Extreme cinema: remember that? So much of what used to be considered disturbing seems par for the course these days, now that our collective threshold for horror has been raised somewhere above the stratosphere. What cinema can still do in spades though, is give us nightmares. Mecanix, made back in 2003, is a delightfully unpleasant little delicacy for the discerning seeker of night terrors. So if your dreams are haunted by visitations from that creepy underground ‘Pale Man’ from Pan’s Labyrinth or those squirming ‘cooked’ chickens and obscenely odd bed snakes from Eraserhead, this French/Canadian production could be right up your street.
Director Remy M. Larochelle’s film is set in a world ruled by hideously cadaverous beasties that roam around gnashing and generally tearing it up. Humans, as you’d expect, are reduced to living in cages and feeling a bit put out. That’s when they’re not being violently disemboweled to ensure they’re not incubating the ‘embryo’, a mystic ovule the beasties must find and destroy in order to keep with the domineering. Naturally this opens up a great window of opportunity for the proverbial ‘last free man’ to locate the pesky egg, secrete it in his belly and mess with the status quo. Sepia-tinted bio-mechanical shenanigans ahoy!
As you’ve probably gathered, Mecanix is a deeply strange film. Shot on starkly grainy 16mm, it looks for all the world like something a bunch of lunatic puppeteers and artists cooked up using hand-cranked cameras at the very dawn of cinema. With its limited live action scenes blended organically into a claustrophobic hell hole of bizarre stop-motion creatures ripping latex guts out all over the shop, Mecanix lowers its rusty bucket right down the well of weirdness and keeps on going.
As wonderful as it always is to observe your auntie’s face when you pop this sort of thing on after Countryfile, it’s not a complete home run. Some of the scenes that set out to shock, such as the extended disemboweling, go on just that bit too long and the decision to soak the whole thing in a deep shade of sepia may have been a cool idea back in 2003 but does seem a tad Windows Movie Maker today. Sometimes also the events onscreen are so distorted and indistinct you wonder whether the plot is less important than just ‘experiencing’ the film as you would an installation in a museum of modern art. But an experience it certainly is, however you take it.
As strong as the spirits of David Lynch and Jan Švankmajer are with this one, UK viewers of a certain vintage may clap eyes on Larochelle’s rough-hewn world of wood, choking feathers and irregular cog-wheels and be reminded of something else that probably still gives them nightmares: Oliver Postgate and Peter Firman’s genius stop motion kids’ TV masterpieces of 1960s and 1970s. Ever wondered what happened in the dark times after Bagpus or Pogles Wood came to an end? Wonder no further. Poor little Charlie Mouse being stuffed face-first into a milk-bottle full of string and twigs? Same thing here, really, with added entrails.
It’s great to discover a fearsome little secret like Mecanix exists. Further confirmation, if it were needed, that if you want the really strange stuff, your safest bet is Canada.
MECANIX / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: REMY M. LAROCHELLE / SCREENPLAY: MELISSA HEBERT (DIALOGUE), REMY M. LAROCHELLE / STARRING: STÉPHANE BILODEAU, JULIE-ANNE CÔTÉ, PHILIPPE CHABOT / RELEASE DATE: TBC