By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Dana Christina, Chad Rook and J. LaRose
Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
Written by David Bond and Scott Swan
Dread Central Presents/Epic Pictures
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster,” Nietzsche famously warned in his 1886 treatise BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Of course, the referenced abyss is metaphorical, and as such can take a virtually limitless number of incarnations.
In the high-voltage shocker EXTREMITY (on VOD and extras-laden Blu-ray tomorrow) this great void assumes the form of one of those “extreme haunts” that have gained improbable popularity over the last several years. These immersive, interactive, hyper-aggressive horror attractions require visitors to sign a waiver so that its actors can dole out oodles of physical and emotional abuse, creepy-crawlies, viscera, rotted food or whatever other gag-inducing chum has been procured, until someone finally shouts the safeword so everyone can go home to lick their (hopefully first thoroughly disinfected) wounds.
Trouble is, human beings come with baggage. They can be unpredictable. And you never know when someone who seems to be merely bending is actually about to snap.
Such is the situation in which the proprietors of Perdition—clad in gorgeously grotesque masks designed by the late, great makeup effects artist Simon Sayce, of HELLRAISER puzzlebox fame—find themselves when a survivor of horrific childhood sexual abuse buys a ticket, but refuses to play by the rules. Tormented by years of anxiety and PTSD, Allison (Dana Christina) views Perdition as a kind of demented version of exposure therapy (defined by the American Psychological Association as a process in which “psychologists create a safe environment in which to ‘expose’ individuals to the things they fear and avoid”). Familiarity to reduce negative power, basically. Perdition’s leader Bob—a.k.a. “Red Skull,” portrayed by Chad Rook—agrees, but his definition of “safe environment” is considerably more expansive than the polite society consensus. Which is to say, so long as it doesn’t permanently maim or kill, violence and terror is not only unencumbered but encouraged.
Perdition is, at its core, a group of individuals convincing one another that their sadism is actually part of a higher calling. If that doesn’t seem as if this will end kindly, that’s because…well, it won’t. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Roughly the first half of EXTREMITY is consumed with this aforementioned human sandblasting: After a bit of nasty foreshadowing, Allison and a more lighthearted male participant (Dylan Sloane) are “kidnapped” and whisked away to a warehouse housing a seemingly endless array of torture rooms and devices. This journey, rendered tautly and viscerally, proves very nearly as disorienting and dread-inducing for the viewer as it is for the characters. “I want you to push me to my limits,” Allison says, clearly believing it—or badly wanting to—until haywire circumstances make that impossible. Until perpetrators who appear to take absolute control as a given take it one step too far.
All bets? Off! It’s no great spoiler to reveal that at a certain point, the hunted becomes hunter and Allison begins to construct her own house of horrors—no safewords, no mercy, no restraint.
Though not excessively gory, EXTREMITY is a dark film that lives up to its name, plumbing the depths of human depravity and offering fairly bleak answers to enduring existential questions. It’s a story about taking desperate measures to engage profound trauma and fear without really having any idea whether you’ll come out on the other side.
Yet it is this same unflinching gaze into the abyss that—along with the epic mouse-turns-around-and-catches-cat reversal—makes it such a compelling experience. The world that director Anthony DiBlasi (Clive Barker’s DREAD) summons is rich, realistic and frightening. Christina delivers an affecting and nuanced performance, working with heavy material that could’ve gone poorly in lesser hands. The haunters are all legit embodiments of menace and intimidation. (The steely reserve punctuated by wanton cruelty of J. LaRose’s Phil is going to mess with your head.)
EXTREMITY sets you up to ask yourself, “How far would I go to face and—hopefully—conquer my own fears?” If you’re anything like this humble correspondent, you’ll ultimately respond: Not nearly as far as I thought I would…