Justine (2022) Review
Written in 1791 Justine or The Misfortunes of Virtue by Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade, is one of the more infamous novels in the history of literature. But what else would you expect from the man whose name inspired the words sadism and sadistic?
Rather than filming it as a period piece director Alex Hernández (XXX Dark Web, Blood for Flesh) and co-writer Juan Manuel Martinez have taken the same approach to Justine that Pasolini took when adapted De Sade’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. They’ve updated it and used it to look at more contemporary society. In doing so they’ve deviated from the source material much further than Pasolini did. They’ve basically taken one segment of the book and expanded it out to feature length, resulting in something that aspires to be true to the spirit rather than the word of the novel.
The film opens with a badly beaten Justine (Dan Zapata, La Muerte de un Fotógrafo de Modas, Deathcember) laying in a bed recounting how she came to be there, “the most striking example of innocence oppressed.” her story opens with the young woman being forced to undress and then having a gloved hand stuck into her mouth until she vomits. It only gets worse from here as Dr. Rodin (Enrique Diaz Duran, Blood for Flesh, XXX Dark Web) inflicts an ever-worsening assortment of humiliation and torture on her and his own mother.
“The context of Sade’s works can be adapted to any time. I like De Sade’s philosophy, and my version of Justine has something of that. But it also has all the eroticism and cruelty of the novel. It might disappoint people who expect a faithful adaptation of the novel. It’s really just based on an episode where Justine meets Dr. Rodin.”Alex Hernández interviewed by PopHorror
In case it isn’t clear by this point, despite the reference to “eroticism and cruelty” this isn’t 50 Shades of Grey or even The Story of O. Like a grimmer version of Mai-Chan’s Daily Life, Justine is a full-on piece of extreme cinema whose plot entails everything from our heroine being whipped until she bleeds, the blood falling on Rodin’s face and into his mouth to his later having sex with his mother’s mutilated corpse.
I’m not sure just how much eroticism is to be found in Justine, actually. Obviously, the whipping scene will press more than a few people’s buttons, and Lucifer Valentine fans may find the puking a turn on. I’m not sure however just how big the incestuous necrophilia fetish crowd is. The real audience for this will be the gorehounds who will enjoy the killings, surgery footage, genital mutilation, cannibalism, etc. And ignore the credits that run at the fifty-five-minute mark, the film goes on for nearly twenty more minutes with what may be the longest post credits sequence on record.
The film’s effects are practical and exceptionally effective which, along with the film’s unrelentingly grim tone, will make it hard to watch for a lot of viewers. Even the occasional burst of Ken Russel styled hallucinogenic sequences or animation fails to lighten the proceedings.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? De Sade wanted to shock his readers and rub their faces in what he saw as the hypocrisy of society and its obsession with virtue which didn’t match the acts of so many of the people it held up as examples. He felt we should just give in to what he saw as our natural tendencies to vice and cruelty. Hernández does much the same with Justine, only using the full power of a visual medium to shock and disgust.
I found Justine to be a harsh film and at times hard to sit through, so I guess the filmmakers succeeded in doing what they intended. Those who happen to fully subscribe to De Sade’s philosophies will probably have an easier time with it, and might even find it erotic.