Andrew Collins: Look away now

How to survive a really nasty bit in a film without losing your lunch

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I am a grown man. I have been watching films since I was a boy. Some of those films have been horror films. I have seen a lot of nasty things in films. I’ve seen gore, and violence, and evisceration, and torture, and death, none of it real, all of it cleverly created through special effects so that it looks real. I can handle it.

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When I was a teenager, I guess I watched some nasty films out of peer pressure. And even in my 20s. But by the time I reached my 30s, it had dawned on me that I no longer had to watch nasty films. I could choose, as an adult, not to.

So, I’ve seen the first Saw movie, but I have chosen to use my human rights not to watch any of its sequels, of which there are many. I have seen Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever and Hostel, and although I appreciated their “old skool” 80s horror thrills, I found myself half-closing my eyes more than I’d like when the nasty bits came, and realised it was a pointless exercise. So I pretty much bailed out of modern horror. Where once, in an early Friday the 13th instalment, say, I’d have to watch a nubile young person impaled on a pitchfork, I am now expected to watch things go into eyes on a regular basis, and I’d rather not. It used to be a quick, bloody death; nowadays, lingering torture and torment is the norm.

Life is too short for this kind of explicit gore. I do not wish it banned, or curtailed, or censored; I just don’t want to watch, thanks. As long as it’s certificated and no animals or humans were harmed in the making of it, I wish modern horror well on its ever-decreasingly circular highway to hell.

However, this week, I saw the exciting low-budget British horror thriller Kill List. I was reviewing it, so I had no choice in the matter, despite early warnings that it would be nasty. Made by Ben Wheatley, a resourceful and clever man, it tells the tale of two contract killers, and that’s all I’ll say about the plot, which skilfully swings from domestic drama to something far more surreal and scary.

It contains one of the nastiest scenes of violence I’ve seen for a while. This is probably because I’m out of the loop. It’s narratively justified, and central to the plot, but it’s explicit and it’s in your face (not to mention the face of the victim on screen).

I tried to look away, or half-close my eyes, but I’m just too nosy to do that, and I saw what the director wanted me to see. The same thing happened with Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, whose “nasty bit” I was prepared for, and was unable to look away from. Again, artistically justified, just something that I never planned on seeing, even in fictional form.

Whether this sort of stuff really does desensitise us as a society, I don’t know. It hasn’t worked on me: I’m more of a lavender-scented jelly than I ever used to be. All I’m saying is: don’t be afraid to close your eyes when a nasty bit comes on.

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Because Kill List is really worth seeing. I just couldn’t recommend it in the usual manner, not with my hand on my heart. Or my hand shoved into my unspooling intestines.