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Mike’s Review: Begotten (1989)


★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by E. Elias Merhige 

Umm…what just happened? Was that a dream? Did I just have a stroke? Did my ego and id simultaneously implode? Unclear on all fronts. One thing is certain. This is a film like no other and it’s not something you can ever unsee. 

Just recently the great Fangoria wrote a fascinating article (Still Not Of This World – Thirty Years Of E. Elias Merhige’s BEGOTTEN) about the development and social-celluloid impact on the hyper-artsy Begotten. As I poured over the article I thought to myself: a) you’re a completist so you have to see this, b) you’re a horror-podcaster so nothing’s too scary, c) Fangoria says you should see it, and d) who doesn’t love to occasionally take that “bridge too far.” 

I poked around online, but it simply wasn’t available for streaming. A grey-market copy was available on Amazon in the $80 price range, so I knew it was time for a trip to the mighty Movie Madness. As luck (in the form of the great Movie Madness) would have it, they had both a VHS and DVD copy.  Because both carried a several hundred dollar deposit and I didn’t want to destroy either of these out-of-print rarities, I opted for the well-worn DVD copy.  I trust my VHS player, but like a girlfriend who’s cheated on you, I don’t trust it implicitly. 

I returned home on a rainy Sunday afternoon and slid the Begotten in the DVD player — who’s far more trustworthy life-partner. I was immediately struck with a resounding “huh?” mixed with a “what the hell was I thinking?” along with a “…deep breath, it’s only an hour and twelve minutes, you CAN do it!”

Begotten is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I know, that sounds like a bold and unverifiable statement, but it’s true.  The closest comparison I can muster is an early 1990s Norwegian black metal album come to life — minus the metal. 

This psychedelic monochrome freakout really exists in three vague parts: God Killing Himself, Mother Earth, and Son of Earth AKA Flesh on Bone. The parts become a whole while slowly sliding in to each other one dark and grisly scene after another. 

Fangoria! Woo!
Scene from God Killing Himself.

Begotten contains no dialogue, no soundtrack, no subtitles, and no guideposts. All the rules are out the window as director E. Elias Merhige takes you on the mightiest of colorless trips. Collectively, the film looks and feels like a deep Gaia-like rumination on man’s chosen dominance over nature and the fallout wrought by this imbalanced equation. The horror comes in the form of the mundane creeks, gushes, and cricket noises that provide the ambient noise to the otherworldly oddities unfolding on screen.

Not surprisingly, E. Elias Merhige would go on to direct Shadow of the Vampire and heap of Marilyn Manson videos. 

The scenes are prolonged and tortured. Even the scenes showing torture are tortured. That said, much of the Begotten is out of focus, blurred, and purposely obfuscated. The contrast nob is cranked all the way to the end of its spectrum and much of nasty nastiness is really for you to decide. E. Elias Merhige does not spoon feed you anything. This horror show lurks in to back of your mind and it’s your mission, and your’s alone, to decipher Begotten’s meaning. 

Fangoria seems to park this film in the horror camp. So if they are, then so am I. Part of horror is the unknown, the exploration of the supernatural, and the darkest thoughts that you just don’t want to ever think. If you ever wanted to crawl inside a Rorschach test, then this is your chance. 

As I mentioned, once you see Begotten, you CAN’T unsee it. Don’t say your pals at the Scariest Things Podcast didn’t warn you. 

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