NB: mildly spoilery, but tactful.
Writer-director Sam Ashurst seems to specialise in films in which only one voice is heard. In Frankenstein’s Creature, James Swanton monologued as the narrator; here, Swanton plays (eventually) 1970s filmmaker Stanley Durall, though the voice-over of Stanley’s director’s commentary on his pretentious and contentious erotic-horror opus God’s Lonely Woman comes from Ashurst himself.
The meta-approach of incorporating a DVD/BluRay extra feature into the narrative has been tried before – in an Inside No. 9 episode and Adam Rifkin’s Director’s Cut – but gets its most sustained workout here as Durall witters on while locked in a small studio, revisiting a troubled production even as its female leads seem to be reaching out from beyond the grave to get their own back. Ashurst lets the clues come thick and fast, with glimpses of Ring-style spectres in the footage that Durall seems not to notice, and veiled, self-justifying references to the poor treatment of star Isabella Dotterson (Elf Lyons) and supporting actress Candice Embers (Hazel Townsend), both of whom aren’t alive any more.
The pastiche of a film that’s supposed to be a tough watch for thematic reasons but also because the auteur is plainly an arsehole is a risky business. Even the voice-over and the trim running time don’t entirely eliminate the longeurs that come from things like a long take of Isabella roofied on LSD dancing for the camera (Durall claims Gaspar Noe ripped him off then wouldn’t talk to him at a film festival) or many arguments where we can’t here what the participants are saying. That said, it has the proper 1970s sunlit, psychedelic look – the time-lapse credits for God’s Lonely Woman (by Olly Gibbs) are exactly in period, and limiting the locations to the environs of one handy farm makes perfect sense.
Obviously, the film evokes such once-upon-a-time sensations as Snuff, The Driller Killer and I Spit On Your Grave, also referencing the soft-focus smug smut of the David Hamilton school of pseudo-arty pseudo-porn merchant. Durall keeps carping about Isabella’s flat feet, supposed frigidity, refusal to do nudity (‘a waste of tits’) and unwillingness to put out in any number of ways, which eventually leads to a very bad scene the film teases us with before taking an unexpected direction.
There are more than enough real-life examples of the sort of attitude Durall displays to his female cast to cast a pall over many a highly-regarded cult item (eg: in the script book of El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky claims he really raped an actress ‘for the good of the film’) and there are obvious inferences to be made in the #metoo era. At heart, this is a conte cruel revenge story with a ghostly twist – you might see where it’s going quite early, but the annoying Stanley doesn’t, which gives the finale a deliriously gleeful edge. Make-up effects man Dan Martin contributes one of his signature atrocities near the end – just as Isabella finally gets to answer back.