By James Sweeney | August 12, 2000

What happens when an average Joe, walking through a blighted urban setting, comes across a dying man covered in blood and then can’t convince his armed pursuers that the victim didn’t impart some important secret to the bewildered stranger with his final breaths? The short answer is: nothing pleasant.
This bit of video noir begins modestly enough with an awkwardly edited sequence introducing us to our hero and his dangerous environs. The badly looped dialog is worthy of Steve Reeves in a Hercules flick, and as the movie is getting off the ground, the production values in general seem destined to disappoint.
Once the protagonist is locked in the thugs’ trunk; his personal outlook bleak, the cinematic outlook improves. As the opening titles run, the camera makes use of a nice establishing technique, carefully exploring the space (an ultra-seedy room covered in graffiti and furnished with a single wooden chair) where we correctly presume that most of the upcoming action will take place. From this point on, the camera work can only be described as smart, effective and artful, even as the film itself takes a turn toward the violent, grotesque, and occasionally funny. Most of the visuals in the film are quite extreme. Even the graffiti on the wall (“lick p***y” accompanied by a child-like cartoon depicting that very activity) suggests that no punches will be pulled.
Imagine a film written and directed by Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. The appropriately titled “Agony” is more or less a showcase for gory effects. The bloody torture scenes might have turned out to be as disturbing as the infamous sequence in the Tarantino debut if only the victim’s cross-eyed expression (as he is struck repeatedly in the head with blunt objects) did not so closely resemble Shemp or Moe after being brained by several falling barbells in succession. The sound of twittering birds is conspicuous by its absence.
If the film does have a sense of humor, it is expressed in the over-the-top, absurd nature of the violence. Parts of the film seem like a pointed homage to Bruce Campbell’s “Evil Dead” antics, but the general theme is elusive. It’s hard to pinpoint a meaning or motivation behind the effort and this tends to weaken the viewing experience. Without even a final punch line to send them home, some viewers are bound to wonder why they came.

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