Even though Flowers is a 2015 film, my exposure to it comes in an interesting week, where Danielle Dash tweeted her tiredness at seeing dead women and girls as the basis for so many television shows. The link to that tweet is here. While I wouldn’t go as far as Jameela Jamil’s response that it could give ‘sick bastards ideas’, images of mutilated women do permeate popular culture in a way that can feel troubling, especially when there are so many real female victims of violence in the world. This isn’t to say that there aren’t male victims of violence, but that more of a spectacle is made of damaged female bodies in fiction.
Obviously, this being a horror blog I’m not exactly going to be clutching pearls about depictions of violence and am a fan of some films where rather extreme punishments are enacted against women. This, in addition to an interest in true crime documentaries where women are frequently the victims means my relationship with the consumption of violence against women is not so straightforward. However, for me, there is a difference between something which features violence with a compelling story and characters wrapped around it, versus watching a show-reel of special effects and inventive punishments without the connection.
This leads me to the review of Phil Stevens’ 2015 horror Flowers. I’ll start by saying that the design on this film, for what I expect is a very low budget is exceptional. The settings have a deeply unpleasant texture and it is clear that a huge amount of effort has been made in creating such squalid surroundings. Similarly, there’s an attempt to convey some big ideas, but these ideas are unfortunately let down by extended sequences which allow the viewer’s attention to wander.
Synopsis: An abstract, surreal horror film centering around six dead women waking up in the crawl space below their killer’s house.
It feels like the Flowers of the title could be a nod to Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, given the fact that this film appears to want to emulate that type of minimal story, maximum special effects and nasty ideas section of the horror genre. This makes the film feel like an endless parade of mutilated, silent women. True, there are no spoken parts in the film, either male or female, but all the victims being silent women has unfortunate implications (more than sinister intentions) which is why this review was preceded by some discussion of women as a spectacle when victimised. The sequences of the six women are disjointed, only coming together towards the end of the run time, but the elongated and often repetitive nature of the torture sequences had my mind wandering too often to come back and piece it all together adequately. This is not, I’m keen to point out a result of finding it too disgusting, but rather a feeling that once you’ve seen an effect once, it rather loses its bite upon being repeated.
The effects are impressive but there is really only so much attention you can give when any story appears to stop for them. The fact that we are not given any understanding of characters beforehand (and any reveals are a bit too broad and vague) makes it incredibly difficult to invest and engage. The opening of a woman waking up in a crawlspace, surrounded by previous victims is effective and so as she begins a Shawshank Redemption style escape there is some tension and a sense of threat. This tension is lost though as we abandon her trials for the second victim rather abruptly, meaning that our endurance for having invested in her through her gruesome trip is not rewarded. Instead, it plays as someone trying to throw shocking ideas at the screen without there being all-important context and investment.
Flowers seems to want to be a surreal, even somewhat ethereal ordeal film, but the pacing of the scenes and lack of coherent pulling of threads, for me, meant that there was no ordeal to be endured. It feels like it would work better as a much shorter film with some sequences clipped and the overall story tightened. For me, Flowers failed to find its roots.