REVIEW – August Underground (2001)



I was once surveyed about films and movie rentals for Facets in Chicago. After I explained what I meant by “genre film” to the two college-aged kids doing the interviewing, they asked me why I enjoy those types of films. I gave them my (now famous) “no real danger” explanation. They pressed further, asking if I thought there were films that went too far or if some films should be censored. I told them that I thought films that pushed boundaries were important as long as the films were made responsibly (no living beings harmed and whatnot). I gave them August Underground as an example. Fred Vogel’s sick little found footage gore effects reel is hard as hell to watch, but it’s a master class in shock, realism, sadism, and extreme this-could-be-real human behavior.


Peter is a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for torture and mind-boggling degradation. He’s constantly shadowed by an unseen partner in crime who records all of his exploits on video. Those exploits include torturing, degrading, and sexually assaulting all manner of people he comes across/kidnaps/holds prisoner.


You may be thinking to yourself, “Wow, JD really slacked on that synopsis.” I don’t deny that it’s terse, but that’s about all I can write about it without getting bogged down in scene-by-scene detail. There’s not much of a narrative. And it’s more believable as a found footage film because of it. (take note 99% of found footage movies) So believable in fact, it gives the viewer a decidedly uneasy feeling in the pit of his/her/xyr stomach while watching it. It’s essentially a string of snuff films done in the style of a real fucking snuff film. (or what i imagine is the style of a real fucking snuff film) Vogel has created a snuff film for the reality television age. If you find the idea of  watching The Kardashians, or whatever, repugnant (i know i would), wait until you see a guy smear shit into a woman’s nipple-ectomy wound. (uh…yeah…) Is August Underground good? This is one of those films that doesn’t get a “good” or “bad” designation. (at least not from me) It’s certainly not a good story. It’s certainly not entertaining in the traditional sense of the word. But it’s an accomplishment. It’s a zero-budget, terrifying glimpse of the darkest human depravity imaginable. And it’s supremely effective as such. It’s horror without heart. It’s our worst fears of our fellow human beings on display without a final girl. Without a moral. Without a character arc. Without even a hint of the possibility of justice. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s harrowing. And it’s fucking terrifying. In the grand scheme of things, isn’t that what we want from art – to be affected on an emotional/visceral level? Viewing from that angle will definitely help you see the genius of this film.


Bonus content: (i haven’t done one of these in a while! you’re welcome) This film is followed by a couple of semi-sequels (or, official sequels. i’m not sure) One of them, Mordum, features a scene in which the corpse of a child is necro-defiled. It was so stomach-churning and so realistic that I had to look up how it was done. That’s how horrifying these films are! Rest assured, no children were harmed/corrupted.


The Final Cut: August Underground is deconstructed horror that removes the whole idea of a protagonist and focuses on a vile human. It is shocking in its brutality and stark cruelty.

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