As horror fans, we’re always looking for that next film that’s going to actually scare us. Years of watching the genre leaves most of us as desensitized zombies begging for something shocking. For some fans though, the films aren’t enough. They’re looking for the next level of scares, something that feels real, in the realm of “extreme haunts”, haunted houses which allow participants to be touched, tortured, locked up, and sometimes worse. It’s with this idea that Dread Central Present’s new film, Extremity, picks up…
…Directed by the underrated Anthony DiBlasi (Dread, Last Shift) and written by David Bond and Scott Swan (Masters of Horror episodes Pro-Life and Cigarette Burns), Extremity tells the story of Allison (Dana Christina), a horror junkie who subjects herself to an extreme haunt in order to face her fears and conquer her past, who ultimately gets more than she bargained for.
For years, I’ve considered DiBlasi to be a still somewhat hidden talent in the horror genre. His adapatation of Clive Barker’s Dread will absolutely floor you, and, while some may disagree, I find Last Shift to be a perfectly creepy flick that’s always good for a late night watch. What DiBlasi does so well is the element of psychological terror, making Extremity the perfect playground for the growing director. Extremity is a disturbed study of the human psyche and the challenges of trauma, and DiBlasi excels at taking us down dark roads that don’t always lead where you’d expect.
While DiBlasi does well with his presentation, much of the credit should be given to Christina, who is simply ferocious as Allison. A woman with a disturbed past and a broken mind, Christina is fascinating and unpredictable in her role. She plays the character with such intensity that as an audience member, I found myself inbetween wanting to root for her and being incredibly unnerved by her and the way she can sometimes look at someone like they’re no more than a walking, talking piece of meat. And Christina is hungry. The one negative here is that the filmmakers occasionaly falter in the consistency of Allison’s portrayal. As a willing participant in an extreme haunt, it’s obvious that Allison wants something out of this experience. So it can feel a bit disjointed when, within the same scene, Allison is screaming for more torture, more pain, then seconds later screaming for it to stop, followed by wanting more, and so on. I can see how this works on paper, because hey, the human mind is complicated, but whether it falls on the filmmakers or Christina herself, this hardly ever feels natural in the film.
We may never learn very much about the other characters populating Extremity, aside from the brooding man in charge of the haunt, Red Skull (Chad Rook), but there is a mesmerizing element to Rook’s performance, as well as his fellow “employees”. After all, these are people who get off on a fair range of sadism against willing participants, and the amount of glee which they all seem to take in their jobs is eerily captivating. The costume design by Cherie Howard should also be mentioned, as a group of people wearing skull masks could have just as easily appeared bland and forgettable, but Howard manages to give a unique look to each character that makes them all the more foreboding in the face of the terror which they are inflicting. I only wish that the audio for their voices was better, as each has a device that alters their voice, which can make it incredibly difficult to understand the almost poetic dialogue escaping their throats. Remember Bane from The Dark Knight Rises? It may sound cool, but the audience can’t feel the effect intended by the filmmakers if they can’t hear the dialogue.
You’re probably thrown off by me using the word “poetic” to describe the dialogue, but, surprising even to me, Extremity is not your average horror film in the regard that it is less about the extreme horror and torture which Allison is being put through, and more about the way her mind reacts to it. This allows for DiBlasi and cinematographer Scott Winig to take a more intelligent approach and hop back and forth between the grim reality of Allison’s punishment, and the strangely beautiful yet macabre alternate experience which she manifests in her mind. I won’t go as far as to say that the imagery in Extremity is spectacular, but with the way DiBlasi films certain moments, there is an odd quality of serenity even as Allison is going through some of her worst moments, which makes the film stand out from your typical outing in psychological terror.
Don’t let that fool you though. Extremity isn’t tame, nor is it arthouse horror. At its core, Extremity is a dark, unnerving plunge into the darkest places we can go as humans, including suicide, pedophilia, and of course, murder. As is typical with DiBlasi’s work, there is a grim tone which follows all throughout Extremity. This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to make you laugh, or scream. Extremity isn’t here to entertain you, it’s here to fuck you up. Whether or not the film achieves that is debatable, but I will say it comes close.
The problem is, DiBlasi and the writers make one unfortunate mistake, and that’s the fact that almost from the beginning, they do not do enough to toy with the audience and make us wonder whether or not Allison and her haunt companion, Zach (Dylan Sloane), have set themselves up to be tortured and killed by psychotic villains. Are the employees of Perdition a tad unhinged? Sure. But as the audience, there is never the sense that the haunt will ultimately lead to Allison and Zach’s demise. Look at films like The Houses October Built (another underrated gem), which deals with a similar idea in a group of people seeking the most extreme of haunts, and you’ll notice a vast difference in the way that film never lets its audience in on whether or not what is happening is real to a sinister degree, or just haunt actors doing a really good job of scaring someone. Allison even calls out Red Skull from the moment she arrives at the haunt, saying Perdition has a website and Youtube videos, so there’s no reason for her to think they’ll actually hurt her. You could argue that Extremity is not intended to toy with the audience that way, but by letting us believe that none of this is real and Allison is safe, at least from the Perdition employees, much of the tension is immediately wiped from the slate, leaving us more intrigued than anything remotely related to “scared”.
Though Extremity does not do well enough to keep the audience on edge through a majority of the film, it is never boring, and still thankfully leads to a bloody and horrific culmination of events in a finale which can best be described as a gory rampage. There may not be too many to speak of, but the effects team does an incredible job with what special effects there are, including one shocking moment which is literally eye popping and should be on a short list of best gore moments from 2018.
Don’t go into this film expecting a hundred minute bloodbath of relentless terror. Extremity does eventually live up to its title, but takes a while to get there. I in no way think Extremity will shock fans into a horror coma, nor is it groundbreaking by any means, but the film DOES reward patience, and should leave fans of psychological horror satisfied.
Extremity is now available on VOD.
By Matt Konopka