“In a large isolated cellar, a mysterious aristocratic woman begins torturing a man while videotaping it. The torture escalates as we find out the secrets the man holds inside of him. Pleasure and pain are all on the menu as we find out the full meaning of The Trilogy of Death.” (Official)
An exercise in extreme indulgence of cruelty, Domiziano Cristopharo’s Xpiation is an unnerving and uncomfortable watch from the get-go. There is a particular emphasis on torture here as everyday household items, such as scouring pad to an iron, are utilized into hardcore torture devices. As such, the film is going to instantly isolate itself to those valuing extreme cinema, an obvious fact already evident from the good people at Unearthed Films and cult director Domiziano Cristopharo. Yet, let this be a vital warning for the poor soul who comes across this thinking it may be the ideal movie to pop on for a family movie (though it could be an eye-opening experience).
Disclaimer out of the way, what makes the work of Cristopharo notable in the realm of Italian cinema is the director’s diverse approach to film. While you can always assume some amount of sleaze, Cristopharo ranges from extreme or gothic-esque romance throughout his filmography. This has given his extreme productions a lovely visual and audio flair as even within the single set ‘torture’ room, the film has aesthetics in abundance. This is particularly true of the score and sound design as when the sound of music emits through one headphone while screams in the other, it places the audience in a horrible position.
Furthermore, Cristopharo’s love of stylish Italian cinema of the past ensures that even in a violence-focused production, there are moments of flair and abstract visuals – all adding a deeper layer of intrigue beyond excess torture. Overall, the visual presentation, whether that’s the crisp cinematography to the lush colors adopted, perfectly heightens the simple premise of the production.
Getting down to the gory goodness, the effects are top-notch and the sense of accumulative damage to the captive feels painstakingly crafted. Turning into a complete mess of a man, the final moments before the inevitable get downright dirty as the focus becomes… carnal. Despite it seeming inevitable, it is not any easier to stomach the extreme lengths of bodily harm depicted near the conclusion of the production.
Where Xpiation begins to falter is in the story and performances. As a narrative, the explanation to the film is not really realized until the closing moments and the reveal is nothing exemplary or profound, despite the attempt to portray it as such. The production gives the impression of building mystery, yet the work may have been better suited by showing its hand first and building on that instead of waiting for a final reveal that lands short.
Conversely, the performances are over-the-top to the point of parody – notably the ‘gimp-like’ persona of Simone Tula as the drug-addicted torturer being the most absurd. Climbing the walls looking for drugs in the cracks, tripping out, indulging in torture and giving horrible monologues “ze face is ze most important part of the body” is too cheesy to take seriously. It does provide some elements of humor, but it seems somewhat unintentional given the extremely graphic nature and messaging of Xpiation.
Admittedly, I do prefer the more stylized horrors of Cristopharo with The Transparent Woman being my favorite work of his to date — so I knew this one would fall slightly flat for myself. Yet, Cristapharo proves to be a notable talent in both horror and exploitation, those that lean towards extreme cinema would be well served to check out Xpiation for themselves.
Xpiation is Available through Unearthed Films
- Photo Gallery
- Genre: Horror
- Run Time: 73 mins
- Audio: STEREO
- Year of Production: 2017
- Region Code: 0
- Language: English
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