As for the scatological subject matter, its inclusion works. Of course, it helps that I played bass for a doom metal band for a few years. Dante’s Shadow of Sin is like the music, made to scare the living s**t out of everyone who doesn’t get that the shock is the point. The Cinema of Transgression did this in New York in the 80s, with shocking acts against society in the form of film shorts. That the filmmaker has not only carried on this tradition but managed to make a feature-length transgressive film is shocking. I couldn’t imagine you could sustain interest in non-stop visual debauchery, as demonstrated by Pasolini’s disgusting but dull Salo: 120 Days in Sodom. Ray pulls it off, though.
His narrative is swift and slick as an eel. Yes, it is an exercise in the poorest of taste, but I was hypnotized until it concluded. The film goes back to the sickies of the 1980s, like Maniac or Don’t Go In The House. Titles where you spend the movie with deranged killers, and you aren’t supposed to be cheering on anyone. Ray’s horror confection is a movie about monsters made for monsters to enjoy and piss off anyone else. I do not know of any other Native American artist working in the shock genre.
We do not have enough Native American directors out there, and even the controversial ones should have their efforts supported. That being said, Dante’s Shadow of Sin has a lot of animal mutilation, costing it some points. I understand there is an animal sacrifice motif in black metal and that the cruelty to animals is another element to make you know how evil the characters are. In the novel Hannibal, author Thomas Harris builds animosity for the bad guys by hurting animals and children. It workes, but it also creates secondary trauma of innocents being abused for the audience.
“…an exercise in the poorest of taste, but I was hypnotized until it concluded.”
You can kill truckloads of humans in movies, but harming an animal, even if it is pretend, is a line it is unwise to keep crossing. I am only giving Ray a pass on this is because the animals are obvious fakes. With that said, I loved it when the dead rabbit came to life and narcs on all the eight balls of coke in its belly. That scene reminded me of the whispering rabbit in Louis Malle’s experimental masterpiece Black Moon.
I also feel that with Ray, we may have finally found a director who could adapt Joe Lansdale’s impossible-to-film novel The Nightrunners. However, if there is further reliance on animal cruelty in his future features, I will have no choice but to conclude he thinks there is something cool about it and condemn the work. Consider yourself warned, Ray. You are much better than that.
As for Dante’s Shadow of Sin, its visuals and editing are frenzied. The story, while disgusting, hypnotizes. The film is creepy and metal as f**k, just as it should be.
"…the legacy of the Cinema of Transgression lives on..."