Film Review: Society

Ha, the tagline even makes it obvious what’s about to happen here.

To quote former President George W. Bush after witnessing current President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, “Well, that was some weird sh*t.”

That about sums up 1989’s (but released in 1992) Society, which is about a Beverly Hills teen, Bill Whitney (played by Billy Warlock), who discovers his parents are part of a gruesome orgy cult for the social elite. There’s also a hint that this cult is more widespread than merely Beverly Hills, as Judge Carter (played by David Wiley) suggests that he has internship opportunities in Washington D.C.

Society is a form of thriller/horror we don’t see much of anymore: body horror (and for that matter, body comedy or physical comedy isn’t as popular anymore, either). I suspect that’s because body horror a.) died when practical special effects were replaced by CGI effects in the 1990s and beyond, and quite frankly, body horror just isn’t the same with CGI; and b.) at a certain point, body horror, no matter how good the effects are, stops being able to shock the senses.

Or to describe Society another way, it’s as if Salvador Dali (and I think the director was actually inspired by him) and David Lynch teamed up to make a body horror film. Because it’s not just a body horror film, but it’s quite surreal and plays on a lot of surrealism. Because, naturally, Bill’s family tries to make it seem like he’s going crazy, but of course, he’s right, and his family really is some sort of other species.

Uh, here’s a taste of what I’m talking about.

To put the metaphor right on the nose, literally, the species of elites performs orgies of “shunting,” where they deform and meld onto each other and suck the nutrients out of the lower classes. As in, the metaphor is that the rich and powerful elites of society are sucking on the lower class of society to maintain their status. Got it? So, what if we played that metaphor for about 100 minutes to surreal, gross, and disgusting effect over and over? That’s Society. And it works? It’s not a film I’d jump at to watch again any time soon, if ever again, but as a once-and-done experience? Why not.

Some see it as biting social satire, others see it as poorly written gore, and the reason I watched is the horror community in particular talked up the last 20 minutes as being unforgettable. That’s when a lot of the orgy shunting happens. It’s certainty unforgettable, and when you think the special effects can’t get anymore outlandish, the movie says, “Hold my beer.” I’m not sure I would say it’s biting social satire since “biting” I take to be more precise, whereas this is like blunt social satire. We get it. It’s called society. It’s a bunch of elites. And then we ramp up the dial. It’s all well and good. But not necessarily a sophisticated satire.

I also didn’t think on a comedy level it was funny because when the dialogue and action is all rather surreal, it’s hard to be funny in my view.

That said, it doesn’t sound like I liked it, but I did! I certainty couldn’t take my eyes off of it, which is another benefit of both surrealism and weird, gross body horror. Again, worth the one viewing, but don’t have sky high expectations.

Freak.

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