Begotten (1990)

The second coming...
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Begotten - The second coming...

For an exercise in experimental and artistic expression, Begotten is a monument of brutal shock, nauseating horror and a sensory attack from multiple angles. For an exercise in 72 minutes of entertainment, Begotten fails to pass muster, dilute yellow condiments or reach the verticals necessary for scratch. While there is a lot to love and admire about director and writer E. Elias Merhige's art, reaching the end of this piece becomes a test of endurance. Not because of the disturbing visuals, the rambunctious audio or the philosophical meanderings but because it simply gets repetitive. Even with the appreciation of the arduous filmmaking process involved with achieving the unique look, the storytelling inspires clock-watching as the the film maintains a constant level of abhorrence throughout. Admittedly the levels start in the top horror percentile but this creates a desensitisation quite early on.

It is worth mentioning the meticulous process that Merhige required the film to go through to meet his standards. It was shot on transparencies then each frame was rephotographed in high contrast to give it that war camp stock footage feel. It transpires that each minute of the film took in the realms of 8 hours to create. This makes this a labour of love above and beyond what many people claim to have achieved.

Dialogue is non-existent plus there is minimal musical accompaniment. The majority of audio is provided by birds and crickets, crickets upon fucking crickets in the most unlikely of places. Once again this is an act of bravery in the early nineties. The effect of this combined with the visuals is quite haunting and can be quite unsettling before the monotony kicks in. This is definitely not a film you want to watch soon after licking a hippie.

Merhige manages to mix up all the ingredients guaranteed to shock - excessive gore, merciless rape, ferocious violence and all within a religious context. Begotten is a reimagining of Genesis, totally skipping the parts with Phil Collins* but maintaining the concept of the evolution of a corrupt race of beings determined to ruin the niceties they have been handed on a plate. There may be an underlying environmentalist tone too but without Morgan Freeman to explain via his informative narratives this is pure speculation.

The film is also quite assertive with genitalia. There is no attempt to hide the details as Mother Earth instigates the second coming of God until his lifeless spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof (Song of Solomon 1:12). The filming style obscures the full-on pornographic impact but teens of the nineties, the generation with limited internet access, will attest that the desired outcome can even be achieved watching RTL through the static.

Begotten seems like three (maybe four) scenes consisting mostly of prolonged torment. Firstly with God killing himself, focussing mostly on a character credited as “God Killing Himself” as he disembowels himself followed by a rather embarrassing need for Imodium. After this, we witness Mother Earth’s creation of God’s children via the mechanism of stolen seed and finger-banging. Far from immaculately, she spawns a fully grown genetic combination of Michael Jackson and Michael J. Fox. She leaves him to survive in the wilderness with only his jazz hands to defend himself. Jazz hands are no match for the sandpeople and the evolution of man brutally ensues to destroy the beauty brought forth from omnipotent, yet obviously depressed, loins.

The ending indicates a brief glimmer of hope but is far from a happy ending compared to the happy ending at the end of the first scene. Begotten took Optimus Prime balls to release and it is an admirable quality to release art disguised as film with no care for conformity and probably no care for monetary gain through acceptance, especially in 1990 when creativity in horror was already being stifled by commercialism. Despite this it was still definitely a large leap from entertainment and requires endurance... or a turtleneck, a scarf in the summer, a goatee and an appreciation for overpriced coffee.

* May require more research
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