Film Reviews

The Special – Grimmfest 2020

The saying goes “Don’t stick your dick in crazy” but after watching this film I feel we need to add “Don’t stick your dick in mysterious boxes” as well. The Special comes from director B. Harrison Smith (Death House, Where the Scary Things Are) along with writers James Newman (Still Waters) and Mark Steensland (The Last Way Out, Jakob’s Wife) and I’ve been waiting probably about a year to see this film since I first saw a trailer for it. But does it live up to a year’s worth of expectation?

The setup is straightforward enough. Businessman Jerry is having a hard time. He’s not happy in his relationship with his wife and thinks she’s been cheating on him. One drunken night at the bar with his friend Mike, leads to Mike taking him to a discreet brothel with the promise that what lies there will be like nothing Jerry has ever experienced. All he has to do is go in and ask for “the special”. This turns out to be a black box with a hole in it and the words “Stick it in here” painted on the front.

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One strange cubic sexual experience later and Jerry is hooked. One time with the box just isn’t enough. Despite the protests of Mike and the brothel owner Madame Zora, he has to do it again. And again. And again. No matter what it costs him or those around him. What starts off as an odd and slightly creepy-comedic story of a blowjob box becomes something altogether darker as Jerry spirals into addiction. The box itself could really be exchanged for almost anything else, any addictive substance of your choice, and the story would still work.

The bad? The acting is… not great. Calling it wooden would probably be pretty on the nose. One character delivers the news of her miscarriage in a way that brings to mind uncomfortable comparisons with the infamous “I definitely have breast cancer” scene from Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. The sound mix is also not spectacular in places, but that’s really a nitpick. It’s certainly far from Christopher Nolan levels of muddy mixing but sometimes a viewer will need to listen a bit harder to make out what characters are discussing.

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The good news is that those are really the only bad things. The rest? Oh, the rest of this has midnight movie cult classic written all over it. Jerry’s slow decline, the box itself, the practical effects, the ultimate ending of the story? All spot on. The 90-ish minutes of this film’s runtime does start a bit slow, the first couple of scenes more cringe inducing then anything else, but stick with it because there’s a whole lot to like with the story quickly heading into dark, dark places. It’s one of those films that likes springing its violence on you with very little warning and what there is is pretty damn brutal. As things spiral out of control the film treads into some distinctly unpleasant places that even had a hardened horror veteran like myself going “Oh. Eww. No. Please don’t!”.

Wooden acting aside, respect has to be given to Davy Raphaely as Jerry, who still manages to imbue the character with a certain degree of sympathy even as his life collapses around him and he throws everything else aside for what the box has to offer him. He does terrible things, but he suffers while he’s doing them. Credit also needs to be given to his, uhm, “performance” with the box. He sounds both ecstatic and tortured at the same time and those can’t have been particularly easy scenes to film, you would assume.

The Special is an odd little film, but for horror fans looking for something a bit offbeat, a bit quirky, a bit dark, then this is definitely one to check out. Did it live up to a year’s worth of anticipation? Not quite, but it was still a damn good watch.

The Special is playing at Grimmfest, which runs from the 7th to the 11th of October 2020. You can find our Grimmfest coverage here.

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