Enter the Void (2009)

I picked this movie knowing that is was supposed to be a tough watch, but thinking that we needed more exposure to Gaspar Noe and having heard it mentioned in passing in a few disparate horror contexts. Having never seen it before I didn’t really have a great idea about what to expect, and… wow. Honestly, this is one of the strangest movie watching experiences I think I’ll have for quite a long time. Enter the Void is Noe’s take on a druggie’s take on dying and passing along into the afterlife, and man does it go places you don’t typically see in film. Watch the trailer to see if it’s your speed and then check out our spoiler filled review down below. Real quick though, small warning, if you have any type of flashing light sensitivity then you should absolutely not watch the trailer or the movie.

Reviewed by: Mark

 
 

Plot Synopsis

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown)  lives in Japan and makes ends meet by dealing drugs. He lives with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) who is a stripper at the local club. Their living situation is sub-optimal, but it works well enough for them. One evening, Oscar takes a few hits of DMT before his buddy Victor  (Olly Alexander) gives him a call asking to be resupplied. As Oscar heads to meet Victor he meets up with his friend Alex (Cyril Roy), and they chat about the Tibetan Book of the Dead on their way to the meetup. When Oscar meets up with Victor it is revealed that it was all a setup to bust Oscar with drugs as retaliation for some familial sexcapades that Oscar got mixed up in. Panicking, Oscar locks himself in the bathroom and tries to unsuccessfully flush the drugs. He yells that he has a gun and the cops shoot him in retaliation. Oscar dies on the bathroom floor and his soul leaves his body.

 
Not the best place to leave your corporeal form.

Not the best place to leave your corporeal form.

 

What follows is a very loose interpretation of the Bardo Thodol. Oscar’s soul leaves his body and floats around his immediate vicinity watching his friends and family react to his death. He also watches a lot of people bang. The dude’s ghost is like super horny I guess. Before long we also are treated to numerous flashback sequences that reveal the early life of Oscar and Linda. They lived happily with their parents for a long while until they were brutally killed in front of the two kids in a car accident. Obviously traumatized, the kids are then split up to go into two different foster families and then live separately until many years later.

Flash forward many years and Oscar has moved to Tokyo and deals drugs with his buddy Victor. Also, he starts banging Victor’s mom (she was into him from the start). After dealing for a while he makes enough money to fly his sister out to live with him in Tokyo. She joins him in his apartment and there are a lot of weird near-incestuuos relationship dynamics. They settle into their daily lives and eventually Linda is recruited to be a stripper. Meanwhile, Victor finds out about his mother and freaks the fuck out, setting the stage for the meetup that we see at the beginning of the movie. Oscar continues to fly around seeing how the lives of those around him unravel as a result of his death.

 
For the record, this is the name of the club where all the strippers work.

For the record, this is the name of the club where all the strippers work.

 

A few weeks after the incident Linda leaves her strip club boyfriend Mario (Masato Tanno) and starts dating Alex. The movie climaxes (heh, get it?) with Oscar flying around “The Love Hotel” watching various couple perform all sorts of sex acts. He eventually finds Linda and Alex entwined and after watching for a short while he…. Uhhhh…. Well, he flies inside her vagina and watches Alex ejaculate. It is then implied that Linda is impregnated and Oscar is reincarnated as his sister’s child (or potentially he starts his own life over at the beginning depending on how you interpret things).


What the Movie Does Right

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that this was one of the most unique and technically engaging viewing experiences I’ve ever had. For as abrasive as this movie is with its flashing lights, empty darkness, and kaleidoscopish effects it is also incredibly well put together. The camera basically never stops moving as Oscar flies around space and time. There are long uninterrupted edits that are seamless and impressively choreographed. The editing is very effective at using CG interstitials to transition between scenes without making it seem like a hard cut, and as a result does great work to build the world of Tokyo.

 
It might not look like much, but a first person mirror shot is an impressive shot to pull off so seamlessly. I’m still not positive I know how they did this.

