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Review: Society (1989) ★★

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The “body horror genre” holds a strange place in the hearts of both Film theorists and genre fanatics. Painting with a broad brush, the genre usually consists of low-budget B-movies that use shocking transformations to create horror and, more often than not, comment on some negative aspect of our Society. This last feature might be something that viewers like to project onto the films and their creators, but that is definitely not the case in Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989).

In Society, a Beverly Hills teenager named Bill (Billy Warlock) doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of his family. Despite being one of his school’s star football players and a certified lady’s man, Bill can’t shake the feeling that there’s an ever-present distance between himself and many of those around him, including his sister, Jenny (Patrice Jennings), and their parents, Nan (Concetta D’Agnese) and Jim (Charles Lucia). Bill attends therapy to cope with his anxiety and the increasing number of bizarre hallucinations, but his therapist shows little concern for Bill’s predicament.

Bill’s anxiety is only heightened when Jenny’s ex-boyfriend reveals an audiotape in which Jenny, Nan, and Jim discuss having incestuous sexual encounters together. At first, Bill dismisses it, but the mounting evidence pushes him to investigate what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Bill’s parents try to teach him about the “importance of society” and fitting in with his peers. However, as Bill learns more about “high society” in Beverly Hills, he comes to realize that many of the people closest to him are not quite what they seem. In fact, they’re another species entirely.

If you know nothing about Society other than the summary above, you might actually enjoy the viewing experience. I will save you some time and state that it is not a good film. In fact, it’s a complete mess. However, the remainder of this review will contain a lot of spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

For those that do know a little something about Society, the final scenes are the “payoff” that you get for sitting through a dull, poorly-written drama. The concept of “society” is never fully realized in the film, even though it is supposed to be the focal point. We know that “society” is some kind of sex cult for the super-rich, who are not altogether human. Instead, they are anthropomorphic beings who physically attach themselves to “low status” humans to feed and entertain themselves (an act known in the film as “shunting”), creating a huge mass of flesh and debauchery. 

Society (1989)

The underlying premise is not subtle in the least, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be. They Live manages to critique the issue of wealth inequality and the “alien” nature of the elite class without devolving into a hodgepodge of narrative inconsistencies. Unfortunately, Brian Yuzna couldn’t figure out a way to make Society work. The payoff is simply not worth the price of admission.

So, where exactly did the filmmakers go wrong? It’s hard to choose just one mistake, but Brian Yuzna tries way too hard to push shocking content rather than build anxiety. Some of the characters and images are more shocking than others, but some of them were only shocking insofar as they just felt out of place.

For example, Bill starts a sexual affair with a girl at his school named Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez). He worries that Clarissa might be part of the elite group of sex cult weirdos (spoiler: he’s right), especially when he meets her mother: a woman who barely speaks, likes to eat hair, wears over-the-top makeup, and randomly assaults people. Her character is never explained, nor doe she fit in with the rest of her elite “species.” Yet, she ends up serving an important role in the final moments.

In the end, Society is a lackluster addition to the body horror genre. Sure, the final scenes are somewhat shocking and gruesome (in a good way), but they can’t compensate for the preceding hour and a half. Whether or not you find the ending worth the trouble will depend on your ability to put up with bad acting, poor writing, and just generally confusing artistic choices.

Rating: ★★ out of 5

If you’d like to watch Society (1989), it is currently available to stream on Shudder or Amazon Prime.

The post Review: Society (1989) ★★ appeared first on Philosophy in Film.

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Review: Society (1989) ★★


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