S&MAN begins with footage from Michael Powell’s exploration of voyeurism, “Peeping Tom.” Director JT Petty uses this footage as a starting point to examine the classic comparison between filmmaking and voyeurism, particularly within the horror genre. He goes on to investigate this connection further, but rather than looking to classic horror films, Petty explores the seedy underground genre of fetish films. These movies are basically simulated snuff films where victims are raped and murdered in a variety of fantasy scenarios. The most notorious of these is a series called “S&Man,” where voyeurism takes center stage as people are unknowingly followed with a camera.
Oh S&man, why couldn’t you just decide to be a documentary OR a mockumentary, this half-way between thing doesn’t really work on a fundamental level. It’s really too bad, because a film about either of this subjects might have actually worked if a bit more time had been spent on them, instead of trying to do this “reality-blurring” horror film.
One the one hand you have a documentary about under-ground “extreme” horror filmmakers like August Underground, talking about horror and the things that they get out of what they’re doing. There is also an interview with Carol J Clover, who writes about gender and horror, and is also a professor. Her interview is insightful, and listening to the things that the filmmakers have to say are genuinely interesting and I almost want to know more.
One the other hand, you have the story of Eric, a man who produces a series of snuff-esque films called S&man, in which he follows and then murders his subjects. Eric says that these are fictional films, but it is clear almost immediately that they are not. As soon as you come to this realization, the entire facade of the film is broken.
While this is unfortunate, the biggest problem I have with these two intertwining stories is that the fictional one detracts from the non-fiction. I wondered how much of what I was watching from the “experts” was true or simply scripted to forward the narrative. The thing is, I would love to see a movie go all the way with either of these stories. A fully fictional mockumentary about a guy who, in researching “snuff”, finds himself in the web of a real killer; or a documentary about these fringe “extreme” horror films and the people who make them. Both of these would work for me, and it’s too bad that there was an attempt to slam them together.
Then you come to the ending, and because it so badly wants to maintain this “is it real or is it fake” idea it just ends with a big thud. It doesn’t take its fictional premise far enough and ends more like a documentary instead of a horror film. The problem with this is that we all know going in that it’s not real thing, so there is no impact or ambiguity to make the final image frightening.
It’s a genuine shame because there are two great movies buried inside of S&man, but neither gets a chance to deliver on their potential. All in all, it has experts who have some interesting things to say about what horror is, or what people like about it, but the movie as a whole just doesn’t work and ultimately disappoints.
MY RATING: **