Released: 21st October (Advance Copy provided by Tricoast Worldwide)
Seen: 7th October
Every film, on some level, has a gimmick attached to it. Joker’s gimmick is that it’s a Scorsese film wearing a Supervillain costume, Searching’s gimmick was that it took place entirely on a computer screen and I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu’s gimmick is that it’s the first film actually made by a piece of shit. Hell, even sound and colour were originally considered merely gimmicks back when film was first beginning. Finding strange new ways to make a film can lead to some genuinely fascinating pieces of art that might not be mainstream but are certainly interesting experiences to go through. So, let’s talk about a horror film made entirely out of paper cut-outs because that’s a thing that actually exists in this reality and I kind of love it, despite its flaws.
Violence Voyager, originally titled Baiorensu boijâ, follows a young boy named Bobby and his friend Akkun. After school one day the boys go off into the mountains just by their village and stumble upon a mysterious little amusement park called Violence Voyager where they’re invited to dress up, shoot pretend robots that spray fake acid and in general just have a good time… until they realise that some of the robots aren’t pretend, the acid isn’t fake and the creepy guy who owns the place might actually be doing something horrible to the local kids of the area, and Bobby and Akkun are next in line for this treatment.
It’s impossible to understate how gloriously inventive this film is. Everything on screen, with the exception of certain fluids (water, blood, vomit and oh god I hope the white stuff is pus) is all paper cut-outs that’ve been painstakingly painted. It’s a combination of a strange animation and a nightmare puppet show that’s been taken over by a psychopath who really wants to tell you about these creepy kid-killing creatures. It’s a wonderfully weird visual style choice that takes a minute to get used to, since these paper cut-outs have a set expression that doesn’t shift and no one has lip movements. Once you adjust to the visual style though, the story is a dark depressing tale of childhood innocence being destroyed and it’s completely engaging.
Part of the brilliance of the specific choice to make this film with cut-outs is that it never uses that as an excuse to be lazy. This isn’t animation, its puppetry so everything is done in camera and with careful planning how each key piece of movement is going to be done. They very smartly follow the old Hanna Barbara rule of “If the character isn’t interacting with it in this shot, then it’s part of the background” which leads to some interesting visual moments. Everything being puppets also allows them to do cinematic tricks like a rack focus (which this film does every chance it gets) or to just be a little more violent than they could get away with if they made this film using actual children. It is pretty obvious though that this film could easily be made with real actors on a real set, there’s nothing here that really NEEDS to be done with paper cut-outs but they decided to do it that way just because. They also never call out the strange choice being made, it plays everything seriously which makes the first few minutes kind of hilarious… right up until someone gets their face melted off, then it just becomes terrifying.
The version of this I received for review was the English dub and the voice work is really quite good, the voice actors genuinely got a lot of great emotion out and made up for the lack of expression on the characters faces. There were a few moments where I felt like the dub let the film down, some reactions felt like they were missing and it could’ve used a little more work on the sound design. What’s there does the job, but it felt almost like it was underutilised considering this kind of film is going to lean more on the sound than usual.
There were also some problems with the story, specifically how it chose to withhold key information until the last moment. There’s one particular reveal that happens which would’ve worked much better if they had explained why the main characters have scars on their hands. Instead we just see that the two main characters have big scars on their palms and never really find out why, I kind of thought it was a mistake when I first noticed it. Then there’s characters who just vanish for no reason, including the sibling of one of our main characters who is introduced, pointedly helps during the main part of the story and is suggested to be doing something else to help… and then stops being in the film. These little slips luckily don’t distract too much from the film, but the film would’ve been much better had they been corrected.
It’s really rare to get to say “I’ve never seen a film quite like this one” but here…. I don’t think anyone has ever seen a film like this. Violence Voyager is one of the strangest creations I’ve ever witnessed, it’s an idea that probably shouldn’t work but somehow it finds a way to make everything work. Strange, memorable and completely nutty, it’s a film that I definitely think you should look up when it comes out (Oct 21st on Amazon, DirecTV, FlixFling, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, FANDANGO and AT&T, look at me reciting info like a professional might) because you won’t see anything like it for a long time. Just ensure that you’re in the right headspace to go along with the visual trick this film is using, because if you can accept that then you’ll have a good time.