Visions of Suffering (Andrey Iskanov, 2006)
I love Andrey Iskanov. Honest to flaming perdition, I love Andrey Iskanov. Nails is one of the great avant-garde horror films of all time, and Philosophy of a Knife is the first really serious attempt at a goreumentary; it’s what Men Behind the Sun should have been. The problem is that Nails was lean, fast, and punchy, in and out of your head in an hour and six minutes, and Philosophy of a Knife‘s major problem is that it’s four and a half hours long, meandering, tangential, and frequently well off-track (which, ironically, only underlines the power of the times when it’s on point). And then… you have the films in the middle that trace Iskanov’s journey from point A to point B. Visions of Suffering was his follow-up to Nails. It is fully an hour longer than Nails, and while I am still going to give it a high rating, the simple fact of the matter is that it didn’t need to be.
Normally this is the paragraph where I put a plot synopsis. Trying to do that with an Iskanov film makes about as much sense as trying to do it with a Dante Tomaselli film. (I love Tomaselli, too, and no one understands why.) I’m sure that somewhere in this movie there is something resembling a plot, but one look at the effects used on this film and you will probably come up with the same hypothesis I did; everyone involved was ingesting so much LSD while it was being filmed that they all kind of forgot the script even existed. I mean, seriously. Confession time: I have very little experience with LSD, and none of that experience involved hallucinations. On the other hand, I have a number of friends with considerably more experience, who have described to me, often as they were going on, those hallucinations in excruciating detail (hey, I never said these folks were poets). If I were to try and recreate what they told me about colors and waves and shapes and all that lot, the end result would come out looking extremely similar to Visions of Suffering. And, to be fair, there are hallucinogens ingested during the film (for real? I dunno), and so it’s possible Iskanov was stone cold sober and going through the exact process I just described while trying to show the viewers the events from the perspective of a guy on acid. But I’m not sure I buy that.
Ultimately, Visions of Suffering is best looked at not as a horror film, perhaps not even as a gore film (though it is awash in the red stuff), but as an experimental art-piece; it seems to me that, stylistically, this is a movie that has more in common with Hollis Frampton than Herschell Gordon Lewis. (It is almost obligatory to raise the not-yet-dead corpses of Jan Švankmajer and Elias Merhige here.) In hindsight, given Philosophy of a Knife and its obvious pretensions towards art-cinema, those comparisons make even more sense. I’m not going to say Iskanov succeeds entirely—Visions of Suffering is certainly no Begotten (it’s not even Nails)—but the movie is undeniably intriguing, a definite must-see for those who loved Nails and liked Philosophy of a Knife, even if it should have been thirty minutes shorter than it ended up being. *** ½
A music video for the main title, composed of shots from the film.