Man Bites Dog (1992)

A team of filmmakers follow around a serial killer as he goes about his business, but over time he eventually convinces them to take part in his crimes and work as his assistants in this darkly comic mockumentary. It’s violent and sleazy, with a lead who openly reveals his racism and misogyny, his sexual fascinations, as well as his knack for poetry and his methodology. In this way, it reminded me of a Belgian version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, only at times this movie is funnier. Indeed it borders on excess, with sudden shifts in tone and action that are shocking and sometimes, admittedly, humorous. Not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way, but in a way that makes you grin as you wonder what in the hell you’re watching.

It also offers a shrewd examination of the media, both in how the crew compels the killer to perform more acts of violence and in how he talks about the media’s influence on picking targets: he does not want to be caught, so he kills postmen, poor people, old people, the mundane. People whose deaths won’t be widely reported. People whom the media does not care about. He does this not as a compulsion, but because he makes a living off of it, to the point that it’s just about all business. A thrilling business for him to be sure, but business nonetheless. And as they watch, the crew become desensitized to the point that burying bodies of his victims are normal. 2/3s of the way in, they actively participate in the rape and murder of a couple, and at that point they are entirely his.

Ultimately I liked the movie. It’s sick and revolting at times, but I found more often I was disturbed by the open bigotry of the killer than the graphic violence, except in a couple of cases, both of which involved women. In one of these, a woman is hit in the face and has a seizure; she continues to make gasping noises as the killer and the crew move further into the house to take out her family. It’s the sound that gets me because it does not stop. The other is the very explicit rape scene. I have a harder time accepting sexual violence in film than just straight violence I suppose.

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