Subconscious Cruelty (1999)

Starring Brea Asher, Ivaylo Founev, Eric Pettigrew, Christopher Piggins, Martine Viale, Sophie Lauziere

Written & Directed by Karim Hussain

There are as many images throughout Subconscious Cruelty as there are descriptive terms in any current thesaurus for the words surreal, nightmarish, perverse, obvious, and vague.

The problem however, is that you cannot as easily “thumb” through Karim Hussain’s heavy debut as you might heavy old Roget. The opening of the film belies the confusion to come by offering a kind of summary of what you are about to witness:

“The human brain is split into two hemispheres, the right and the left. The right portion controls all intuitive, passionate, and creative thought, while the left dominates the logical and rational. The right brain is the purest drug that breeds uninhibited feeling…dreams that can be seen…destroy the left brain. Destroy your lies.”

Made up of three separate tales, Subconscious Cruelty is certainly not a film that will be readily acceptable by even the most scholarly of film buffs.

Part one exhibits an eloquent madman entranced by his own sister, it follows his eventual dominance over her life and the life of her unborn child. The more he gains control over her and wins her trust, the more his diseased mind gains control over him until his dream to mock creation is inevitably realized. (This is the only segment that has a continuous vocal narrative)

Part two has brightly lit daylight scenes interspersed with brief glimpses of crimson hued sky; it is a mocking and disdainful kind of Mother Earth worship, primal and bloody. Ravenous naked devotees gleefully defile themselves and nature; oblivious to the harm they are inflicting and only aware of their own base pleasures.

Part three is a blatant scream at the desecration of religion and the violent uprise of the disregard of morals. A man’s sexual banality turns from a cum stained TV to the shreds of his masturbated penis and the final split of his frontal lobes as he no longer can discern nightmares from dreams, sleep from waking.

I understand the need for filmmakers to push the boundaries of even the most risqué images in order to get their messages to viewers and to continue breaking the blasé molds Hollywood has created, but at times, Subconscious Cruelty pushes the limits of visual metaphor until it just comes off as another reason to get extreme. While the movie is beautifully shot with some truly wonderful mixes of the grotesque and the poetic, it’s difficult to see past some of these scenes to what Hussain is trying to say until you can no longer digest what he’s showing you; except for the fact that you just saw a bloody, cannibalistic she devil of a woman piss on an agonizing Christ, it’s barely registered before you’re assaulted with something even more overzealous.

In addition to the crazed in your face moments of cinematic flourish, there are many moments that skillfully hit their mark. In part one (the most beautifully scored of the segments) a chilling lullaby accompanies the madness, enhancing the quality of the man’s mind rot. A childhood photo of his smiling sister is marred by a viscous fluid that at first only enhances the beauty of her eyes but this illusion is revealed as her face eventually runs into a mess of bleeding color, a “real world” image reflecting the man’s inner disdain for her vitality and his contempt for her, and foreshadowing their eventual demises.

The subject of dreams and reality are artfully explored alongside the sicknesses of our culture. If you’ve ever had a long bout of sleep (we’re talking at least 15 hours here), you’ll remember it while watching Subconscious Cruelty.

In the same way that oversleeping allows you the subconscious and the conscious manipulation and recollection of lucid dreams, the tales within meld and bleed together with the same kind of wild clarity and malleability. But just like the dreams and nightmares of the over rested, they’re also quick to become perplexing, leaving one with the sometimes tiring task of defining their meanings and holding on to their emotion before they slip away entirely into memory.

For more information on director Karim Hussain and producer Mitch Davis, check out the official site for Infliction Films right here.

3 out of 5

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Jon Condit