In 1989 Barry Gillis released, arguably, the worse film ever made with his sci-fi horror experiment Things (1989). The mix of incoherent story, disorienting and cheap camera work along with stilted performances made it a cult classic among the ‘so bad it’s good’ crowd. Given the baffling incompetence that made-up the obscure piece of Canadian sleaze, one would not expect that a couple of years would be enough for Gillis to improve enough as a filmmaker to redeem himself with Wicked World. In fact, you would be right in this assumption as the production is riddled with as many (if not more), baffling creative choices. Yet, this particular piece of Canuxploitation manages to be more accessible and entertaining than the iconic Things. Now, release the Toronto Nihilists!!!
Anyone approaching Wicked World will need to come at it for what it is; a poorly constructed piece of cinema whose charms rest entirely in its faults. As such, the production will appeal only to those who have a high tolerance for gritty, low-budget cinema or actively seek out such experiences. Even better, if you can get a crowd together of like-minded deviants who love scrapping the bottom of the barrel to find the most obscure nastiness, you have yourself an ideal movie night. Personally, being able to unleash this onto a crowd at one of our weekly movie nights was a real trip—I felt like I was both punishing and rewarding the group.
So where does this go wrong? The first thing audiences will notice is the atrocious sound design that is a constant assault on the senses, which often makes dialogue inaudible. For example, to represent a bad neighborhood the sounds of sirens, gunshots, animals, and talking are overlaid on top of a conversation between the main characters. Nature is just as unforgiving as a single goose is accompanied by a gaggle of vile birds (I can say this as a Canadian) screeching over dialogue. However, one will never get the feeling they are is missing out as the lines that are delivered with clarity are over-indulgent, absurd, or overtly misanthropic.
At the same time, the dialogue and story (as incomprehensive as it is) may indicate whether an audience embraces or turns on Wicked World. The antithesis of Canadian courtesy, the characters in Gillis’s feature lack basic empathy or regard. Arguably, they exist as an extreme trope of the ‘punker’ which dominated horror and exploitation film for a couple of decades. The difference here is the characters lack the style and instead just spout misanthropic and nihilistic sentiments about anything and everything. When dialogue does come through clear, you can be guaranteed it is one of two things; complaining about humanity or crass sexual dialogue—lines such as “I’ll make you feel like a real woman” are used unironically. Even a sunny day out in the park finds casual conversation gravitating towards the futility and cruelty of mankind. If it was not for the odd charm in the poor construction bringing a degree of levity to everything, Wicked World would present itself as one of the most depressing reflections of humanity committed to celluloid. Depending on personal tastes this will either charm or repulse.
The cinematography is difficult to quantify and is best left to experience. It defies definition through an overabundance of awkward choices; framing, blocking, cuts, and wipes. Adding these elements to the overbearing sound design, and at no point do any of the aspects of the production work in unison—the film is always at odds with itself. That said, there are wondrous spurts of both extreme and absurd violence that compliment the shoe-string griminess of the production. Certainly, hardened cinephiles will find nuggets throughout that illicit the ‘cool’ that Gillis was trying to capture—this applies to visuals and to a lesser extent dialogue.
The only real way to give a rating of Wicked World is to lean into personal preference, as the film itself is a complete mess. However, if you are a fan of misguided cinema drowning in incompetence then Wicked World should be essential viewing. Better yet, watch it with a group of friends to really get the full experience–this is particularly helpful in melting away confusion into group laughter. At a recent movie night this kept the whole group going and deeply engaged the entire time, it was an absolute blast and a success (even while acknowledging how grating the sound and visuals were). So, embrace the way of the Toronto nihilist, life lacks any reason anyhow so you might as well fill it with endless, entertaining garbage!
Wicked World is Available Through 101 Films
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