Prolific filmmaker Philip Brocklehurst is back with another experimental short film, combining erotica, gel lighting expressionism, and torture porn. This is our review of Feel.
The short film opens with a man all alone lying on his back in bed and he is completely naked. The camera lingers on his body and genitalia and sweeps upwards towards his head then focuses completely on his face. There seems to be no emotion being shown in these close-ups; no expressions, no feelings, the man is just lying there. What does he want? What is he after? We aren’t sure? Then he cries out ‘I want to Feel’ as he slowly begins to masturbate and, from these opening moments, we realise that this person is completely desperate – desperate to feel something, desperate to feel anything.
Brocklehurst’s short film is a surreal experience. It’s a throwback to the old expressionist films of the golden age when the images of reality were distorted in order to make them expressive of the director’s inner feelings and ideas. Expressionist art tends to be emotional and sometimes even mystical, the colour scheme used in ‘Feel’ is highly intense and non-naturalistic with the lighting design mainly being a deep dark blue then later becoming a deep dark red. The use of props and masks threaten to turn surrealism more towards the absurdist but luckily the film isn’t long enough for this effect to become a negative.
When suddenly the man inflicts a shockingly intimate pain onto himself, it is possible to refer to the scene as torture porn. Sadomasochistic it certainly is but porn is entirely in the mind of the beholder. Will audience members find this short erotic? That is hard to imagine as it is extreme but in a deliberate way.
Brocklehurst, whose films have always had an edge about them, is driven to confront and shake his audience. Similar to Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzog, and even Bunuel. He does this with sex, pain, boredom and bizarre stylistic experiments that don’t always work but keep his films interesting. We are at least convinced that we are watching the film he intended us to see and not one that has been watered down by any classification board or fearful studio executive.
Brocklehurst says that he wanted the film to feel like a dream which turns into a nightmare, you can see what he is trying to do but he doesn’t quite achieve it. This is mainly due to the lack of camera angles and the lighting choices he makes, however, as a spiritual successor to his earlier short film ‘Alone In The Dark’, Brocklehurst does manage to hit the right notes.
Much like that film, Feel too can be interpreted in different ways. There is symbolism in how emotional and physical detachment can stop someone feeling like their old self or it could be seen more literally about a man who can’t feel any sexual stimulation and is simply chasing a desperate need for gratification. The man is dead inside, so his final desperate act is merely his last chance to finally feel something again.
P.M. Thomas gives a very brave performance as the unfeeling man; it certainly isn’t an easy role. Apparently the knife used in the film was real, so that gives Thomas even more Kudos. Even Tom Cruise would have drawn the line at that.
Brocklehurst’s editing is slightly choppy at certain moments, while the cinematography by Brad Fletcher, considering we are just watching a man lying on a bed, does an adequate job of capturing the eventual emotion on show. However, it is the music by Stephan Ortlepp that stays with you; a dark and foreboding score that remains moody and gloomy throughout the two and a half minute run time. Overall, Feel is not a total success but it does mean that Brocklehurst remains one of the more interesting independent writer/directors on the circuit today.