Old 01-04-2012, 03:33 PM
Begotten (1990)

There are mainstream movies ranging from adult thrillers to pure horror films. There are older film genres that only appeal to lost and forgotten audiences. There are underground films that were made in peoples’ backyards. I could go on with other sub-genres that “Begotten” does not belong in, a pointless act in itself. It is best described as, possibly, a student film director E. Elias Merhige made in film school. Either that, or he made it in his own free time. Who is E. Elias Merhige? He is responsible for directing “Shadow of The Vampire” from 2000 and “Suspect Zero” from 2004. And what exactly is “Begotten”? It is unlike any stereotypically pretentious student film I’ve ever seen. It is as far from mainstream as you can imagine. It is dark and disturbing. And it is like a trip to Hell and back.

First off, it is shot in black-and-white and is extremely grainy. It resembles a film from the early 1900’s. The only exception is that it does feature sound. But just like the grainy footage, the sound isn’t perfect. The effort to make it appear aged is deliberate. Not only that, it appears to be playing in slower motion. This is the fist sign that will tell you if you’re game enough to commit 68 minutes of your life to this film. And for me, it was 68 minutes worthy of my time. Sometimes, you can get spoiled on watching the same kinds of movies over and over again, and there is a need to try something outside of your comfort zone. If you think you’ve seen almost everything, this might the right movie for you.

There is no story or plot at work here. It is a simple premise that is drawn out for a little over an hour. It begins with, what appears to be, a woman in a chair. The setting appears to be a cabin by a lake. She seems to be pregnant and in labor, and no one is there to help her. She seems to be experiencing a difficult labor and is actually stabbing herself in the stomach to get the baby out of her. At least this is what I suspected was happening. It is gory content and not fun. This is where you begin to appreciate the grainy, black-and-white footage. Without it, it would be tougher to watch. As is, the gory content is less exploitive and it is less clear what is happening on screen. This speaks for the remainder of the movie. Much of the time, you will see something disturbing going on, but you will not understand what it is and why. Right away, you know that you’re not in for a fun, breezy time. This is the second sign telling you if you’re game enough to commit yourself to the whole film.

The end credits eventually make the viewer aware that this is not a woman experiencing unthinkably horrible child labor. She, or he, or whatever it is, is actually “God Killing Himself.” And when God is finished doing that, a full-grown woman emerges. She steps out from underneath a cover around the deceased God, and is supposed to be “Mother Earth.” Before knowing what she was supposed to represent, I was under the impression that she was life being embraced after the ugliness of death has passed. And I wasn’t too far off.

After rejoicing in the cabin, she is outside in a field. The setting appears to be a farm. Another character is introduced and he is a little weakling that slightly resembles Jason from the original “Friday The 13th.” Mother Earth appears to be inspiring a ceremony as Druid figures in robes gather around the poor creature. My first impression was that he represented evil or death, and was a demon. However, he is actually “Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone.” From this point on, we see less of Mother Earth, and what follows is her son being either assaulted or cleansed. If he was evil, than I thought they might have been cleansing him of his darkness. But it became clear that this poor guy was being assaulted. And it also became clear that the Druid figures were evil beings in themselves. Thanks to the grainy footage, they are mysterious and faceless beings that make up frightening villains.

The Druid figures first pull Mother Earth’s son by a rope and drag him along the field. They stop in a pit and hang him over the side, and it is then they begin assaulting him. It gets bloody, but hardly as bloody as say “The Passion of The Christ.” That is what the middle point of this film becomes. And again, the grainy footage helps mask the violence and gore. On top of that, seeing all the violence unfold in slower motion adds another creative touch to it. There is nothing too exploitive, but it is disturbing nonetheless. There are unforgettable images such as Mother Earth’s son coughing up blood and even vomiting guts and intestines. That is what appeared to be happening. I also thought I saw him vomit out his own beating heart and still live on. At least that’s what appeared to be happening. With the grainy footage, you can never officially tell. And I’m grateful for it. I am happy to not know what actually was happening. This is probably one more sign telling you if you’re game enough to commit to this film.

After Mother Earth’s son is assaulted, more disturbing events happen. I will not give it all away. Towards the end, the action concludes in another pit with the Druid figures. After they commit their final destructive acts, life can no longer handle any more pain. Flowers and plants die. But then, life is rejuvenated. What appears to be a dead field comes back to life with resurrected flowers and plants. Life is returned to the land and the planet. Make of that what you will. There are obvious parallels to the bible to be taken from it.

This is a one-of-a-kind film. It is anything but mainstream and does not have re-watchability value. It is perhaps seen once in a person’s lifetime and only when they know for sure that they have seen everything. It is definitely not for everyone. It is ultimately a film made in modern times made to look aged and grainy, an effect that helps give it its power. The process the filmmakers went through to make it appear as discovered footage from Hell was painstaking. It plays in slower motion, because it was re-photographed. It took hours to prepare every individual shot. It was worth all their effort, because it is powerfully disturbing in the best possible way. To be objective, I was not terribly disturbed by its content, but I felt it to a degree. And also, the content does begin to feel too drawn out after a while. In the end, it is unlike anything genre fans and anyone will ever see, and it deserves respect.

*** out of 4
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Old 01-05-2012, 07:09 AM
This is a really great, 'effed up film in my opinion. It's definitely one-of-a-kind and has influenced my own artistic endeavors throughout the years since I had first seen it. (I was only 13, holy crap! ) I'm glad that you appreciated it, because a lot of people seem to dismiss it as the same pseudo-avant garde trife that populates dang near any film class. It truly is a brutal, beautiful film that I could recommend to anyone who wants to see a "different" kind of film.

PS: I also found it interesting that you watched the film without knowing about God Killing Himself, or any of the other themes present. That would ahve to make the viewing experience more interesting. I was well aware of most-all of it when I watched, but I couldn't imagine seeing it with virgin eyes!
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Old 01-05-2012, 06:51 PM
I didn't exactly go into it with virgin eyes. I read up on it before watching, and the plot synopsis does suggest the biblical themes. Even then, it is still a strange movie that is tough to figure out. Anyone could watch this film and identify a different connection to the bible and interpret the images in their own way. The biblical themes are obvious. But, until I read other reviews afterwards, there were some simple biblical themes that went over my head. This was the remaining movie from, not the last convention but, the one before it. I'm glad to have finally seen it and pulled the bandaid already.
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Old 01-06-2012, 08:46 AM
There's an interesting connection between the necrophilia at the beginning of the film and the Osiris phallic worship (birthing man from the sex of the dead God). Have you seen Din Of Celestial Birds, Duke? That's the "sequel" to Begotten, which is the directors' take on science in contrast to the religious aesthetics of the first film.
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Old 01-06-2012, 04:13 PM
Nope, I haven't seen the supposed sequel. "Begotten" may as well be my rite of passage into this director's strange world. In time, I may check it out.
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Old 01-09-2012, 10:09 AM
I haven't seen Shadow of the Vampire yet, but I am interested in seeing his participation with a more mainstream endeavor. I can't necessarily recommend or give opinion on A Din of Celestial Birds because I have yet to see it in full, and the little I have seen of it was years ago. It can be found on IMDB...here!

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