Happy Slapping, which premiered last week at Montreal’s World Film Festival, is a nauseating film. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but as I walked out of the theatre after seeing it, I felt green, like I had just been on a turbulent boat ride.
Let me explain. Happy Slapping, directed by Montrealer Christos Sourligas, was filmed entirely on iPhones and is the first feature film of its kind. It’s not the content that’s nauseating—though that’s debatable. There’s never a steady shot. You keep hoping, adjusting your eyes for some stillness, but the stillness never comes.
It’s not unintentional, all the wobbliness. In this movie, the main actors—five hormonal teenagers; two girls, three guys—are the cameramen. They drive into Montreal from the suburbs looking to film themselves, on their iPhones, doing five stupid things. What they film is basically the movie.
They’re motivated by a popular video website called rampnites.com, whose solipsistic emcee, Kendo (Tristan D. Lalla), has announced that he is looking for five shocking and provocative videos to post online. Boomer (Jesse Camacho), a chubby Internet addict with his own site, Boomer’s Boomerang, is perhaps most motivated by the call. He wants hits.
Wiggy (Alex Harrouch)—a goateed, pubescent hothead—is already on the site. His brother beat him up, filmed it, and sent in the video. When the five arrive in the city, they run into Wiggy’s brother, who tells them, intimidatingly, that they’ll have to start happy slapping if they want to get on rampnites.com
Happy slapping is real, though it’s not so common anymore. The practice started in South London around late 2004. Basically, what you do is go up to someone, an unsuspecting stranger, slap him or her while filming it all on your camera phone, and run away before you’re caught. Then, of course, you post it online.
Happy slapping might be funny if it weren’t so humiliating, and if it didn’t evolve in real life to include acts of rape and immolation. The movie Happy Slapping might be funny if you could tell it was meant to be.
The scene where the cute, blonde, and insecure Belle (Erica Deutschman) films herself after she’s taken her parents’ prescription pills was too reminiscent of the seriously unfunny movie Thirteen. Another scene has Wiggy having sex with his girlfriend Tiki (Laurin Elizabeth Padolina) against a pool table in a vacant bar. Princeton (Jaa Smith-Johnson), Wiggy’s friend, tries to get in on the action, to no avail. Wiggy will have nothing of it.
In the end, the group gets five videos—including some amateur porn, a dangerous road crossing and a couple of happy slaps. But the five of them end up disgracing themselves in the process, and their paltry ambitions lead them well beyond the bounds of human decency. (I guess it wasn’t just the wobbliness that made me sick.)
While watching this film—when I wasn’t reeling from the nausea—I was confronted with a confusing question, for the context: Should I laugh? I wasn’t so sure, and in that way the film did its job in unmasking the ambiguity of a seemingly innocuous—yet ultimately, humiliating—pursuit.
Matthew Kassel writes about many things. At the moment, he mainly writes about jazz. Find his jazz blog at http://coldjazz.blogspot.com/.