It has taken me nearly a week to get around to writing this review. I’d like to say it was my usual bout of laziness but, in reality, it’s because it has taken me this long to figure out roughly what I should be saying about Body Melt. This is one of those films that is so off centre that it can be hard to really ascertain exactly what you have seen. Click the link below to see if I did make any sense of Body Melt!
Body Melt is an Australian horror comedy regarding a fitness organisation that has created a highly unstable health supplement which causes bodily mutations of the Cronenberg variety. Because they’re a responsible evil organisation they took this formula through the correct health and safety checks to ensure that no-one would be harmed as a result of trying their health supplement. And then the film ends. Of course it doesn’t. They just sent it out as free samples to all the residents on one small street and gradually poisoned many of them with their crazy new drug. Because this is a logic free and direction-less gross out film the mutations are either situational or entirely random. Eventually Harold from Neighbours turns up and then something resembling a story happens although not really.
It’s the story not really happening that is the most glaring issue with this film. Well, after you excuse the usual weird shite Australian films can have. Body Melt, at no point, attempts to place a series of scenes in a sequence that leads to a narrative through line thus creating the effect of telling a story with a logical progression. Basically, it’s all gibberish on the sort of level you’d expect from one of Jim Sterling’s Top Ten videos. Barely any scenes follows on from the last in a manner that makes sense. You’ll have a scene where two 30 plus year old guys doing Bill & Ted cosplay are on a farm getting attack by the local Hill Have Eyes rejects, the scene will end with no actual conclusion, and suddenly you’ll be watching another character having a discussion in an airport with a hallucination. Almost every scene moves along like this which leads to incredible levels of confusion. I watched this with a friend and he corroborated the levels of confusion I was feeling too by being equally unable to piece together just what was happening.
Over the last few days I have de-constructed the film, scene by scene, in my mind. I did manage to eventually piece together events, although they still remained largely unconnected, and some form of narrative did unfold. It was around this point that something struck me. What if this wasn’t one story but was, in fact, a series of only lightly connected stories? And that’s exactly what this is. Body Melt is an anthology film that doesn’t seem to realise what an anthology is. It is just a series of unconnected scenes because the stories have been taken apart and placed in the middle of other stories. To add to this the beginnings of one story may not be in the early part of the film. Or at least not in a way that feels like the beginning of a story. What ends up happening is that the film is constantly asking you to recall what you saw 30 minutes ago after you’ve seen a whole load of random, unconnected events.
Think of one of those memory test quizzes where instead of answering the current question you have to provide an answer to a question three questions back. You may be able to track it at first but as more information is being stored in your head without a conclusion you begin to lose track of what conclusions you have reached. Yes, a film can ask you to remember events from much earlier in its run time in order to gain a conclusion, but this is usually a piecing together of a puzzle. A small piece of information that stays in your head due to the logical narrative progression the film has maintained. In those situation each sequence of scenes will have events occur that provide a number of informative pieces of narrative and then break them down to small chunks for what you require later. Think about a thriller having an early scene where an event draws to a close but one small piece is left open for the conclusion. At the conclusion that small chunk comes back as a line of dialogue or an object reminds you of that earlier threads importance. You piece together two things and suddenly you have an answer at the same time as the main character. If the film is constantly placing new information without it leading anywhere you begin to lose track. This is because no resolution of any kind has occurred and so you’re still looking for that resolution in the following unrelated scene.
Have I conveyed just how confusing this film can be? The thing is that it should be really simple. This is nowhere near a complex film. Its satire of fitness fads and chemically produced “cures” for your health troubles is presented plain as day. Some of it works quite well, such as the body builder looking character that has the voice of a small child. But everything is so scatter shot that even the eventual conclusion fails to be conclusive. We’re just presented with a series of false endings with only one that would have served as a climax in a regular film. It also doesn’t help that the last 15-20 minutes of the film is a barrage of gross out gore moments. Well, I say gore. Often it’s just loads of vomit and living snot.
Some of those gore effects are actually pretty well done for a low budget, early 90s Ozploitation flick. There’s certainly a visual influence from the make up and creature works of Rob Bottin, Stan Winston and Peter Jackson’s earlier films such as Bad Taste and Dead Alive/Braindead. The visual influence of Cronenberg is incredibly apparent on the eventual Cronenbergs (thanks for that phrase Rick and Morty) that much of the cast become. There’s even a clear reference to Carpenter’s The Thing in one death. If you were to watch this film purely for Ozploitation and gore based fun you’d probably enjoy the hell out of it. If you don’t get too confounded that is.
And this is where my dilemma comes in. As an Ozploitation film this is highly typical. As a piece of narrative driven art it is one of the biggest messes I can remember seeing. I would say Death Bed comes close but that was mostly just boring and nonsensical. Fans of Ozploitation films do not, necessarily, want to see a film that follows the normal path. Part of the thrill of that sub-genre is the unpredictability of it all. But I’d say the argument for Body Melt being a steaming pile is the same as my reasons for Transformers: Age of Extinction being a horrible piece of excrement. Just because a film fulfils a gore/action quota and is highly typical of a director/genres style does not mean it is exempt from critique. It just means it is bad at being a film but excels at being indulgent bollocks. But why watch a film that’s good at the shallow but cannot string together the basics of storytelling, an art that has existed since man first learned to communicate? It shouldn’t. Why should a film get a pass if it can’t manage to be an actual film? I’d like to point you towards Tetsuo: The Iron Man. A disjointed, highly stylised, frequently horrific film. It has a narrative that you can follow because one scene leads to the next in a logical path. It is essentially a series of short events that create a whole. If Body Melt could have strung its story together in a coherent manner I may have let it pass. It does not, so it shall not pass.