[Review] Troma's "Industrial Animals" falls short of transcending the sleaze genre
Human beings are fucked up. I’m not going to sprinkle sugar on the proverbial dirt cake. As a society, we have laws. As individuals, we have morals. But every person in the world, from the junkie taking a shit outside the Taco Bell in downtown LA to the Pope, all of us have “our thing”. You know what I’m talking about. That pit in our brain that we keep to ourselves. Our dirty little secret. Some are obviously much more severe than others, but the point is we all have it. Troma’s Industrial Animals looks to explore just how deep that pit can grow…
…Directed by Sam Mason-Bell (Gore Theatre, Home Videos) and written by Bell & Tamsin Howland, the film also stars Thomas Davenport as the Director and Bell as the Cinematographer, two documentarians studying the world of the lower class who decide to document a prostitute (Howland) and the lengths she is willing to go to for money. Everything is all well and good at first, a blowjob here, a little sex there, but things eventually devolve into much more depraved territory as Davenport begins to explore his darkest sexual fantasies in front of the lens.
What I just described probably sounds like a snuff film, and in some ways, it is. A lot of that is due to the realistic nature. I have to applaud Bell here, because with low budget horror, so many films struggle to achieve a sense of realism necessary for the audience to buy into it, often because of the dime-store acting or home movie production value. But Bell manages to put his big boy pants on and deliver a movie that never falters in its portrayal as a documentary gone wrong. All three actors/actresses do a great job in selling the audience on the premise, and the trashy quality works wonders in making the film feel like the cheap date of a documentary that its pretending to be. The sound quality however is at times so bad you’ll have to turn it up to eleven if you want to hear what’s being said, which is a damn shame because much of the dialogue actually flows pretty naturally.
Industrial Animals does a spectacular job of luring the audience in with an eerie opening that involves the filmmakers interviewing Howland about her work. Somehow, Bell manages to make the audience feel safe despite the grimy substance of the whole thing. He does this by employing a surprising amount of restraint, choosing to build on the depravity rather than dive right in, even going as far as to hold off on any nudity until about halfway through the film, which is shocking for a Troma film. It just speaks to the tastefulness of Bell, which is a word I never expected to use regarding a film that has a scene where two guys pee on a prostitute together, but here we are.
Just as shockingly is the fact that, minus pee porn, Industrial Animals is actually pretty tame, especially by comparison to other films that deal with sexual depravity such as Last House on the Left. By reading the synopsis, you would think you’re in for one hell of a scummy roller coaster ride through hell, but instead, it’s more like a walk down Hollywood boulevard at three in the morning. You’re surrounded by sex shops and weirdos with missing teeth, but there’s not much that you feel like you haven’t seen before. Bell did not make this film to subvert my own expectations, and maybe I’m just a sick degenerate, but I don’t feel like spankings and getting walked around like a dog as foreplay really reaches out to the more sinister realms of the sexual landscape. I’m not saying Industrial Animals is a film you take the significant other and the kids to for an entertaining thrill ride. This is absolutely the kind of movie you watch by yourself at a Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere, curtains drawn and lit by the dark glow of the TV. Even when the horror finally strikes though, like the appetite of Davenport’s character in the film, I wanted more.
Speaking of the horror, Industrial Animals is impressive in its subtlety. I’ve already mentioned its restraint, but again, I’m amazed at how well Bell handles his construction of suspense. Like the best found-footage films, Bell doesn’t blow his load early and throw eerie one liners or cheesy jump scares at us. He takes his time, tossing out hints of the horror to come while keeping the strange, sexy tone consistent. Industrial Animals builds to a climax that finally satisfies the fear boner of our minds with an unexpected delivery of chilling horror. Bell also manages to deliver the ending in a way that is not only satisfying, but not at all what I expected when I first pressed the filthy play button. One could argue that Industrial Animals is like the ugly cousin to Hellraiser, locked in the outhouse out back. Once the “documentarians” open this box containing the exploration of sex and humiliation, there is no shutting it.
I only wish that Industrial Animals was longer. At a runtime of just over sixty minutes, there isn’t nearly enough time to really dig into these characters and dig up their deepest, darkest desires, which would really add to the impact of the finale. The film doesn’t even bother to reveal the motive behind making the documentary until about forty minutes in, so you can’t expect much in character development either. It’s too bad, because I really want to know more about all three of these people. What makes them tick. Why are they doing what they’re doing? What kind of feelings are at the core of their relationships? There are hints as to how the documentarians feel about each other, and even the possibility of a love triangle between the two of them and the prostitute, but none of this comes to fruition. All I can really grasp from this is that these guys are good friends. They’d have to be to be comfortable filming each other putting on lipstick and getting spanked, right?
Industrial Animals revels in its artsploitation label. The production value is poor, the sound quality is worse, and the script is as sleazy as they come. Yet Bell comes THIS close to transcending the genre into something else. Bell manages to take what is essentially trash and transform it into a stylized docu-horror film that doesn’t stand out in its originality, but is never the less intriguing. Oleg Hammel’s music can be overly distracting, and there is much to desire from Industrial Animals, but like the “documentarians” themselves, I found myself more and more intrigued, and genuinely surprised, which is not something I was expecting. While it won’t blow you away by any means, Industrial Animals is an interesting little film for those seeking some casual depravity followed by a long hot bath in a rusty tub.
Industrial Animals releases on Blu-ray/DVD in October via Troma, and is currently available to stream on TromaNow.
By Matt Konopka
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