Meet Francis Bacon. A sadistic narcissist with a broken belief system that makes the Russian nihilists look like inspirational meme designers.
Sky-high on the toxic fumes of his own degenerate cravings, he is on a fuck mission of unhinged sexual depravity to suppress the inner demons that chafe his soul.
However, each deeper dive into debasement only seems to quicken their appetite.
Shot by director Scott Philip Goergens over a three year period for a paltry $2,500, 29 Needles enjoys the kind of creative freedom that means the gloves can come completely off. Or, in this case, hack off the hands the gloves should go on in the first place. Fortunately, the same artistic autonomy gives him the ability to full send his primal vision with savage conviction and boundaryless purity.
The resulting acid bath for the senses is astonishingly accomplished considering the resources. Technically adroit and occasionally beautiful, its unflinching coda and hard-nosed arthouse aesthetics recalls the notorious early work of Jörg Buttgereit and at times the fearless intensity of Claire Denis.
The opening scene is both an early warning shot for anyone remotely offended by dehumanisation and a “Fuck it! If we are doing this then let’s push all-in!” call to arms. It is a refreshingly honest approach, typical of this movie, to afford such an early get-out clause.
Those that opt to stay onboard this direct connection to Dante’s inner circle can rest assured its navigational moral compass becomes exponentially bankrupt. Each subsequent sordid set-piece lowers the bar for the next to squirm under in a don’t blink double dare of controversy limbo dancing.
There are things happening here, particularly in the multi-floored free for all fuck den that Francis frequents, that will have your WTF siren howling like Nicolas Cage on a 6-week coke bender. Not since Takashi Miike dropped his Visitor Q bomb have the limits of fetishistic cinema been so severely tested. I am also fairly sure 29 Needles obliterates the record for intensive on-screen masturbation. Stick that in your The Lighthouse Robert Pattinson.
Of course, all the literal bottom-feeding and even more literal knob noshing in the world does not make for a credible genre picture unless it is mollified by contextual purpose and artistic merit. It is here that 29 Needles truly shocks and disarms.
Superficially, it is a blisteringly candid character study of a lonely human enveloped in a miasma of self-gratification. Yet, this gruelling flick asks far more probing questions of the human condition than its exploitative demeanour suggests.
We are dumped unceremoniously into a landscape built on the foundations of consensual suffering and totally unmoderated sexual freedom. Our only anchorage point is that of Frances, a man who’s psyche is crumbling before our eyes.
Forced to cohabit his pain as he becomes enslaved by his libido, to bear witness as a compliant gawker to the depths he will sink, it becomes clear that the film wants us to consider our own levels of carnal sovereignty. Not to mention the conditioned judgements we place on others.
Goergens’ film is also about the vehement loneliness fostered by obsession and the echo chambers that surround it. It deconstructs the methodology of rampaging coping mechanisms that have been given an overriding mandate beyond the tempering of culpability.
The true catalyst for the downfall of Francis is not just his sexual greed or egocentric self-care. It is the realisation that he too is subject to the same determiners of consequence as the rest of us. Ultimately, he does not genuinely seek to tether his malignant impulses at all. It is more the case he wishes to release them from captivity to wreak havoc. Unopposed by the conditional constraints of compassion and empathy.
All the major characters are named after surrealist artists, so it is no surprise when 29 Needles takes a further seditious swerve into irrationality. This mischievous embodiment of symbolism adds another masking layer to a portrait that already has us staring at the contorted features of lunacy. This leap of narrative faith is extremely challenging, however, Frank Henenlotter fans will be in heaven.
Much more than a mindless shock beast slobbering over the gatekeepers of edgy movies 29 Needles is a gruesome squint behind the sperm caked curtains of an all-consuming subculture. A stripped bare sketch of a man who clings to the precipice of sanity by his blood crusted fingernails.
29 Needles is a jaw-dropping exhibition of the raw horsepower of truly independent filmmaking. A lovingly fashioned, grown-up film destined for infamy. If you can handle the oceans of body fluids and backbreakingly heavy subject matter then you will have an experience you will not erase from your violated mind in a hurry.
Extreme Psychosexual Body Horror, Arthouse | USA | 2019 | 95 mins | Cert. Unrated | Arsenic Media / Unearthed films | Dir. Scott Philip Goergens | With. Brooke Berry, Jamee Nicholson, Joe Meduza
CONTENT WARNING – Approach with forewarned caution. To be honest, this section could be longer than the actual review.