Sometime in the bleakest imaginable future, three lonely, damaged people are brought together by circumstance. In the rundown Sappho Motel, with its walls covered with pornographic fliers and rooms where you use a sliding card to pay for your water (and to turn off the adult cable television), Adrian Torque meets Ginny Chin-Chin and Alik Silens for the first time.
Torque is a good cop turned rogue after a terrorist explosion burns off over half of his skin. His ruined flesh is replaced by the tongue-meat of the attack’s 16 other victims. Tortured by the memory of their deaths, Torque’s agony is becoming more acute as his new grafts begin to transmit to him memories of their own. Stranger still is Ginny’s plight: she’s a “combat unit”, engineered in a lab to be a great assassin. But the doctor who created her placed a clitoris beneath each eyelid, and every blink creates violent over-stimulation that she can only repress with the blood of her victims. Her lover, Alik, is searching the “data streem” for her brother’s killer. But jacking in to cyberspace is a painful process that literally forces her body to become a closed circuit, and every search kills her a little more.
For each of the three, the future has only the promise of violence. Pleasure and pain have nothing separating them, none of them is the person they set out to be, and human interaction is something borne out of hatred, not desire.
This is the world created by Scooter McCrae, who turned the zombie genre on its ear years ago with the insane “Shatter Dead”. Over seven years in the making, “Sixteen Tongues” was one of the most eagerly-awaited indie horror films of recent memory and it doesn’t disappoint. Of course, there was no way to have preconceived notions about the movie, either.
It’s a fascinating movie, with its multi-layered storyline and a trio of characters that are, in and of themselves, wholly unsympathetic. That being said, the viewer eventually finds themselves developing sympathy for their situations. The questions arise throughout: what kind of cop could Torque have been without the explosion that altered his body? What kind of “pleasure unit” would Ginny have been had the clitorises not been implanted to raise her aggression? While she and Alik are lovers, there seems to be very little love involved, as both are consumed by their own obsessions for revenge. And the world that they live in, the hotel where prostitution and pornography is the norm, is home to all sorts of sensual pleasures, minus, perhaps, the “pleasure” part.
“Sixteen Tongues” is not a movie to be dashed off at a party. McCrae pulls very few punches here, either with the sex or the violence. Nudity is rampant, the images are often quite shocking. But if you’re looking for a movie with a bit of meat on its bones, it requires multiple viewings to truly “get” what McCrae is trying to do with the narrative, and ultimately, the result is very satisfying.
The production design is quite brilliant, particularly when you take the production’s low-budget roots into consideration. Occasionally, the seams show through, but the “Blade Runner”-esque layering of details goes a long way to hiding those seams.
The performances are all top-notch, though this is primarily a three-person cast, so it’s nearly impossible to single any one actor out over the others. Look fast, too, for cameos by Tina Krause and McCrae’s “Shatter Dead” star, Stark Raven. “Sixteen Tongues” also boasts the cleanest video image in recent memory, which really shows off McCrae’s photography. If there are any technical complaints, the sound track seems to have been mixed a bit “soft”, which requires a cranking of the sound system (not a problem for most viewers).
The DVD from Sub Rosa is impressively packed with extras, including two commentaries and a look at Torque’s make-up applied for the first time. It would have been nice to have seen the video shot at the premiere at Fantasia, which had been previously announced.
“Sixteen Tongues” comes highly recommended for those who understand that independent movies can offer so much more than simple low budget thrills.