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Friday, January 20, 2017

Society


Society
1989
Brian Yuzna

Bill Whitney is the adopted son of a wealthy family in Beverly Hills. He’s successful and popular, but he feels estranged from his family and friends. He receives an audio tape that seems to implicate his family in a bizarre ritual. As Bill digs further into their odd behavior, he uncovers a vast conspiracy. The wealthy elite aren’t just well bred, they are another species entirely. They feed off of humans in a ritual called ‘The Shunt,’ and it looks like Bill might be the next guest at one of their parties.

Society is gross and often uncomfortably so. The film eschews over the top gore for something much more cartoonish and slimy. Skin is stretched and bodies meld in a way that feels like a Cronenberg movie that has made unwholesome love to a Looney Tunes short. To further add to these unsettling scenes, the music and editing is more akin to a comedy, complete with silly gags and a lilting score. It all combines to make these big show stopping effects sequences all the more nightmarish. My one complaint is that the opening credits give away the grand finale, I understand that the swirling images of undulating flesh are supposed to peak interest in what’s to come, but I feel like it spoils the surprise too much.

I hate when the blankets get all twisted up like that.
Perhaps even more upsetting than a room full of gooey rivers of flesh is the pointed social commentary. The rich and powerful are literally another species, and a parasitic one at that. They retain all of their advantages, but survive only through the consumption of humans. This commentary might be a bit too obvious for some, but it should be pretty obvious from the first frame that Society isn’t interested in being subtle. Even here, the situation is played on the surface as comedy, but just underneath the whole situation is upsetting and dark. The protagonists have no way to resolve their situation other than escape. Toss in an incest related subplot and you have the perfect mix for cringe-horror.

*Angry kazoo noises*
Billy Warlock works just fine as Bill Whitney, he is in all ways the stereotypical 1980s movie teenager in a situation that is way over his head. What makes the character interesting is that he slowly becomes aware of the elevated level of privilege his sister and others enjoy, just by virtue of being born who they are. Bill, being adopted, is poised between the worlds of the Society and humanity and it puts him in a natural narrative place to uncover the whole conspiracy. It’s a far more cleverly written part than I think it gets credit for. David Wiley steals the third act as Judge Carter, he exudes a powerful grotesqueness even before he’s a writhing mass of flesh sucking the nutrients out of a poor unfortunate kid.

Society is a great film, and one that seems to be finally gaining recognition after languishing in obscurity for a long time. Technically, it’s a wonder of prosthetics and practical make-up. It was presented as a sickening comment on the waning days of the excessive 1980s, but it remains (unfortunately) still relevant today.

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