Review: The Special (2020)
The Special is a tale of addiction. Sexual addiction to be more specific. But this isn’t another bit of basic cable soap opera. Director B. Harrison Smith (Death House, Where the Scary Things Are) along with writers James Newman (Still Waters) and Mark Steensland has taken things to a whole different level.
Jerry (Davy Raphaely, ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard) and Mike (Dave Sheridan, Camp Twilight, Scary Movie) are at the bar after work yet again. On top of all his usual issues, Jerry is convinced his wife Lisa (Sarah French, Hanukkah, Death Count) is cheating on him. To Mike this calls for revenge, so he takes his buddy to see Madame Zhora ( Susan Moses, Camp Dread, The Jersey Devil), to get him “The Special”.
Jerry finds himself in a room with a box that has “Stick It In Here” stencilled over a hole in one side. Convinced it’s a joke he does just that. And has a monstrous orgasm. Despite being warned once is enough, he has to have more. And he’ll kill for it if that’s what it takes.
I know that sounds like the synopsis for a comedy, but The Special is anything but funny. The filmmakers play it absolutely straight and the result is an incredibly uncomfortable and grotesque movie. One that was, at more than one point, a bit hard to watch.
On the surface, The Special still plays out like a typical addiction film. Jerry’s obsession causes his marriage and his life, in general, to fall apart. By the time he finds out Lisa wasn’t cheating he’s already hooked. By the time he finds out about her pregnancy, he doesn’t care. His health goes to hell and he looks as bad as he feels. But again, it doesn’t matter, he has to have more.
But two things set it apart. Obviously, the subject of his addiction. And the way it’s portrayed. When Jerry starts to show the effects he doesn’t just lose weight and have his teeth rot. He looks more like he’s going to transform into something physically as nasty as his personality has become. And if you think the rash your buddy got from sticking it in the wrong box was bad, wait till you see Jerry’s.
More horrifying than that perhaps is actually seeing Jerry putting the box to use. I used the word grotesque earlier and I used it for a reason. The acting in The Special may not be Oscar-worthy, but I have to give Raphaely credit. Not just for doing those scenes, but for doing them so convincingly. You have to have balls to give a performance like that.
The Special’s final act becomes one long gross-out as the box completely takes over and destroys Jerry’s life. That’s hardly a spoiler, the film makes it clear from the start that while the box gives happy endings, they’re not of the happily ever after kind.
The effects team included Marcus Koch (We Are Still Here, Mohawk) and Cat Bernier (Purgatory Road, Alien Warfare) and they’ve created some impressively slimy and icky things. It’s a look that’s somewhere between Cronenberg’s The Fly and Street Trash.
The Special may never really be scary, but it is disturbing and unsettling. I felt almost wrong for having watched it like I’d just watched some particularly bizarre fetish film. It’s one that sticks with you after it’s over.
The Special is available on digital from Red Hound Films. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details. And, if you can’t get enough of The Special, the writers have adapted the screenplay into a novella that you can get on Amazon.