So, some may not consider Salò a horror film, which by today’s standards I can see, but I don’t really think it can be considered anything different. It may not feature masked killers, ghosts or traditional monsters, but the horror the film does contain far surpasses any of these genre tropes and I feel it’s a film that should be seen.
Based on the book Les 120 Journées de Sodome ou l’école du libertinage written in 1785 by Marquis de Sade, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film aims to make the viewer think and question rather than simply shocking and repulsing. The basic plot concerns a group of teenage girls and boys who have been taken from their families and submitted to 120 days of torture, humiliation and degradation at the hands of 4 Italian, fascist, libertines during World War 2.
Split into 4 acts, the film is a descent into evil and the vileness of what man is capable of. The first act works as a basic introduction into what’s going on, with a little about each libertine. The subsequent acts get more extreme and build to a finale that’s pretty hard to watch. The film never feels overlong even though there doesn’t necessarily seem to be much going on most of the time. Pasolini has a way of creating true unease and uncomfortableness by letting the camera linger on the torture. It makes you want to look away whilst not.
Much like Pasolini’s other films, it’s beautiful to look at (although subject matter wise isn’t) with some truly amazing production design and camerawork. Everything in the film that holds the children feels oppressive and evil, from their captors to the location. It’s a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. The violence when it happens is scarily realistic and hard to watch. The same goes for the mental torture and humiliation the teenagers go through for the sake of the enjoyment of the 4 fascists. It’s definitely a hard watch but it makes an impact. You definitely wouldn’t get a film like this released today.
Salò is a fascinating descent into madness, horror and depravity much unlike anything else around due to its careful handling of the subject. Even though the torture and violence are at the forefront of the plot and the film, in general, it doesn’t ever feel seedy or ‘for the sake of it’, rather it all feels necessary to the story and the build-up to the 120th day.
With all said and done after watching it again I still think the movie is a true masterpiece of filmmaking and one that focuses on horrors many would like to ignore. I feel it definitely won’t be for everyone, but for those who are interested, I’m sure you’ll get something out of it.
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