Directors: Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel
In my last entry, I guessed that the Belarusian historical epic Fortress of War had the highest budget of any film featured on this blog so far. In keeping with my love of contrasts, today’s entry has what is almost certainly the lowest. Man Bites Dog was made by three Belgian men with a shoestring budget and very dark imaginations, and has gathered a significant international cult following since its release.
Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary in the style of This Is Spinal Tap, but considerably more morbid and violent. A better comparison might be the recent New Zealand hit What We Do in the Shadows, another documentary-style dark comedy. In it, an amateur film crew follows and records the daily life of Ben, a serial killer who preys on strangers and dumps their bodies in canals and quarries.
The film spends its first half as a very, very dark comedy. Benign scenes like Ben introducing the filmmakers to his kindly parents are juxtaposed with Ben discussing, in perfect deadpan, the proper ballast-ratio for sinking a dead body in a river. Apparently this varies depending on whether the victim is a child, adult, elderly person, or midget. Outwardly, Ben seems witty, cultured, and charismatic. Apart from murder, his hobbies include writing poetry, and playing classical music with his girlfriend.
However, as the story progresses, Ben’s crimes become much more senseless and disturbing. The members of the film crew become more involved in the violence themselves, first by helping Ben dispose of corpses, and eventually even taking part in the bloodshed directly. At the same time, it becomes clear that an unknown third party with an equal love of murder is following Ben and the filmmakers.
The faux-documentary format makes this a clear forerunner of the found-footage horror film. And like the last horror film I entered on this blog, Austria’s Goodnight Mommy, the horror in Man Bites Dog is produced by making the audience themselves feel complicit in the cruelty and sadism that is being depicted onscreen. As spectators, we have to actively choose to watch a film like Man Bites Dog, and the film is determined to make us feel guilty for doing so. “If you’re enjoying this”, it seems to ask, “aren’t you as bad as they are?”. Man Bites Dog intends to make the viewer squirm in their seat, and it’s highly successful. “Why are you still watching this?”, it asks. Luckily for my conscience and my soul, I have an answer: “It’s for the blog!”.