Amateur Porn Star Killer (2007)

Rating:

USA. 2007.

Crew

Director – Shane Ryan, Screenplay – Michiko Jimenez & Shane Ryan, Photography (colour + b&w) – Michiko Jimenez & Shane Ryan, Music – Daniel A. Scott, Additional Music – Boneshin. Production Company – Alter Ego Cinema

Cast

Michiko Jimenez (Stacy), Shane Ryan (Brandon), Jan Gould (Loren)


Plot

Brandon picks up Stacy, who claims to be eighteen, standing on the street and takes her back to his motel room. He films everything he is doing and asks her to be in the movie he is making. Gradually, Brandon persuades Stacy (who appears to be sixteen and may be as young as thirteen) to take off her clothes and have sex with him. What she is not aware is that Brandon is making a snuff movie.


I must admit to sitting down to watch Amateur Porn Star Killer with a certain degree of dubiousness. The title seems contrived with an attention-grabbing sensationalism. (Not to mention a grammatical ambiguity – does it refer to a killer of amateur porn stars or else a killer who is an amateur porn star)? The question at the forefront of my mind was just how good could a film that boasts that it was made on a budget of only $45 be. All I can say from the results was that I was pleasantly surprised from any expectation I had had.

Amateur Porn Star Killer is an attempt to make a Found Footage snuff movie. The idea of the snuff movie, which the opening title cards here readily acknowledge is a myth with no proven examples known to exist, has gained some popularity on film – see the likes of The Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Hardcore (1979) whose director Paul Schrader is quoted over the credits, Effects (1980), The Art of Dying (1991), Mute Witness (1995), Tesis (1996), The Brave (1997), 8MM (1999), Rachel’s Attic (2002), Snuff Movie (2005), Vacancy (2007), Slaughtered (2008) and A Serbian Film (2010). The Found Footage approach seems almost readymade for fictional attempts to depict the snuff movie – and indeed has been conducted by other films such as the crappy Snuff (1976), August Underground (2001) and the excellent The Great American Snuff Film (2003).

The premise of Amateur Porn Star Killer is that it is supposedly a film being shot by Brandon (director Shane Ryan) as he brings a teenage girl to his motel room, persuades her to undress and have sex with him before he kills her. The entire film consists of this single scene played out in front of the camera (apart from some brief street scenes at the start where Shane Ryan picks Michiko Jimenez up, as well as some interspersed scenes that are shot to look as though they are from a mainstream porn film, which appear in a tiny corner of the screen or occasionally superimposed to show Ryan’s thoughts). The film is shot in several single unbroken shots. In editing, Shane Ryan has made every attempt to make the film look raggedly authentic – leaving all the camera placements and wobbly shots in, as well as printing the film on grainy stock and full of broken and fractured frames. There is the sense that we are deep into raw, uncharted territory and about as far from the Hollywood mainstream as it is possible to get.

Amateur Porn Star Killer essentially consists of one 71-minute long seduction. This proves far more captivating than one would think possible. Particularly good is Michiko Jimenez who plays with just the right degree of quiet shyness. (About the one major credibility hole the film has is that when Jimenez undresses she is clearly not the thirteen-year-old she claims to be at one point). We see very little of Shane Ryan who is operating the camera for most of the running time but what does come through is his comforting and reassuring presence from off-screen. The relationship between the two seems naturalistic and convincing. In any real world setting, you keep wondering what a teenage girl is doing out on the streets at night (unless she is on the game, which the film gives no indication she is), why she so trustingly gets into the car with a total stranger and why she never freaks out and runs when he starts repeatedly intimating what kind of movie he wants to make and then starts persuading her to undress. However, the performances of the two make these scenes extremely convincing.

The raw realism of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing. The caption on the dvd cover spells out the film’s intent with a crystalline clarity: “This young girl will be … humiliated, raped, murdered. And you will watch.” The fact that for the majority of the running time the camera is held by the male has the effect of literally making the viewer a co-participant. It is like sitting in someone else’s shoes throughout the process of an incredibly intimate seduction. The initial nervousness and tentative edging around the issue without clearly stating things comes with an authentic realism. Of course, when it comes to the what are clearly unsimulated sex scenes, the effect is the same as if we are watching a pornographic film – but one where the camera has placed us in the eye of the male participant. Moreover, at the same time as we are watching and responding to this as one would a porn film, you are aware that the girl is supposed to be an underage girl, which immediately makes one’s involvement in watching into something taboo. Not to mention that the dvd cover and opening comments about the making of snuff movies has clued us into what her eventual fate will be. The upshot of this is to make us a guilty participant in what is happening by the very act of watching.

The interviews that accompany the dvd offer scanty information as to how the film was made. Interviewing each other, Shane Ryan and Michiko Jimenez tell how the whole film was shot in essentially one night. (One presumes the $45 budget was the cost of renting the motel room). The one thing that is not mentioned is how much of this had been scripted/rehearsed and how much was improvised in camera, or for that matter how many takes it took. Certainly, if the two were essentially making it up as they went along and doing it all in one take, it shows some phenomenal acting on their respective parts.

It is hard not to draw some similarity between Shane Ryan and Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho (1960). Both are making films about highly eroticised murders taking place in motel rooms where the viewer is made into a voyeur. You cannot compare the two in terms of style, as both are almost at opposite ends of the spectrum – Hitchcock was an exacting control freak in the way he staged shots, Shane Ryan shoots raw and on the fly. Hitchcock biographers have accused him of enacting a misogyny towards his leading ladies and that his films often acts as their symbolic rape and degradation. This is not an argument I necessarily agree with. Here though, Shane Ryan seems to go well beyond what Hitchcock ever (supposedly) did in terms of enacting an assault on his lead actress – he places himself into the frame as actor, where he is literally playing both the cameraman and the killer. Imagine the equivalent where Hitchcock not only plays Norman Bates himself but also has sex with Janet Leigh and then picks up the camera and knife to film himself stabbing her in the shower.

Is Amateur Porn Killer a disturbed film that asks us to identify with the killer? I don’t think so. While it is disturbing, it is also a film that forces us to confront our passive identification with both pornography and horror. It is a film that asks us what we are doing deep down on a voyeuristic level every time in a slasher film when there is a point-of-view camera shot peeping through the trees watching a couple making out in the woods or someone showering before we see them killed. This is a film that takes us a step beyond the voyeuristic sadism that can pass off as entertainment in a slasher movie and makes us guilty participants. And for that, I find Amateur Porn Star Killer a decidedly brilliant film.

Shane Ryan has made two sequels:- Amateur Porn Star Killer 2 (2008) and Amateur Porn Star Killer 3: The Final Chapter (2009). In a similar vein, Ryan has also made Sex Kids Party (2009), Warning!!! Pedophile Released (2009) and My Name is A By Anonymous (2011).



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