indies
Dislikes: Despair, shock cinema
Hates: Realistic violence
Sometimes I wonder why I do certain things. Why did I try the blazing wings challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings (ending up with burns on my fingers)? Why did I hook up with that girl from Springfield with the limp? Why did I buy that VHS copy of Country Hooker in college? And why did I want to watch The Bunny Game? Morbid curiosity perhaps, but sometimes bad judgment gets the best of me. It certainly did as I sat down to watch this bit of shock cinema, as it begged me every few minutes to shut it off and pull out that copy of Country Hooker. I soldiered on though, and though what I saw was pretty disturbing, it wasn't nearly the watch-from-between-my-fingers experience I expected.
In just the first six minutes of the film we get to watch two violent rapes, a brutal asphyxiation and some seemingly unsimulated fellatio, and somehow none of it feels very exploitative. Rather, it's an insight into the world of our heroine (Rodleen Getsic), a stick-thin prostitute moving from john to john, crying in the shower when she's not urinating in the street. Fueled by the drugs she snorts up her nose, she's a complete mess, but somehow Getsic manages to make her sympathetic, mostly via her emotive eyes, which suggest far more innocence than she's seen to be capable of. As we've come to learn from television and movies, life for women like her is not easy and often quite brief, and when she propositions a grizzly trucker (Jeff Renfro), things go south in a big, big hurry.
Drugging and keeping her captive in the back of his big rig, the trucker quickly reveals himself to be a complete lunatic, also hopped up on drugs, like a low-rent Frank Booth. Once her imprisonment begins, the audience is also trapped, watching as he sadistically tortures her. It never gets gory, but it's frightening nonetheless, as he abuses her in numerous ways, including the use of a branding iron and some intensely disturbing psychological assaults. One lengthy segment where she's unconscious as he toys with her limp body is severely uncomfortable, while another scene involving a plastic bag may be the most horrific moment I've ever seen in a movie, to the point where I had to look away. Renfro is perfectly terrifying as the trucker (one brief moment where he looks at the camera through a mask is chilling), while Getsic portrays the damage inflicted from such treatment in an unhinged mania that's impressive and disturbing.
Part of her success has to be tied to the fact that the movie is real, as writer/director Adam Rehmeier worked with his small cast to create a real horror film where the darkness on-screen actually happened, including the violence, branding and sex. While that leaves the movie just this side of a snuff film, it also resulted in a wickedly revolting movie. Combine the performances and subject matter with Rehmeier's obvious control of the camera and music, and the results are striking and haunting, as the black and white images will stick with you for some time. Many parts of the movie, with its thudding, dread-inducing score, quick cuts and harsh lighting, will feel familiar, like it's an old Nine Inch Nails video.
Rehmeier also chose to not tell the story linearly, using flashbacks to reveal more about the trucker and his plaything, and foreshadow what was to come, making for an arresting, if somewhat mixed-up experience. Perhaps it was intentional, but many parts of the film drag on, repeating themselves and outstaying their welcome, making you wish the horror would stop so you could experience something new. If this was because the filmmaker wanted to subject viewers to the same unrelenting horror as the poor prostitute, then fine, mission accomplished, but, at 76 minutes, one could see this as an overlong short in need of a good trim, and with the limited story told, not much would have been missed. Like many experimental films, this is not so much about the tale but the journey.
The film arrives in a two-disc set, with a Blu-Ray and DVD, which are packed in a standard-width dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase. The Blu-Ray has a creepy animated menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is rather impressive for a low-budget film, delivering the film's several looks (high-contrast black and white, dingy greys and fuzzy videotape stock) smoothly, showing off an impressive level of fine detail, deep black levels and no notable issues with digital distractions. It's really a sharp looking film, especially in the early-going, where the street shots, with their blown-out backgrounds, are supremely eye-catching.
This is a flick that somewhat lives and dies with the sound, as the audio blitz of a score really gives many of the psychotic montages their power. Thus, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is a bit of a let-down, as you'd want to drown in the blend of sound in this movie, but instead get a rather simple center-balanced presentation.
The big extra on this release is an audio commentary with Rehmeier and Getsic (who participates via Skype, and thus is a bit harder to hear than the director.) There's a lot of discussion of what the production was like, including the infamous branding scene and her preparation for and mindset during the shoot, as well as talk of the film being banned in Britain, but Getsic doesn't bring a lot to the table, often sounding out of it, forgetting info and at one point remembering something that didn't actually happen. The track can get a bit annoying, as the duo frequently comes off like pretentious artistes, with more references to "energy" than should legally be allowed, while the talk of actress Dreddie Page "dying" during the filming is a tad ridiculous. It is entertaining to hear her get grossed out by relatively banal things, when you see what she put herself through in the film, while one response by Rehmeier when Getsic mentions being scared is absolutely hilarious.
A making-of feature, "Caretaking the Monster" (16:30) doesn't offer any footage of the low-budget production (since it was a skeleton crew on-set) but it tells the story of the production through interviews with most of the cast, including an actor who pulled out at the last minute, which changed the entire storyline. There's a lot about the difficulties in shooting the film, and some pretty intense statements that show how invested the actors were in the movie.
The remaining extras include two trailers for the film, one that's really well-made and impactful, while the other has critic quotes jammed in, along with a slideshow featuring four posters for the film and a slew of stills.
The Bottom Line
I was trying to think if I would recommend this movie to my friends, and though there are several who might give it a look, I can't picture myself telling someone "you should check this out." That said, it wasn't as excruciating as expected (though I'm not sure what that says about me) and it is an artistic endeavor, that shows real care and intent in its construction. Will I ever watch it again? Unlikely, despite the disc's solid quality and a few worthwhile extras. If you want to be challenged by a movie, and experience a film that's genuinely terrifying and creepy, give it a look, but wanting to own it is far beyond most people's need.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.