By JAMES TUCKER
Starring Ryan Francis, Morgan Alexandria, Bryce Fernalius
Directed by Jerren Lauder
Written by Jason Scott Goldberg, Jesse Federman, Jerren Lauder, Julie Auerbach
I’ve had a fair bit of time to marinate on this one. I was planning on writing about it last week at first, but life got in the way, and as a result, I’ve had two weeks to look at this film from every angle, to try and come to terms with the confusion and the multitudes of thoughts it inspired in me after first viewing.
I still don’t really know what to do with it.
It is, first and foremost, a film that violently rejects white supremacy in all of its forms, current and past. But it also does this by resurrecting one of the most famous and terrible Nazis, Joseph Mengele, replicates his experiments in shocking detail, and does all of this with the aesthetic and sensitivity of a Saw film. Torture porn at the hands of a Nazi, it turns out, isn’t the easiest thing to watch in 2021, even for someone who consumes horror films as much as I do. That being said, it does NOT kill off the majority of its diverse cast to push the white main character as its hero, which I appreciated, and it DOES effectively convey (or remind us of) the horrors created by white supremacy and the desperate, dire need to cut it out at all costs.
You can probably see why I’m mixed.
Is it a good film though? The answer is, it’s okay. For most of the first act, it wears its influences very much on its sleeve, cutting disparate shots of the antagonists house together in a way thats very reminiscent of the Saw films (The franchise I compare this most to in my head. Sorry, it’s gonna come up a lot.). The color palette is also directly referential of those films, ranging from yellow-greens to beiges. It also directly draws from films like Hostel in the second act as our characters find that they’re not in Kansas anymore, strapped to gurneys, trapped in cell-like rooms, and with the doctors visits being… well, exactly how you’d expect them to be. The violence itself here is, again, what you would expect: shocking, direct, and uncompromising. The problem is, it’s a Nazi doing it.
I don’t know about y’all, but I typically watch torture porn films as an escape. You know the kind: pour yourself a whiskey, sit back with some popcorn, and prepare to be grossed the fuck out without thinking too much. The Nazi element here, and the perfect replication of what was, perhaps, one of Mengele’s worse experiments, makes that kind of escape near impossible; the doctor has been experimenting on a set of conjoined twins, one of whom is scarred and mutilated, barely conscious of anything but pain, and is a dead weight as the other tries desperately to escape. As hard as that was to type, it was harder to watch, and while I typically reward directors in this genre for making me squirm, it feels… how do I say this? Insensitive. Exploitative in a bad way.
The main characters are capable and unique, a set of fully fleshed characters from diverse backgrounds who work towards obtaining a new lease on life. Their street savviness comes into play against Mengele, and I found myself cheering multiple times as they beat the odds, and feeling sick when they didn’t. Their leader has the most interesting character arc, perhaps, a former white supremacist who has realized the error of his ways and is working to become a better human being. He winds up sacrificing himself to kill Mengele and his creatures while the others escape, and there’s a particularly powerful scene where he cuts off his Nazi tattoo (which he previously kept because he didn’t believe he deserved to be free of it) with a knife and tosses it at Mengeles feet. It’s a powerful scene that won me back, a dramatic illustration of the films thesis that finally alleviated some of the sickness the rest of the film had produced in me. Does it outweigh the rest of the films issues? Not for me, necessarily. But it was solid nonetheless.
In short, we need films that attack white supremacy. I’m just not really sure that STAY OUT OF THE ATTIC did it the right way. Large parts of it felt exploitative, and while I appreciate the well rounded characters and that the film doesn’t want to shy away from the horrors of Nazism, I can’t quite get on board with its approach.
I’m giving it a five. Tune in next week.
STAY OUT OF THE ATTIC is now streaming on Shudder.