A seasoned filmgoer would be hard pressed to find many taboos left to uncover in cinematic horror; nearly every gag-inducing scenario has been exploited to dilution. There is much to mine, however, in the exploration of uncomfortable sexual material when it comes to the genre. Although necrophilia has been tackled in notorious touchstone films like Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik (1988) and its 1991 sequel, as well as Nacho Cerdà’s Aftermath (1994), it’s the one verboten act that can still induce crawling skin.
Horror provocateurs Lori Bowen (Director of the short films Stella Buio and JustUs) and Shannon Lark (Ludlow, Lip Stick) have teamed up to tackle the unsavory subject of corpse fetishism in their collaborative film I Am Monster. The short is a juggernaut of uncomfortable sexual imagery, and, considering its brief run time, packs a wallop of challenging scenes. The duo rebuffs any viewers’ squeamishness at being up close and personal with dead bodies, and every ounce of gruesomeness is extracted. Their teamwork, a marriage of provocative storytelling and technique, is an electrifying subversion of existentialist drama with a dash of sneering humor.
Vivienne (Lark) struts into a morgue in red high heels and latex dress as if ready for after hours dancing at an edgy club. Her life is an accumulation of fetishes culminating in a new appetite – the forbidden pleasures of dead flesh. We find her examining “number 22”, the latest dead suitor in a series of one night stands down at the morgue where she’s given access by an acquaintance who works the night shift. This night offers something different — a chance for Vivienne to reflect on her existence with the help of an unexpected counselor of a very pallid color named Jason (Adam Cardon).
I Am Monster can be viewed as a companion piece to Lark’s 2010 short Lip Stick. In that film, Lark portrays a similarly alienated character who turns to aberrant sex to feel alive. Here, Vivienne, in her attempt to live and feel more fully, reduces herself to a shell as empty as the bodies laying on the slab. Her lifestyle, where warm human connection is absolutely impossible, revolves around carefully planned encounters in the dead of night. The duality (and irony) of her character as a self-proclaimed “exhibitionist” is that’s she’s banished herself to an act that no living voyeur can, or should, observe; the lonely, barren hallways of the morgue ring only with the sound of her rubbery dress and clicking heels.
Lark and Bowen are pushing boundaries for psychological and feminist horror, a foundation set in their previous cinematic efforts, as well as their prior positions as cornerstones of the now departed Viscera Film Organization. I Am Monster is less about corpse-fucking, and more about moving forward toward big life changes, something I gather, is autobiographical for the two authors of the story. Although the film is disturbing, it succeeds in being a statement of encouragement in this regard. Most of us harbor obsessions — though certainly less severe than necrophilia — that place us out of touch with humanity; it‘s how we adapt and recover from disappointment, heartbreak, and pain that allows us the courage to reconnect with living, breathing souls. Vivienne’s journey begins with making an initial reconnection to her self; if she remains resilient after having sex with twenty-two corpses, the rest of us will probably be ok, too.