Very little in the way of cinema renders me speechless. I can’t even remember a time, post-Martyrs, where a film has left me aghast in complete silence, teary-eyed with my hand over my mouth. Well, I now have a new point of reference…although I am not quite sure why. I found it in a 2012 horror film that is currently banned in a lengthy list of countries.
The Bunny Game is an experimental horror film written (and directed) by Adam Rehmeier and Rodleen Getsic. Getsic, a first-time actress, plays a cocaine-addicted prostitute who is introduced to the audience in the first scene in the film: a one-minute close-up of an unsimulated blowjob, complete with the john‘s “finish.” Filmed in black and white, the audience follows the (unnamed) prostitute through a series of scenes where she is brutally assaulted by a john, snorts coke, gives other blowjobs, snorts coke, and ultimately raped and robbed.
The cinematography in the film is absolutely stunning and was the first thing that I noticed. It is obvious that Rehmeier has an incredible eye for photography and this film is a wonderful showcase for it, and the awards this film has won are an absolute testament to it.
After Getsic’s character realizes that she has been robbed, she needs to make money in order to maintain both her habit and motel room. We watch her as she walks around the city, stopping only to urinate in front of an iron gate in another masterful display of photographic framing and the use of black and white.
At this point in the film, the restrictive budget ($13,000) became a little clear. The acting was not bad per se, but we can only watch a prostitute walk along the street with no interaction for so long. Some scenes could have been edited down by a few seconds, and I detected a tiny bit of narcissism behind the camera due to shots being held a bit too long.
The film quickly kicks into gear when a trucker stops his rig and Getsic gets in. Dread immediately set in, as Jeff F. Renfo, or “Hog” as his character is known, is one of the creepiest and most villainous men to have ever graced a screen. He asks Getsic for a fix so they snort coke before he comments on her “long fingers,” licks them and then declines her offer for a $30 blowjob. When he pulls out the chloroform-soaked rag, we know what territory this film will be traveling to.
The Bunny Game is banned in a long list of countries. “Why?“ you may ask. Well, that’s simple. The first scene with the real blowjob was a cue: everything that happens in this movie is real. Her torture, the beatings, and yes….her eventual branding by a hot iron, but we shall get into that momentarily.
The rest of the film is precisely as you would expect. “Hog” drives the truck out into the desert (with the back of it facing a nearby highway) and then chains Getsic to the inside wall. For almost 20 minutes, while Gestic’s character is unconscious, he roughly pulls at her nipples, manually stimulates her, beats her in the face and engages in knife play. Knowing that this was real really did not change my experience. In my mind, it was another female-torture film trying to push the envelope so I did not give it much thought. The meat of the film is her sexual and physical torture over a metal soundtrack with choppy editing almost reminiscent of a strobe light. The only way that I can describe it is that it was a complete assault on the senses. Full disclosure: I have previously watched bits and pieces of this film, but the experiences were such negative ones that I could never finish, not because of the acts being performed, but because of the overall assault on my senses via editing and sound. This is the first viewing that I have had from start-to-finish.
Then comes the branding. Getsic is branded twice with the symbol of the caduceus via a large, hot iron. It is real. It really happened and was done in one take. You can see the grey smoke sizzle from her skin as Hog presses it into her flesh.
The “bunny game” mentioned in the title comes after Hog shaves Getsic’s head and then forces her to wear a white leather bunny head mask. He puts on a black hog mask and then leads her (via leash and collar) into the desert where he parades her around and makes her run. For me, the visual portrayal of “filth” vs. “innocence” by their characters against the black and white was quite stunning.
The game comes to an end when Hog tells her that they are going to pull straws, and if she pulls the long one, she wins. If he does, he wins the game. Watching Getsic’s character crying, laughing and preparing herself to choose her straw caused my eyes to fill with tears. It was so real, and it is so obvious that Getsic, as an actress, was completely giving each and every ounce of herself to that very moment. She wins, and we watch her as she tries, completely naked, to run away. Move over, Jessica Lange. Getsic is Oscar-worthy as she runs through the desert to escape, only to be captured and placed onto a wooden crucifix. She and Hog sit in the sun while she cries and laughs some more. In the next scene, along the side of a different highway, Hog hands her seemingly lifeless body over to a man in a white van, and then the credits roll.
At this point, I was incredibly irritated by the music and editing that I had just endured for 74 minutes. If someone had asked me to rate the film immediately upon my viewing, I would have given it a 4/10, with those 4 points going to the cinematography and the few moments of extraordinary acting by Getsic. Then, I did some research, which I will put in bulleted points.
- The film is based on Getsic’s real-life abduction and events that really happened to her during captivity.
- She co-wrote this film with Adam Rehmeier, and by co-wrote I mean put bulleted points on a page. There was no screenplay or dialogue written. It was completely improvised.
- Getsic used this as a catharsis for her experience, and prepared by fasting for 40 days and constantly meditating on negative energy to put herself back in that space.
- Getsic wanted all of the acts (sans drugs) to be real, including all of the sex acts. She allowed herself to be branded on camera to mark the experience, and gave oral sex to several of her male friends.
- In between breaks in the daily shoot (which lasted 6-10 hours), Getsic requested that she not be removed from the painful chains. She wanted to experience it fully.
- Everything was shot in one take. Not a single scene was repeated.
After reading these facts and immediately watching a few Q&A’s, I was completely blown away. My voice was cracking while I tried to discuss the film, as I began to realize the level of vulnerability that Getsic allowed herself to reach. It was a literal punch to the gut.
But I have a question.
Without the backstory and explanation, this film has very little in the way of a plot, and I can absolutely understand why many abhor it. With the backstory, it is cinematic genius, and one of the most intensely brave films that I have ever witnessed. How, as someone who reviews and discusses films, do I reconcile this disconnect?
Can a film be considered “good” if it needs an explanation in the opening credits?
Can it be considered “good” if it appears to be little more than pure filth without knowing the original events from which it was founded on?
I have never been so baffled by a film and unable to articulate a precise opinion.
I will not forget The Bunny Game for a very, very long time. Nor will I forget Getsic’s bravery, vulnerability and literal transcendence that she allowed all of us to witness.
For that, and to her, I must say “Thank you.”