I was one of many unlucky movie patrons last September who viewed Death Sentence, a film about a family man’s search for revenge after the murder of his son during a random act of gang violence. Upon its recent DVD release, my abhorrence for the film’s contradictory and exploitative tactics was promptly reinvigorated.
In the theatrical trailer, somber piano music is the backdrop as footage from family videos plays and the father, Nick Hume – none other than Kevin “Footloose” Bacon – shares what will be the last moments he has with his son.
After the slaying, Hume is shown in court, where his son’s murderer is set free. He is a man whose family has been mistreated by the justice system. Depictions of Hume’s various violent encounters with gang members ensue as daunting questions like “What does it take to find justice?” and “How far would you go to protect your family?” flash across the screen. At the end, a police officer (Aisha Tyler) warns him, “You started the war. God help you.”
It was pretty much what I expected: A movie illustrating how violence breeds more violence and that loss can never be assuaged by vengeance. I did not expect, however, that this clear message would be delivered with images of the most graphic hyper-violence imaginable.
The film is brutal in its reliance on endless streams of imagery made to look as realistic as cinematically possible. A shopkeeper’s stomach exploding from the blast of a shotgun, a boy’s throat ripping open from the slice of a machete and heads being shot off (from close range!) by a magnum are just a few choice scenes. It is not traditional gore; the moviemakers want the violence to appear real.
My dismay was invoked again when I saw the Death Sentence DVD release advertising. Promotional posters for the DVD employ the slogans “Protect What’s Yours” and “Protect What You Love” slapped across an image of a gun-toting Bacon sinisterly wielding his weapon.
The creators’ blatant use of violence to appeal to viewers is sophomoric and annoying. However, their decision to mask the film under the guise of a movie with a serious message about violence and dehumanization with the rhetoric of “justice” and “family” to attract viewers is downright repugnant.
Rated “R” for “strong bloody brutal violence,” Death Sentence is merely one in an endless list of movies whose creators use their work to illustrate societal evils, all the while exploiting those same evils for financial gain. The movie is, after all, directed by the genius behind Saw.
If its creators wanted to make a slice-and-dice revenge movie, they should have just said so – much like the commercial for the new DVD does. It gets right to the point with shorter, punchier scenes of savagery without all the pesky appeal to sympathy over the dead son. It is highlighted by loud splattering blood and the lead singer of The Clay People barking, “Wake up, time to die!” over gunshots and car crashes.
I would never expect or want Death Sentence or any of its many cinematic look-alikes to be banned. I am a writer; I instinctively reject censorship. What I do expect, though, is a little artistic integrity without the contrived moral message.
Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.