Halloween Countdown, Day 5: Man Bites Dog

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Oh, Belgium. How we do love your horror output.

In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the fictional documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes. They’re just documenting, just telling the truth. No doubt this is a morally questionable practice to begin with. But they are not villains – they are serving their higher purpose: film.

Eventually the filmmakers’ commitment to the project, fear of retaliation, bloodlust, or sense of camaraderie pushes them toward aiding Ben, and then finally, to committing heinous crimes themselves.

Benoit Poelvoorde’s (who also co-directs) performance as Ben is just as quirky, ridiculous and self-centered as it can be. He’s perfect. His character needs to move the group toward fear, camaraderie, and sometimes even pity – but slyly, he also moves the audience.

The film examines social responsibility as much as it does journalistic objectivity, and what Man Bites Dog has to say about both is biting. It’s never preachy, though.

Theirs is a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.

There are cynical chuckles to be has as members of the crew die off, one by one, and the remaining crew come up with teary excuses to soldier on with the film. But filmmaker and views alike have been made unclean by what we’ve chosen to participate in.

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