In Stephen King’s seminal examination of the horror genre Danse Macabre, the author writes that horror can be divided into two distinct groups: One where horror “results from an act of free and conscious will…to do evil” and the other where horror is “predestinate, coming from outside.”
King is referring to “inside evil”, where the evil emanates from within and “outside evil”, where the evil comes from another force – in King’s analysis mainly the supernatural. But what about when outside evil is visited on one, not by a ghost, spirit or monster, but by another ordinary, everyday human being. And what if that human is one you would ordinarily look to for protection? Going further, what then if that outside evil committed by one causes the other to then manifest their own inside evil?
These are some of the weighty themes pondered in Jack Thomas Smith’s existential serial killer “assembled” footage film Infliction. Ostensibly a tale of two brothers, John and Kenny Stiles, who go on a killing spree and of course record everything, Infliction moves from the arterial (in this case, spraying blood) to the intellectual.
The film begins in 2011 when the brothers receive word that their ailing father’s health is worsening. They get in the car and head home to North Carolina, but instead of just seeing the old man and bringing some flowers or a get-well card, they decide to do some slaughtering along the way.
They begin by waiting outside a courthouse until a judge exits. They follow him home then break into the house. Soon we see the judge bound and gagged. John, the more verbose of the two, removes the tape from the judge’s mouth, and as the magistrate is pleading his case, John shows him some court documents then slits his throat. As the man’s head turns to the camera while his severed jugular pours out plasma, we know we’re not in the territory of ghouls and goblins but instead in the realm of the evil that men can do.
The spree continues and we learn that these are not random homicides. Rather, each victim is connected to the brothers’ pasts somehow. Eventually, their big sis Andrea joins in and the film culminates in their parents’ home. We even learn just why the brothers are recording all that they do, which is appreciated as many found footage films don’t give a plausible reason for the ever-present handhelds.
Because the victims are all connected to the brothers, more heady issues are examined in Infliction than bodies are buried. Issues as profound as action and/or non-action vs. consequence, free will vs. destiny, and nature vs. nurture. Furthermore, when bad things are visited upon us, how much victimization must we carry and how much should we let go of? Or are we even capable of doing so? Finally, do two wrongs make a right and is it within our moral sphere as humans to make those who have visited evil upon us pay, and in doing so, when is the line crossed where we become just as evil as those whom we perceive as such?
Infliction is not a perfect film. For instance, it’s saddled with many of the logical inconsistencies that much of its found footage ilk suffers from (just who is holding the camera in this scene and how is that angle achieved. And who is lighting and miking this stuff?) At times too, it does get slightly heavy-handed in its piling of traumas upon its protagonists. Nonetheless, a good horror does more than just scare the viewer. It unsettles and makes one confront societal and philosophical issues that we would otherwise choose to ignore. In watching the murder spree of John and Kenny Stiles, we – the viewers- are forced to do just that.
***1/2 (out of five)