Stoic (2009)

A lesson in brutality.
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Stoic - A lesson in brutality.

In the movie world, Uwe Boll is infamous for two things: video-game adaptations and bad taste adaptations of atrocities. Stoic fits into the latter category. Based on an incident that took place in Sieberg Prison (Germany) in 2006 this film blurs the boundaries of what could be classed as entertainment with a test of endurance to cope with 91 minutes of a bleak, hopeless and horrific portrayal of bullying turned tragedy.

The true events on which the story is based are followed quite closely based on the information available from the time of the crime. The incident involved three prisoners subjecting a cellmate to 12 hours of torture and rape before forcing the victim to hang himself. This harrowing ordeal was made more newsworthy as the case was surrounded by a lot of controversy due to the prison guards not noticing the in-cell shenanigans. The ordeal and the ineptitude of the staff are captured in Stoic albeit the main focus is primarily torture and the thoughts and feelings of the torturers. The details of the torment are where the movie creators get creative. This is where Boll attempts to push buttons and anyone familiar with the work of this director knows that button pushing is an area where Boll's competence exceeds many others who try. Despite the intention to provoke, the provocation is more than blatant shock tactics. The intensities of the suffering escalate towards the extermination, a fairly inconsequential bet where the forfeit is to consume a tube's worth of toothpaste soon becomes a broomstick handle delivered anal probing without even a courtesy lick. This spiralling out of control makes the movie experience much more intense and realistic than many torturous representations depicted in the recent fad of "tied to a chair" horror. Whether an entertainment representation of such depravities is of any value is up for debate but the truthful element makes what is on screen so much more horrid as the sympathy for the real life victim plays on the mind throughout.

The movie relies on improvisation from the actors rather than a solid script. The cast is basically of four with a couple of ancillary appearances from actors as guards. The main cast will be recognisable to those familiar with Boll movies. While they each deliver a powerful performance it is often noticeable that there is a lack of proper dialogue to carry the drama along as expected. The bouts of intense violence are punctuated by improvised ramblings that often wander to nowhere. This may be representational of real life and the scenes can be looked upon as a breather between the nastiness but often it feels like filler rather than anything meaningful. That being said the actors make good use of what little they have and manage to relay the heightened sense of guilt and regret as the violence intensifies. Their perceived lack of control and the group mentality under institutionalised conditions are effectively portrayed by those antagonising and the submission of the victim to his fate competently makes the title of the film relevant. The pressure and distress faced by the antagonists is reaffirmed by post-incident interview scenes providing the actors further opportunities to wing it between the cruelty.

There is a moral aspect motivating the movie but as is apparent in other Boll works (most notably Rampage) this view is presented more to make the movie experience dirty and confusing rather than promoting love, happiness, hemp clothing and Bob Dylan. There is an aspect that the prisoners were just doing what they had to do within the group to survive themselves and not become the piss-stained inmate with a broomstick handle up the poop chute. This is a proven psychological reality and has been demonstrated as a human behaviour in a number of controversial experiments with the Stanford Prison experiment being the most widely known example. The movie's ability to induce sympathy for the baddies is another button pusher and adds a subjective dirtiness underpinning the more obvious atrocities.

The aim of Stoic is to shock and disturb and, for a number of reasons, it does this very well while still managing to maintain a morbid interest despite a plot thinner than Heather O'Rourke's biography. The levels to which the torture ascends and the ability to both despise and sympathise with the torturers are subtly intensified by numerous small cues. The realisation that those involved are incarcerated for fairly petty crimes makes their actions more difficult to comprehend than if they were already monsters. The near escape for the victim makes the next round of brutality so much more acute as by this time an ending where all ends as well as it could would probably be quite a relief. Nearly all of the torture scenes seem just a bit too long and this just compounds the horribleness of the film watching experience. Uwe Boll is often criticised for his filmmaking techniques but he knows how to leave the viewer with an unclean feeling at the end of a movie and if that is what you want then Stoic delivers.
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