The Special is an expertly crafted film from top to bottom with some pitch-perfect performances, an interesting mystery, and an engaging, talented lead who oddly resembles various members of "The State," depending on the lighting. There's a pseudo-fisheye lens quality here, making it feel like an episode of "Tales from the Crypt" directed by Frank Henenlotter. There “is” an issue of balance that holds it back a bit, but we'll get to that.
We start off with Jerry (Davy Raphaely) and Mike (Dave Sheridan) in a dive bar nursing their fragile male egos. It “seems” Jerry's wife Lisa (Sarah French) has cheated on him and Mike suggests Jerry go on his own illicit sexual escapade. Now, just to say this up front, both Raphaely and Sheridan are immensely talented actors. Respectively, they bring grounded intensity and a perfect counterbalance of EC style charm. The characters they play, though, are UTTERLY reprehensible. Every frame OOZES with how terrible they are and how they gleefully make each other so, so much worse. But hey, it's a classic setup: awful people (presumably) meet awful fates.
The guys make their way to a brothel led by the enigmatic Madame Zhora (Susan Moses in another of the film's top performances). Mike pressures Jerry into getting “the special.” The special, as it happens, is not one of Madame Zhora's ladies but instead an old wooden box with a, um, “waist-level” hole in the side. Once Jerry manages to jam his massive hog into it he is immediately pleasured by “something” to the point of passing out.
And now I feel like I have to clear my search history.
Maybe you've gathered by now but this is a SLEAZY movie. It definitely matches the tone of some of the more intense Crypt episodes (and the idea of an opening segment with the Crypt Keeper trying to navigate a glory hole is...certainly an image). The problem, as I mentioned, is balance. Raphaely sells the sensations of pleasure, pain and everything in between. It all feels starkly real with him, even as he morphs between Ken Marino and Jo Lo Truglio. (Damn. Missed opportunity for, “I'm gonna dip my balls in it.”) But too much time spent with the character's deteriorating, misogynist psyche is “very” oppressive. A stronger female voice could have alleviated this. Maybe more agency for Lisa or more scenes with Madame Zhora. She certainly had the makings of an intriguing opposite number.
Anywho, the film does move quickly with Jerry becoming more obsessed with whatever's making his Peter tingle in the mystery box. He cuts himself off from friends, family and his job at the business factory to be with his dirty little secret at a frankly delightful walk-up across town. It's not long, though, before he finds that the box's (ugh) “goop” has some unforeseen side effects.
I would say The Special is like a clean version of the original Maniac. Both feature (morally) grotesque people doing grotesque things. Both are ultimately intense character pieces. And if you like one, you'll be the perfect audience for the other. That cleanness, too, offers a nice contrast to the heavy subject matter, letting you know horrors like this can happen anywhere.
Maybe not so much the BJ box but I don't do a lot of traveling, ya know?
The Special, like the title's namesake, is an experience and certainly an effecting one. And, if you've got darker, more intense tastes than most, it'll be one you'll enjoy. Just wipe off once you're finished, eh?
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