Thursday, August 25, 2011

FFM Montréal 2011: Brutal Box

Brutal Box (2011, Oscar Rojo)

You can find just about anything on the world-wide internet these days. The eventual and logical result  of this direct access to this near limitless amount information  is that business can be done just as easily on via the web as it ever could traditionally when people had to actually plan meetings and physically relocate themselves to close deals. The savvier money makers know full well that a buck can be made off just any number of perceptively useful and useless products, and while some products are in fact useless, others which can produce impressive profits are quite disturbing. Brutal Box offers viewers a glimpse into the commerce side of the internet’s darker alleyways, like videos of people going on hunger strikes or hoodlums prancing around city streets and picking unsuspecting victims to rob and beat up. It is commerce derived from one of our most embarrassing traits: out fascination with morbidity.

Carlos Martin (director and star Oscar Rojo) is in desperate need for a job. One of the venues available to him to advertise himself is a video cast he films every day. With the health of his economic situation weakening with each passing day, desperation and frustrating grab a hold of Carlos to the point that he suddenly threatens to chop a finger off if he does not receive a job offer in the next 24 hours. If one has paid close enough attention to the screen, they have noticed by now that the audience’s point of view is through a computer screen and that in the lower left hand corner is a counter revealing the number of current viewers. On the day Carlos self-mutilates himself, there is a staggering growth in the viewership. All want to see a man give himself intolerable pain in real time. Among those interested are the owners of a company specializing in the purchase and selling of distribution rights for specific web content.  When Carlos proves to be wary of selling out, negotiations intensify. Brutal Box’s appeal grows in only a matter of months when it offers specialized channels, like the sexual encounters of La pillada (Esther Gurillo) and the raw violence of a thug named El taxista (Mario de la Rosa).

Brutal Box’s greatest strength is in how it politicizes an issue without the film ever falling prey to over-politicizing ittself. When strictly observing the plot, Oscar Rojo’s film is far removed from any attempts at making proclamations and stirring up provocation through passionate speeches or heated dialogue exchanges amongst characters. In reality, the film’s story is split into two halves, with one of those halves itself diced up into multiple little vignettes. The arguably more mainstream half consists of the company executives trying to convince Carlos to sell them his product. The latter’s lawyer, Rosa Torres (Laila Baidi Gonzàlez), is one of those tough as nails types who defends her client’s interests to the bitter end, expressing Carlos’s reluctance to drop the price tag to anything under what he deems to be the most accurate value. Intercut between these moments of wheeling and dealing are Brutal Box web episodes featuring some of the specialized cast members as they go about whatever activities they have been hired to do. Here is where the film becomes more intense and practically ventures into some genre territory. El taxista, for example, is a huge brute of a chap who, once the camera rolls, starts shouting obscenities to pump himself up prior to pouncing on an unfortunate passerby. One his prey is at El taxista’s mercy, that is when the ‘Brutal’ in Brutal Box really comes into play. Another channel features a teenage girl locking herself in her bedroom, vowing to embark on a hunger strike to spite her parents who apparently away for a long period of time. Her physical and mental condition deteriorates with each episode just as the number of viewers increases.

It is an odd cast of characters who inhabit the world of Brutal Box, with each earning some screen time to breath, allowing the audience to not necessarily understand them (since these people clearly have a different definition of the term word ‘morality’ than most), but to at least better comprehend what it is they do and why. The strength of the film in that regard is in how uncompromising and honest it feels. There exist weird people out there who use the internet as their primary medium to share and propagate some bizarre and uncomforting thoughts, some of which are far more extreme than what is depicted in Brutal Box. When sided next to some oddities nesting on the web, Brutal Box’s content might be comparatively tame, but the intensity of what the people involved are doing is felt nonetheless. Just like the viewers who tune in to see what happens next, we the audience are equally arrested by the at times shocking developments.

Where the Oscar Rojo’s picture earns some more lasting power is its condemnation of the business aspect of Brutal Box’s endeavour and especially that of the company willing to purchase it. The cold and calculated way in which the company tries to win ownership of Brutal Box is in of itself shocking for anybody who just might give a damn about what feels right and what feels wrong. As mentioned earlier, there are no pleas to be found in Rojo’s film, but the mere fact that people see nothing else but monetary value in what Brutal Box perpetrates in disconcerting to say the least. People say that everything is political, everything has a message and everything has a meaning, even when it might not seem like it on face value. Such is the case with this movie, where the consequences of the people either exposing themselves on Brutal Box or their victims are never part of the equation. What matters is how to get the deal done. There is even a short exchange between Carlos and one of the executives of the buying company in which Brutal Box founder asks his opposite, almost nonchalantly, if aside from the monetary opportunities he actually enjoys watching the content. The buyer merely responds that he is merely engaged in a business transaction, which sounds just as bad as someone who might reply that yes, they love watching people get physically humiliated live on the internet. The movie is therefore quite good at getting some important ideas across without being to overt about them. 

Brutal Box is certainly a small movie, with the cinematography, set design and in some acting the acting all hinting at a tiny budget. The make actor who plays the president of the buying company is rather stiff in most of his scenes and when asked to speak in English (which is infrequent, thank god) he is even worse. At the very end of the film there are some interesting revelations about Brutal Box’s means of producing content but which also try to call back to earlier scenes and don’t make much sense unfortunately, script-wise at least.

While not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, Brutal Box is a satisfactory exploration of our strange interest in seeing ourselves perform unfortunate acts against our brothers and sisters, as well as how we are continuously eager to make a buck off of anything if the potential exists. Seek it out if you can.

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