By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The independently produced Canadian film Stress Position spent most of last year touring the film festivals gaining accolades and it’s now available for a wider audience to examine as a video release. In North America, it can be either purchased as a DVD (complete with deleted scenes and commentaries) or streamed online through VOD.
This movie owes its debt to a strong group of collaborators to make it an art house success In special screenings across Canada, film-makers A.J. Bond and Amy Belling were on hand to answer questions and to connect with viewers in order to discuss the more intricate details afterwards.
“Very early on in the process of making this film, the plot veered into territory we did not expect. Although we kept a lot of the pivotal torture scenes the same, the overall kind of themes went in a much more personal meta direction,” reveals Bond.
When the movie is focussed on showing the behaviour that explodes between two close friends, namely that of Bond with actor, Dave Amito, over a bet on who can survive a week of torture ala what happened at the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay, the results viewers see twists the definition of what reality and relationships are truly about. These two moreorless play themselves in a loose script penned by Bond that’s captured by cinematographer Belling. The many reels of footage certainly made editing the film challenging to put together.
Amito, who did not want to view any early cuts, kept his distance in the months following principal photography. Part of their deal is to get as real as possible with this movie. Back when they first met at university, the two gents worked together in many short film projects. As time wore on, eventually, “A.J. got the idea to work on a crazy film experiment that was also rooted in our friendship but also in line with the things we were already working on …” recalls Amito, “Being in this film was kind of crazy experience since [who I had to play with] was my director who was also torturing me.”
Even Belling admits to stressful moments between herself with Bond during production. “Each time our working relationship is tested in a new way,” recalls this producer, “There were times when everyone on set was asking if pushing their friendship that far was worth making the movie, and this is exactly why the documentary-portion of Stress Position became part of the film itself.”
But the question of what kind of genre this movie belongs to is tough to define. Is it torture porn, psychological thriller or pure horror? When Bond is a fan of the many classics from the late 60’s to early 80’s — which includes the works of filmmakers like David Cronenburg — to make a scary tale is not his goal. Amito says that the ultra violence that you see in horror films is very different in what this movie has done and Bond believes viewers groomed by products like Saw may not necessarily connect with it. Some people may want to compare it to Cube and other films that are torturous when dealing with living in a small confined space. But for these filmmakers, what this product does is something completely different from these particular predecessors.
In what Production Designer Lauren Meyer and Art Director Matthew Long made from Bond’s notes was a white room nicknamed the boobox, which was where the torture happened.
“That’s a reference to Stephen Spielberg’s Hook,” says Bond. “Any pirate who challenged the captain would get thrown in this trunk (the boobox) and it’s insinuated that there are many insects in there. It was very important to me that this set would not seem like kind of your classic cliché dark gritty, grimy, torture dungeon but a bit more of a 60’s Futurism art installation piece,” says Bond.
There’s also a metallic sculpture where the victim ended up being strapped to. In the film, both Bond and Amito get tied to it; the cold metal was not very comfortable to rest against, as the two jokingly recall. To change the medium to anything else just did not work since it’s purpose is very pivotal to tear each other’s souls apart.
“In a way, the angular structure of the design worked in contrast to the symmetry of everything else in the torture chamber to seem even more threatening,” says Belling.
Although much of this film is designed to pay respect to how Stanley Kubrick approaches crafting his films and Michael Haneke in how he frames his subjects with the camera, there is still a personal goal that Bond wanted to reach. He wants to not only explore the dark side of humanity but also challenge viewers to think about the provocative themes that he likes to focus on in his films. When considering his previous work in shorts like the dream-like fantasy Madame Perrault’s Bluebeard or futuristic Hirsute, many cinephiles will wonder what’s going on in this auteur’s mind.
“Ultimately I want to make films in a way that’s still engaging without pandering,” says Bond.