The Misandrists *
Starring: Susanne Sachße, Viva Ruiz, Kembra Pfahler, Caprice Crawford, Greta Gehrke, Kita Updike, Til Schindler
Director: Bruce LaBruce
Iconic queercore director Bruce LaBruce has long been known for trying to shock his audience. Often blurring the line between cinema and pornography, his work pushes the limits of what even the most liberal of cinemagoers can stomach on-screen. With his new film The Misandrists, LaBruce has stepped up to this gauntlet once again.
Somewhere in Ger(wo)many – you can see where this is going already, can’t you? – a secluded girls’ school has become the home of a radical feminist group who are plotting to overthrow the patriarchal government. The nuns are its leaders, while the girls its soldiers. Men are completely forbidden from the premises, but when Isolde (Updike) finds a wounded man in the woods (Schindler) who is fleeing the police for his radical revolutionary activities, she hides him in the attic and begins nursing him back to health. But when the other girls discover her secret, all their hatred toward men is channelled toward him instead.
This is radical feminism at its most extreme. The group’s leaders believe that anyone with a penis is dangerous, disgusting and has to be destroyed. The girls are somewhat less extreme in their beliefs, but are slowly being brainwashed by the radical ideology they are immersed in every day. Within this radical feminism, there is also a clear depiction of individualism, which later comes at odds with the common cause they are all fighting for. Each character is distinctively different, both in their behaviour and the way they look, which is unusual for an ensemble film like this …And that’s pretty much the only positive point of this entire movie.
The Misandrists is a difficult film to watch on many different levels. The acting is shockingly flat, with actresses playing roles that are a good decade younger than themselves. The poor quality film-stock is amateurish and garish, while the dialogue is hammy and nonsensical. Like his previous work, LaBruce is attempting to blur the lines with the tropes of porn films, but due to the high-spec concept of the film, a joke that everybody seems to be in on apart from the viewer, this doesn’t really pay off. It feels less like a porno and more like a bad Mad Max sequel starring Pussy Riot. It becomes increasingly unclear whether the film is ridiculing radical feminists or wholeheartedly supporting them. It almost feels like LaBruce respects them on an artistic level, even if that does mean his eventual castration and destruction.
Speaking of castration and destruction, there is a sequence in this film that will turn the stomachs of even the most resilient horror fans. The placement of a man in the midst of this sadistic group allows LaBruce to open the floodgates with the gore, using actual footage of a penis being surgically removed. This is an image that is going to be seared on my brain forever: thanks Bruce. But the time spent establishing the man as just as revolutionary as the women is wasted. The narrative could easily have provided some commentary exploring how radical feminism is at war with everyone for the sake of man-hatred rather than recognising their common goals, but instead the director steam-rolls this character for the sake of an audience gasp, rendering the man’s political function pretty much pointless.
There’s no doubt that The Misandrists is a shocking film, but there is nothing clever about the way it plays for our derision or revulsion. It sets out a radical political agenda but does nothing to try and win us over toward liking either the characters or what they stand for. Its quasi-porno style is distracting, glorifying the inherent shit-ness of pornography but without development, satire or pastiche. Where previous works like The Raspberry Reich or Otto exaggerated or satirised this style, The Misandrists is doing and saying nothing except showing its hand for what it is: cheap provocation. Gerontophilia saw a departure in style for LaBruce as he began his foray into more accessible cinema – to great effect, no less – but this sees him return to his oeuvre once again, like an ex-fat kid at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet who vowed he would have yogurt but is instead six plates into the waffle-pile.