Not everyone thinks the holiday season is a happy time of year; it’s also a time for stress, with end-of-year deadlines, gift-shopping, and family get-togethers weighing on many people’s minds. The makers of the indie horror film Knifepoint apparently see Christmas as a rather lousy time of year, at least if the miserable movie is any indication; Knifepoint is a brutal, sexually depraved story about a Christmas Eve heist in an apartment complex where two sisters and their family are beaten, raped, and maimed - and those are the ones that make it out alive. In 2011, writer/director Jed Strahm wanted to push the boundaries of brutal home invasion during Christmastime, but ultimately Knifepoint ends up becoming a perplexing series of torture set pieces that often confuses violence with BDSM pleasure.
The film stars Katherine Randolph as Abbie and Krista Braun as her wheelchair-bound sister Michele, both of whom live in an apartment complex beachside. On Christmas Eve in question, the girls are getting to work on building gingerbread houses - apparently Abbie’s passion and profession, though from what Knifepoint shows us, she’s not very good at it - before hitting the bed early before Santa arrives. But what to our wondering eyes should appear? Not a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, but some evil miscreants up to no good, ransacking apartments and killing the occupants until they finally get to Abbie and Michele’s home. From there, Knifepoint goes full on torture porn mode with a gratuitous rape sequence, knife insertion into both mouth and anus, a dick stabbing, and the insertion of a pistol into another man’s ass. But hey, at least most of Strahm’s movie is framed with garland and other holiday paraphernalia.
Knifepoint is Strahm’s writing and directorial debut (besides a film documentary), and it’s pretty noticeable right off the rip. The film’s writing isn’t terrible in its early scenes, but once the miscellaneous bad guys begin to show up at Abbie and Michele’s apartment - and there are a lot of them - things start to get cheesy. Strahm struggles to figure out exactly what he wants from his film; are these bad guys supposed to be kind of likable, or are we supposed to be rooting for the film’s tortured protagonists? The movie begins with an Ocean’s Eleven style montage of the demented antagonists set to upbeat rock music, as though in some way, there’s supposed to be an endearing quality to them - and then their gag dialogue deliveries seem like an attempt to bring levity to this otherwise sadistic film.
That makes Strahm’s torture porn even more difficult to stomach, though, because there’s really no method to the madness here. The excessive rape sequence is difficult to sit through, and in some movies that might be intentional (a la I Spit On Your Grave) so that Knifepoint’s female protagonist has vengeance in mind. But Strahm’s continual brutalizing of his characters becomes tedious and mean-spirited, a way to cross boundaries and taboos most films would probably avoid. The film’s sexual violence is way too over-the-top, not just in how it’s instigated but in how it’s encouraged. Apparently, viewers are supposed to take some pleasure in seeing a man demoralized when Jess (Grant Reynolds) inserts a gun into his asshole, complete with the grunting and squirming one would expect from this lubeless situation.
Since the overt sexual violence is fairly nonsensical, the film better be able to back it up with a solid plot, and unfortunately that’s not the case with Knifepoint. The conclusion is rushed, and the rest of the film is exactly as described: unending scenes of sadomasochism rape fantasies disguised as a vehicle for the tortured women to get their vengeance. Spoiler alert - they don’t even get any retribution, making Knifepoint a disgusting film all around.
This Shitmas, do yourself a favor and avoid Knifepoint at all costs. The actors all deserve better than this, and this isn’t the type of viewing experience to usher in the holidays. Instead, take the DVD and burn it with your yule log and watch something even a tad bit better, like Jingle All the Way 2.
- Ryne Barber