Billy is the popular kid at school; he has plenty of friends, enjoys basketball and is running for school President. However, beneath this shiny exterior, something more sinister is going on. Billy believes that something strange is going on in his family and starts to see unusual, sickening goings-on in his household. Determined to prove he’s not the crazy person everyone is painting him to be, he seeks to discover the truth..but the truth is weird, very weird.
Stepping aside from the film’s social commentary for just a moment, to put it simply, Society is one of the strangest and most brilliant films I have ever seen. There is plenty to enjoy in this special effects-laden, surreal and mad Society even without delving in to the themes at its core. From a technical angle, Society is rather wonderful. There are askew angles a-plenty which accentuate the off-kilter tone and ominous red lighting is used to highlight moments of real madness. Ominous close-ups point out Billy’s furthering state of confusion and give us front-row seats to the scenes that are borderline horrifying. It’s impossible not to be completely drawn in to this freaky residence and just like Billy, we can’t escape its clutches. Screaming Mad George’s monstrous designs dominate the insanity and they are undoubtedly brilliant and perfectly encapsulate the madness of the rich that Brian Yuzna wishes to display, but they are hugely outdated. It’s hard to take much of the end sequences seriously, but they do still have a certain element of shock and horror. It’s difficult to explain exactly what goes on at this film’s climax, but it’s one hell of a body-horror nightmare. If you are able to watch this for the first time without your mouth gaping wide open, I applaud you because I was catching flies.
Society is very ’80s, very dated and yet still manages to be completely relevant today. The social commentary the film wishes to explore is obvious and glaring in the on-the-nose title; society! It’s a dark, cynical look at the American class system, poking fun at the rich by reducing them to life-sucking and manipulative beings. I say ‘beings’ because, by the end of the film it is difficult to call many of these members of society human. The characters frequently repeat phrases surrounding society – “You’ll make a great member of’ society” and paranoia – “You’re just being paranoid, Billy” in an almost robotic manner. This mocking of the upper class emphasises their obsession with fitting in and furthering what they believe to be a good society – a reduction in the amount of poor people and an increase in their fellow rich people, lovely stuff – and emphasies their lack of humanity. These aren’t people, these are soul-less, empty creatures devoid of any sense of personality, empathy or interest in anyone else, but themselves. The story Yuzna is telling may be a work of fiction, but what this film is saying is frighteningly close to reality. Do we not live in a world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer? If Society wanted to be a warning for the future state of society, it has pretty much hit the nail on the head and that’s quite terrifying in itself.
Witnessing Billy’s descent in to madness as he struggles to find anyone genuine in his home and neighbourhood is, at times, hilarious. In one scene he walks in on his sister in the shower and is greeted with a naked, distorted woman, biting in to fruit reveals slimy black worms and he sees his parents eating slugs. Throughout the film it is always unclear whether Billy is crazy or not, so even we have to take everything he is seeing with a pinch of salt. It’s a clever trick that Society plays on its audience and we never truly know the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Despite the film’s concern with shocking us with its gross effects and skin-crawling scenes, there is definitely an intelligent film hiding beneath the surface. Just like the society, the film is hiding beneath a glossy facade, Society dons its own mask of madness. Everything within this film is so ridiculous and weird, it’s impossible not to find it a tiny bit funny. Nonetheless, as Billy continues to scratch and scrape for the truth, some true, effective horror does start to ensue and it’s great.
This is a really great film. It ticks all the boxes for a great and smart horror flick. It has just the right amount of wit and comedy to remind us not to take it too seriously, but does not hold back in its bombardment of horror, particularly during the finale. When everything unravels, it well and truly unravels, making for some thoroughly entertaining, bizarre and unforgettable images. It’s a brilliant debut from Brian Yuzna, perfectly paving the way for his future peculiar endeavours; a truly crazy piece of cinematic mastery.
Words: Jessy Williams