In an age ruled by wussy PG-13 horror and sterilized action, the world cried out for a hero. And behold, for it has found one; actually, it has found two. Their names are Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor -- usually credited as just "Neveldine/Taylor" -- and they have come to rescue us from the gutless, joyless, cynical genre films that seem to top the box-office more and more often with each passing year.
So far, Neveldine/Taylor have but two credits to their name: the deranged Jason Statham actioner Crank, and the screenplay for last weekend's twisted, frightening "medical" thriller Pathology. (Here I must respectfully dissent from my co-blogger Jeffrey M. Anderson's thoughtful negative review of the latter.) They've developed a clear m.o. -- gruesome, over-the-top violence, unhinged sexuality, frenetic plotting, a conscious disregard for plausibility -- and a certain contingent of filmgoers are eating it up with a spoon. I don't blame them: movies that don't pull their punches are pretty rare, and it's easy to love these two simply for having the fortitude to go balls-to-the-wall.
But it is not merely their willingness to make outrageous genre films that makes the arrival of Neveldine/Taylor a Second Coming of sorts. The best part is their determination to make movies that have the courage of their convictions. Crank started with a high concept: the main character is injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below a certain point. But instead of resting on the laurels of this premise -- Speed with a human body instead of a bus! -- the movie takes it to its logical conclusion. In a world where it is possible for violent gangsters to inject an enemy with a drug cocktail that makes his heart into a bomb, Neveldine/Taylor ask, what else is possible? The answer turns out to be, among other things, boisterous sidewalk sex to elevate the protagonist's heart rate, as well as a full-on fight scene between characters who are plummeting from a helicopter, followed by a tender cell phone call made before either hits the ground.
Pathology, though not directed by the duo, works the same way. It's a movie about transgression, a nasty modern-day spin on Crime & Punishment, exploring what happens when our best and brightest conclude that the rules don't apply to them. (The story involves a group of hospital residents who kill people in obscure ways and challenge each other to figure out precisely how each victim was offed.) Killing is transgressive enough for most people, and a lesser film would have been content with a series of tepid murder mysteries. But Pathology descends into an orgiastic nightmare of blood, sex and sadism that would make David Cronenberg proud. It has the guts to take its characters -- and us -- places that neither we nor they expected to go. And in doing so, it calls the bluff of filmmakers who want to explore the dark side of human nature but aren't willing to offend viewers' delicate sensibilities.
The most remarkable thing is that though some of this may shock, none of it is done for "shock value." Everything makes sense within the world that Neveldine/Taylor construct, and serves what they're trying to do. Obviously, what they're trying to do is not for everyone. But if, like me, you like your genre flicks to have some edge, some courage, and some ability to surprise, you should get behind these guys. And maybe go support the embattled theatrical release of Pathology this week and (if MGM is lucky) next.