Flowers (2015) by Michael Schutz

Please do not confuse this Phil Stevens-directed horror film with Flowers (Loreak), the award-winning Spanish film. Terrible consequences would follow—though I imagine those intending to see Loreak would fare much worse for the mistake. This Flowers is a new entry into the canon of extreme horror films, mentioned in the same breath as the new American Guinea Pig series and other ghastly treasures found at Unearthed Films.

The synopsis that you’re likely to find simply states that Flowers is the story of six women who wake up in the crawlspace underneath their killer’s house. That’s a pretty disinterested summary of a fascinating film. Unlike so many of its fellow extreme movies, Flowers presents an engrossing balance of delicate story with its vile images. Stevens find the poignancy in the narrative while never shying away from gruesome visuals. The result is an artistic, compelling, gore-filled film.

We begin with a birth, of sorts, our first victim tearing herself free of the bag in which she was dumped like so much garbage. Our next fractured heroine crawls her way through a birth canal of sewage and viscera. And we really start to get the vibe of the film. These women are no longer victims but rather witnesses. The atrocities are filtered through their eyes, their experience, proving that a point-of-view movie can be made beyond the tired tropes of found footage cinema.

The carnage through which our witnesses slog is enriched by flashbacks of their deaths. Ah, yes, they are already dead and have woken to a purgatory of despair and enduring torture. When we meet the killer, we see that he is also a victim—of his insanity and depraved urges. He is just a man: bespectacled, fat, and under-endowed. Because real villains don’t wear masks and caper madly about. We are not privy to the voices in his head. Instead, Stevens employs a clever device by showing us the killer’s lunacy in the form of video screens through which somber, suited men watch impassively.

And no one speaks in this film. Instead, a dread-inducing score plays throughout, changing in tone from foreboding to romantic to despairing, to fit each witness’s epiphany. The sound, in general, is exceptionally thought-out and executed. All the action sounds hollow and subaqueous. This all matches the surreal nightmare images that assault our witnesses and through them, us.

There is a theme of voyeurism here. As our witnesses peek through chinks in the walls, gaze in mirrors, or flashback to their tortures, they are removed from the horror even as they can find no escape. We share the experiences with them, disgusted at what we see but unwilling to look away. And that’s what horror films are all about. Voyeurism. Watching our deepest fears—or darkest desires—played out with the comfortable filter of the screen.

Nods toward the deadly sins abound as well: Gluttony at the dinner table, Greed represented by the blood-spattered bills lying on the ground, Pride as one of our witnesses watches herself in the mirror, Lust abounds in the necrophilia and depraved sex of the killer, who also is Wrath incarnate. Sloth perhaps hides behind the addictions and rampant drug use. I didn’t find Envy, but I’m sure it was there. So is this a morality play? A demented Canterbury Tales in which each woman both watches and tells her story? Perhaps. They are not all innocents, to be sure, but who among us is?

Our six witnesses are, of course, the eponymous flowers. Beautiful and full of life but plucked too soon. Arranged and displayed by this madman. People are obviously burdened with complexities unknown to insensate nature, but just like the concept of wabi-sabi, it is humankind’s frailties and fault lines that make us the miracle of life that we are.

Flowers is a brutal film, proudly displaying graphic images meant to disgust and disturb. But it is far more. Through truly artistic turns, we see the juxtaposition of life and death, beauty and horror. This film reminds us of what A.S. Byatt once said, that there is no such thing as a still life, because even at the very moment we capture a beautiful thing in paint, in film, by any medium, it is already decaying, headed toward its inevitable death.