The Bunny Game is a variation on a well-trodden scenario, but it's elevated somewhat by a stark sense of realism, a solid black and white grade, some inventive editing, and an engaging lead performance.
Recently banned in the UK due, no doubt, to its blending of violence (physical and psychological) and hardcore sexual imagery, it's a worthy addition to a growing sub-genre that is often labeled "torture porn". Patronizing labels undermine the merits of individual works, creating the impression that these films are as generic as porn loops (actually, even porn loops are not as generic as they seem).
Cinema and literature have a rich history of stories involving the capture and ill treatment of human beings for sundry purposes. We can go way back to 1932's The Most Dangerous Game to locate a narrative based on a madman's treatment of compromised humanity. John Fowles' The Collector (film and book) traversed these streets, too, with great success.
Contemporary titles of this ilk such as the August Underground movies, Hostel (I,II,III), Captured, Scrapbook, Mum and Dad, Martyrs, Seed, and Senseless owe as much to Japanese cinema of the 60's, 70's, and 80's as they do to looser Western influences.
Many of Koji Wakamatsu films such as Go Go Second Time Virgin ('69), Diary of a Japanese Rapist ('67), The Embryo Hunts in Secret ('66) and The Man Who Assaulted 13 People aka Serial Rapist ('78) re-drew the parameters of international cinema and were later followed by works sharing the visceral (though not the political) themes of the director.
Titles now familiar to us such as Captured for Sex 2, Wife To Be Sacrificed, Tumbling Doll of Flesh, Lolita Vibrator Torture, Please Rape Me Once More, Assault Jack the Ripper, and the first two Guinea Pig movies owe much to the works of Wakamatsu and directors such as Kinya Ogawa, Mamoru Watanabe, and Hiroshi Mukai. A new generation of cinematic explorers including Hisayaso Sato, Genji Nakamura, and Banmei Takahashi followed these taboo busters.
It would not be accurate to categorize the films of these Japanese directors as "torture porn", despite the fact that much of their work was extreme and confronting.
As in any genre, there are good and bad ambassadors...
Which brings us full circle to Adam Rehmeier's The Bunny Game.
As noted above, the scenario is well-trodden, but the treatment is fresher than some. A prostitute (Bunny), played with extraordinary commitment by Rodleen Getsic, is having a shit of a week. The blowjob she performs in the opening scene seems typical of her day, as does her mean-spirited client. After servicing a variety of vile johns, Bunny is left high and dry when a client rips her off. At a low ebb, it's not surprising that she agrees to jump into a truck with 'Hogg' (Jeff R. Renfro). Her decision is clearly a mistake from the get-go, and how this plays out makes up the bulk of the movie.
Interesting choice of villain here, and clearly influenced by Samuel R. Delany's searing novel, Hogg ('69), a highly controversial and much-banned work (reviewed on this blog long ago). Delany's novel is focused on a perverted homosexual rapist and killer whose average day includes molesting a young hitchhiker, driving with shit-filled pants, and subjecting everybody he meets to his filth and psychotic violence. Only recently, the character's name was also used in Adam Mason's Pig ('10) , a similar film that failed all the tests this one passes.
Although The Bunny Game has its fair share of sexual abuse and mental torture, Rehmeier and his artistic cohorts don't just subject us to to variations of the same sex act. Using an inventive editing style, the film explores Hogg's addiction to the orgasmic euphoria previous crimes created for him, and we're shown his obsessive reliving of the crimes using garments and other objects he's souvenired. The part memory plays for this psychopath and his fetishizing of the tactile adds a layer to the narrative that separates it from swill such as Pig.
Jeff R. Renfro (Hogg), a real truck driver who donated his truck to the cause, is amateur in the best way here because he plays it straight and real. With his performance married to Getsic's, The Bunny Game is an uncomfortable slice of authentic vice in which the line between reality and fiction is difficult to discern. It needs to be noted that Getsic's performance is the primary reason for experiencing this film, and I hope to see more of her (so to speak).
It was a wise move to establish Bunny's character with well directed and cut montages of her at work. The film's stark, black and white imagery, and doom-laden tone recalled, for me, Noboru Tanaka's Secret Chronicle: She Beast Market ('79) (reviewed on this blog), a brilliant Japanese marriage of the erotic and, yes, Italian neo-realism. It was also presented in black and white.
Until recently, The Bunny Game has been available uncut on PAL dvd. In the last few weeks, a company called Autonomy Pictures (its principals being Derek Curl, David Gregory, and Lewis Tice) has picked up US rights to the movie, and will bow it in July, 2012.