Artik Is A Blood Fueled Trip To A Comic Book Nightmare

Artik is a brutally jarring experience dripping in blood and pathos.

Courtesy of Epic Pictures

Artik is one dark movie.  There is no getting around it.  Similar in tone to the brilliant Frailty with Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey, the film is concerned with how to define what a hero really is.  From Epic Pictures, what begins as a violent piece of torture porn quickly turns into something much more thought-provoking and interesting.  The violence is extreme throughout, but it serves to allow context for the bravery of our protagonists.

A comic book obsessed brute seeks enlightenment through torture as he attempts to kill his way to a true super hero.  Artik is a deranged individual who believes only through violence will a true hero emerge.  Similar to Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, Artik explores the lasting power of abuse on both children and a community at large.  Along the way we are introduced to a small group of boys he and his wife force to work on his farm and scout potential victims who find their strength.  One of the boys befriends a strong but troubled young man who has had a rough childhood himself.  He is a straight edge soul by choice, deliberately avoiding the choices his parents made. 

He is an unexpected character both for his honest but unique portrayal of what abstinence looks like, but also the very fact he avoids all chemical options.  Since the seventies, characters in horror movies frequently make the disastrous choice to abuse alcohol and drugs, often paying the ultimate price for it.  At this point it is part of horror film canon.  A rule that when broken results in immediate death.  Think Scream’s rules for survival.    

Courtesy of Epic Pictures

Holton, played by a sympathetic Chase Williamson lives his life in a way that is neither preachy nor complex.  His simplicity makes perfect sense but it is also the very thing that makes him different.  So many times characters are pigeonholed into their horror archetypes it is nice to get one that seems to defy them. Rarely do we get a character who is cool and sober.  Usually the sober guys are previous addicts who are white knuckling their lives or fanatics who drool condemnation with every breath.  Holton is not so one dimensional.  Williamson plays him with charm and likability that allows his spirit to shine through.  He is a person we care about and root for, and not just because he clearly is the protagonist of the film. 

Artik, on the other hand, is seriously disturbed.  He has more than a few screws loose and he’s using those screws to stab people.  For reasons that are never explained, he believes obsessively that he can save the world by torturing men until one day a hero emerges from the abuse.  Why that will happen, or how he was chosen to be a one-man torture machine is not at all clear. 

Courtesy of Epic Pictures

He views his comic books like holy texts.  It is the guiding force behind his murderous ways.  Like Mindhunter’s Son of Sam, Artik seems to want to find the hero who will defeat him. The high concept plot is interesting, but Artik, both the character and the film, could have done with a little more backstory.  The only misstep in this otherwise quality film is the lack of context written for Artik.  He is a nonsensical bad guy with a cool history somewhere in that crazy skull that I wish could have been explored.  Jerry G. Angelo(Artik) is a huge lurching presence with a deep booming voice that the sound design use to full effect.  His over the top line delivery might be overdone in any other film, but as Artik, it is perfectly pitched insanity that is as imposing as it is odd.

Lauren Ashley Carter brings a brittle mania to her role as Flin that despite Artik’s obvious evilness is somehow the more creepy figure.  Her complacent role in the boy’s lives and her husband’s obsession is more chilling than Artik’s overt violence.  Vacillating between obsessive-compulsive homemaker, coquettish lover, and caring teacher she is an unsettling mix of good, bad, and weird.  It is hard to eclipse the graphic novel-loving killer Artik as Angelo delivers a black hole of a character.  He is magnetic and all-consuming, but Flin somehow manages to one up his intensity.  Her previous excellent work on Jug Face leaves no question that this quirky actress is quickly amassing a war chest of complex and fascinating characters. The world of Artik is a strange one.  Where adults freely use words like “owners” instead of parents to describe caregivers but draw the line at drawings depicting violent acts. 

It looks like any place America, but it behaves like something else.  It is dusty and dirty with despair hanging over every rural moment.  The setting is rural, small town America that could be anywhere if it weren’t for the oddness of word choices and obvious kidnapping. Although that feels completely plausible nowadays.  This is our world but not.  Similar to Children of the Corn which existed just outside the plane of our reality in a hidden corn field, this town resides near a sunflower farm.  The sunny vignettes of the farm highlight the desperation of the subject matter.  It is a smart choice that director Tom Botchii Skowronski makes time and time again.

Skowronski utilizes this minimal set perfectly to convey the dread that permeates every moment from the very beginning.  This is the kind of movie that grabs you from the opening credits and doesn’t let up until you are left exhausted and questioning what it means to be a hero.  A full-throttle score blasts as gore and savagery assault the senses in this blood-soaked portrayal of the making of a savior.  Effective cut scenes go from visceral wet work of Artik’s to coffee being poured into cups proves the editing is as stylish as the rest of the movie. 

Artik is a well-made film with captivating characters and buckets and buckets of blood.  With a satisfying ending and truly unique characters, it is a solid addition to the genre.  You can catch it today in select theaters and you can stream it VOD or buy a Blu-Ray starting September 10th.

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