Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Prime Time: The Special (2020)

A decent film that could well have worked better as a short, which is something that can be said of many films (and is far from the worst criticism you can level at something), The Special is a cautionary tale that does everything it sets out to do in a perfectly serviceable manner, but starts to fall apart as soon as viewers get one step ahead of the main character. That happened for me by the start of the third act, but others may figure out where things are going as the very first main scene plays out.

Davy Raphaely plays Jerry, a man who has been rocked by the revelation that his wife (Sarah French) has cheated on him. Jerry’s friend, Mike (Dave Sheridan), takes him along to a brothel, encouraging him to try “the special”. The special doesn’t seem very special, basically being a wooden box/portable glory hole, but whatever happens to Jerry is good enough to blow . . . his mind. But the special is meant to be a one-time deal, which makes things very difficult for Jerry when he wants to experience it again. And we all know that trying to bend or break the rules is unlikely to lead to a happy ending (no pun intended).

Written by James Newman and Mark Steensland (the latter having gone on from this to the much better Jakob’s Wife), there’s enough done here to help this feel much better than other ways in which the concept could have been used. It could have been an excuse for a load of gratuitous gore and nudity, which I may not have necessarily complained about, but it’s more impressive to watch the film play out as a study of someone spiraling into a lust-based addiction, with very occasional moments of violence punctuating the proceedings at moments that feel like natural bridging points between three main acts.

Director B. Harrison Smith, who seems to currently be veering between horror movies and Christmas TV movies, does a good job of balancing the unpleasantness of the subject material with a surprisingly tasteful approach to it all. Some may yearn for something much nastier, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing this in the hands of someone like a Brian Yuzna or a Frank Henenlotter, but the end result ultimately feels like the right decisions were made. Nothing is left ambiguous, and viewers can imagine the more horrible implications not shown onscreen.

The cast do well, but nobody is giving a career-best turn here. Raphaely plays up the characteristics that show his addiction, Sheridan is there more to kickstart the main plot than to be a fully rounded person, and French is convincing enough, and adds some beauty to offset “the beast” that has taken over the mind of her husband. Doug Henderson, Susan Moses, and Paul Corman also work well in their roles, whether they know about the special or not, and it’s enjoyable to see how these people connect with, and affect, the life of our main character.

Perhaps low down the list if you are looking for the best horror movies from the last decade, but if you are looking for something removed from the mainstream, and if you are searching the dark and dangerous recesses of all that Amazon Prime Video have to offer, this isn’t too bad. It doesn’t have a bloated runtime, even if it could have worked better as a short, it isn’t left too rough around the edges, and it tries to do something a bit different. It’s not special, but it’s far from terrible.


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