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Review: Violence Voyager

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

After finally seeing Violence Voyager for myself (having learned of its existence via clips posted to Twitter), I can confidently promise you this: you have never seen anything like it.

The basic premise is familiar enough: on the last day of their summer vacation, two adolescent boys—an American exchange student name Bobby and his friend and fellow social outcast, Akkun—venture out into the wilderness surrounding their quaint, quiet rural community in search of excitement and adventure. As they navigate the perilous mountain trails, they eventually stumble upon a dilapidated—but still fully operational—amusement park. When they discover that the seemingly unassuming proprietor actually harbors sinister intentions, however, the youths find themselves wishing that they hadn’t strayed so far from the safety of their own homes…

Divorced from further narrative context, this synopsis makes the film sound like a traditional fairytale, complete with a rather straightforward moral (“Remember, boys and girls: always listen to your parents and elders…”); the visual style—which features deliberately simplistic “paper cutout” animation reminiscent of a pop-up storybook—merely reniforces this impression. Once the plot begins to unfold in earnest, though, this colorful, whimsical, “all-ages” façade is quickly and brutally subverted by the movie’s darkly comic tone—emphasis on dark. When confronted with genuinely malicious forces, the characters are about as helpless and vulnerable as you’d expect a bunch of prepubescents to be. Children are graphically maimed, bludgeoned, dismembered, flayed, impaled, and otherwise mutilated by the dozen—and the really unfortunate ones are mutated into grotesque, malformed monstrosities with misshapen skulls, bulging eyes, and exposed nerves. So, y’know, if you’re fond of kids (and animals, for that matter), you might want to steer clear…

While director Ujicha owes an obvious debt to the pioneers of the body horror genre—including David Cronenberg, Brian Yuzna, Clive Barker, and Shinya Tsukamoto—his irreverent rejection of formula, cliché, and convention sets Violence Voyager apart from its predecessors. Unpredictable, unnerving, and extremely unserious, it won’t appeal to every viewer’s sensibilities (it isn’t “enjoyed” so much as “endured”), but it is—for better or worse—an unforgettable cinematic experience.

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