It might not look like much, but a first person mirror shot is an impressive shot to pull off so seamlessly. I’m still not positive I know how they did this.

 

Beyond the editing and basic shot composition, there is also something I have yet to mention that is extremely key for how this movie functions: its perspective. The first act is shot entirely as first person from Oscar’s viewpoint, and even includes faux blinking effects and muffled voice acting to make it seem like you are viewing from inside Oscar’s head.  This is important as it helps the viewer to understand that the rest of the movie (which is no longer in the same first person style) is still viewed through the lens of what Oscar’s soul is experiencing in the space between life and death. Much of the flashbacks include angles from behind Oscar’s silhouette or overhead during scenes that he remembers from his past. This was a bit divisive on the podcast, but at least for me this really helped me connect with and commiserate with his character despite him being a bit of a scumbag. I found that method of narrative delivery to be wildly captivating.


What the Movie Does Wrong

Holy cow, this is a hard watch for two main reasons. I’ll start with the easier more straightforward one: the runtime is too damn long. The short version of this movie is north of 2 hours 20 minutes. The longer cut adds an extra 17 minutes, and a substantial amount of it is just silent black screen. For as interesting as the editing is in most of the movies, the movie also includes some of the most astoundingly weird choices you’ll find. Opting to spend multiple minutes just watching colorful shapes move around on screen when you’re runtime is already over two hours is a choice that is going to make this movie a difficult sell for almost anyone.

 
“If only there were a way to cut like 25 minutes out of this movie.”  “Yeah, I know. But there’s nothing we can get rid of. Also, what do you think of these new nonsensical visual effects?”  “…”

“If only there were a way to cut like 25 minutes out of this movie.”

“Yeah, I know. But there’s nothing we can get rid of. Also, what do you think of these new nonsensical visual effects?”

“…”

 

Secondly, and this is really the one that sets this into another level, there are flashing lights all throughout this movie that are legitimately physically hard to look at. I walked away with a headache. Jake repeatedly had to pause and leave the room because it made him nauseous. There are mixing color strobes, there is an entirely too aggressive black and white opening sequence, and there are bright and caustic transitions that are seemingly specifically designed to perturb. Well, mission successful. Am perturbed. If you don’t have a seizure disorder of some type before this viewing experience, it’s significantly possible you will develop one over the course of the film.

Lastly, this is not really your typical horror movie. It’s not scary except in the gritty adult fears realism sense. It’s upsetting and disturbing, but not in the way that we are used to talking about here. Granted, this isn’t technically something that the movie does wrong, but I figured I’d note that the fit on this website is tenuous. Oh well, no regrets.


Ratings (1-10)

Story: 8 - I found the story to be beautiful and engaging. Seeing the tale of childhood trauma haunt and shape the lives of two people over time is sad, smart, and captivating. Jack and Jake rightly pointed out during our recording that the story itself is actually pretty sparse, but what is there is told in a consistent and effective manner using an incredibly unique delivery vehicle.

World-Building / Immersion: 5 - I want to go way higher in this category because of the perspective, but instead what I did was bump the story rating up a bit. I have a hard time saying that a movie over two hours long that is chock full of flashing lights. Noe actually punishes you for watching this movie.

Scare-Factor: 1.5 - There are things in this movie that are incredibly disturbing and scary in a realistic sense, but none of them are your traditional horror fare. Basically the only thing I can put here are the various car accident scenes.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 8 - Yeah, there’s a lot happening here. The CG is prevalent but doesn’t overlap much with the practical shots and thus still looks pretty good. The camera work is masterful. The set designs are smart and elegant. This is a great effects movie.

Overall: 2.5 - Full disclosure: I liked this movie a lot. I am very happy I watched it. However, insofar as this category relates to how likely we would be to recommend it to other people, particularly people looking for horror movie ideas, I am really struggling to come up with a situation where this one would be the top of the list.