THE ONANIA CLUB / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TOM SIX / STARRING: JESSICA MORRIS, FLO LAWRENCE, DARCY DEMOS, DEBORAH TWISS, KAREN STRASSMAN, AD VAN KEMPEN, JOHN T. WOODS / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Finding pleasure in others’ suffering isn’t something we see much of publically - particularly at the moment as the world has been suffering in the wake of a pandemic - but it’s just that sort of taboo that writer/director Tom Six relishes. The creator of one of the biggest cause célèbre franchises in recent history, The Human Centipede, revels in shock and thrives on controversy so it’s no surprise that his latest opus, The Onania Club delivers those aspects in spades. Surprisingly, though, there’s also an engaging story being told in between the outrageousness.
A while back, Hanna (Morris) noticed something strange about herself. Her care and attention to her husband, suffering from MS, has disappeared. Instead, she has a tingle of pleasure at his discomfort; his struggling; his pain. Things have come to a head and she is seeking forgiveness of a priest (Kempen). During her confessional, she recounts her sordid entry into a group of middle-aged women (played by various actors from cult films) who call themselves the Onania Club. They spend their meetings relishing the badness and the suffering in the world, while pleasuring themselves. Hanna seems to have found people who understand her bizarre peccadillo.
When the teaser trailers for The Onania Club appeared well over a year ago, there was genuine outrage from many quarters and many people have made their mind up about the movie long before they will get the chance to see it. They’ll be surprised, then, to find that the film has many layers and while certainly shocking and unquestionably tasteless, it’s actually a remarkable piece of art, albeit not for everyone.
Presented in black and white, Six (who even manages his own Alfred Hitchcock-type cameo) treats his story as a neo-noir - complete with a gorgeous jazz score - unpicking pieces of Hanna’s repugnant fantasies and sexual needs. Her, and the other members of the club, obsessions can never really be satiated, they need to always go further. Parallels to paedophile rings are easy to be made, particularly as she has chosen to retreat to a Catholic church to reveal how depraved these meetings have gone. We’ve all been guilty of some measure of schadenfreude in our lives, although hopefully not to the level depicted here, but as we’re bombarded by so much death and evil in the world, at what point do we become desensitised to it all?
The Onania Club is not an easy film to recommend - the real footage, in particular, is hard to stomach - but it’s not one that should be dismissed as, like the director’s other films, its pitch-black humour alone makes it worth your time.