[Review] 'The Special' shows its not always about the size of the budget, but how you use it
The odds are favorable that you've never wondered what it felt like being Brad Pitt in the film Se7en, standing on the roadside shouting, "What's in the box!?" However, on the off-hand chance you have, you're in for about a 74-minute rehearsal. And odds are greater still that you never imagined that a penis might be among said things in the box, but here we are, in 2019, post-“Dick in a Box”, putting our dicks into boxes...
...Harrison Smith’s The Special begins in tried and true form when down-on-his-luck-fake-nice-guy Jerry (Davy Raphaely) turns to his lascivious bottom-feeding friend Mike (Dave Sheridan) when he suspects his wife, Lisa (Sarah French), of cheating. Several drinks and a few quotable if unwise words of advice later and Jerry finds himself with a bag over his head in the passenger seat of Mike's car bound for a brothel parading as a fortune teller's parlour. The brothel is staffed by fake(?) fortune teller and part-time Skeksi, Madame Zhora, along with a trio of near-mute prostitutes, one of whom, Syn (Janae Palmer), is gilded to her collar bone and no further. Choices.
Mike insists that Jerry have a one-and-done encounter with the titular ‘special’, a box with a hole cut into it and the words “Stick it in here” painted just above. Things unravel from there. Now seems as good a time as any to note that the film’s tagline is “This is not a love story.” Unless you’re Jerry and you discover love copulating with a wooden box that makes squelching noises that would give most of us pause. Having come up in an age of countless films that involve horrors contained within boxes (ie. Hellraiser, The Possession, Leprechaun, etc.) and the forcible removal of male genitalia, it was hard for me to not view Mike’s short-lived reluctance as highly questionable.
Following his earth-shattering orgasm with The Special, Jerry finds himself descending a well-lubricated spiral of obsession, self-induced isolation, and murder as he dispatches anything and anyone who might stand between him and a Fox News-and-Chill with his new polyhedral lover.
Upon hearing that the film dealt with themes of sex addiction and obsession I began to imagine The Special as being akin to 2011’s Shame, with a body count. While it doesn’t manage to bore as deep into the aforementioned themes and their nuance and impact as Shame does, The Special works with what its got with admirable gumption. There were moments, later in the film where I speculated as to whether or not this story might be better suited to a weekly series like The Twilight Zone, and constrained to 60 minutes. You can tell that for all of its shortcomings, some simply the result of budget, this film is crafted with a genuine sense of purpose and love.
Raphaely offers some genuine menace as his madness evolves and the practical effects shine in the final act. Fans of navel-gazer graphic novel adaptations might recognize Sheridan from a memorable bit part as Doug in 2001’s Ghost World and even more famously as Doofy in Keenan Ivory Wayans’ Scary Movie.
Some pacing and scripting keep The Special from being truly top shelf, but a dedication to premise and continued grounding in the world of the bizarre save it from becoming a bargain bin buy. It’s worth a watch.
The Special is currently making the rounds at festivals.
By Paul Bauer