You know you’re in for something different when a filmmaker considers remaking his own movie “once I know what it’s about”. Vancouver-based A.J. Bond readily admits that his meta-squared mind-fuck Stress Position is an experience that’s almost impossible to get your head around, from either side of the camera.
“Usually, people have a lot of questions,” he tells the Straight, calling from a family wedding in Cape Town, South Africa. “ ‘What’s real? What isn’t?’ Some people are upset—they think the film is irresponsible or self-indulgent, and some people are really into it. It’s always an extremely interesting Q&A. There are always several people in the audience scowling at me.”
Bond could simplify matters by telling us it’s all a big joke. Instead, we’re presented with an uncomfortably veracious-seeming 75-minute feature in which real-life friends—Bond and actor David Amito—take turns breaking each other down with personally tailored, psychological torture techniques.
The film’s visual aesthetic nods at cool ’70s sci-fi, and Marguerite Moreau’s “role” as Bond’s producer introduces another note of artifice. But the games are serious, with both men mercilessly attacking the real identity issues they recognize in the other, sexual and otherwise.
“All of my films have been me dealing with an issue that’s so raw that I don’t even fully understand what it is that I’m exploring, and it’s almost more therapeutic for me to go through it than for an audience to necessarily watch it,” says Bond, with a chuckle.
Because his actions in Stress Position invite our disapproval, it’s impossible to dismiss the filmmaker’s own suggestion that he’s “a repressed, privileged guy who just wants to experience something extremely dramatic”. Same goes for the “flippant” references to Guantanamo Bay and the extremely provocative confession that ends the film. Bond jokily refers to himself as “Michael Haneke with a sense of humour”. He also quickly adds, with a laugh: “But I’m not Michael Haneke.” Sure, but there’s still so much going on inside Stress Position that your wheels will be spinning for days.
Playing concurrently (May 23 to June 7) at the Vancity Theatre, Cruel & Unusual doles out a more metaphysical kind of torment, being set inside a grotty liminal realm where people are forced to endlessly relive the crimes that brought them there, complete with angry sentinels who bark at them through ’80s-era TV sets. Edgar (David Richmond-Peck) thinks he has a loophole when he ends up, possibly by mistake, with a sad bunch including child killers and suicidal moms (memorably played, in this case, by Michael Eklund and Michelle Harrison, respectively).
Writer-director Merlin Dervisevic’s debut is the first B.C.–shot film to be made under the Canadian Film Centre’s features program, meaning it was spared some of the more typical tortures that come with development, at least. The film was mentored by director Vincenzo Natali, who trod a similar kind of playful, if disturbing, existential ground in Cube and Nothing.
Cruel & Unusual does offer the very faintest glimmer of some kind of escape, but still—will they be serving Valium at Vancity for the next two weeks?