Some films, no matter how you try, defy explanation. Violence Voyager is one such film. It's director, known only as Ujicha, has created something truly unique: an anime movie unlike any other anime or horror story you'll ever see.
It's also a profoundly unsettling experience from start to finish, leaving you feeling like you somehow stumbled upon the insane acid dreams of an abused child.
Bobby is an American kid in Japan. One day, he goes on a trip with his sole friend into the mountains to find another friend who moved away years ago. His father is reclusive, his mother is sickly and his friend sports a bizarre crisscrossed scar across his forehead. His trip through the woods, however, takes him to the Violence Voyager, a role-playing amusement park hand-made by a strange, balding man. They are assigned to "combat" an alien invasion, where they will fight flesh-dissolving aliens with what appears to be water guns.
However, the story takes a turn when they find a girl who has been trapped in the amusement park for days. Soon, things unravel. The children emerge into world that's best described as Lord of the Flies crossed with Tetsuo the Iron Man. Their descent leads them down a path of horror.
What is immediately apparent about Violence Voyager is its unique style of animation. The characters and sets are real paper-dolls that are physically moved in front of a camera. This technique of animation was famously used in South Park, but, unlike South Park, which uses separate paper pieces for each body part, the characters are fully constructed, which means when they talk their faces don't move. Their mouths don't open or shut, their eyes don't move, their expressions don't change. It's a painterly style lurks right in the uncanny valley, leaving you feeling on edge long before you enter the Violence Voyager.
Liquids like water are fired through the dolls, which results in a strange clash between the obviously artificial and real materials. None of the facial expressions look natural -- they're all pained and distorted. The very little movement we see is immediately eye-catching. It's an animation style that also allows Ujicha to add a profound level of detail to each character model.
The strength of the gore and violence is gradually built-up. In the first half-hour, the violence comes sparsely, but, when you see it, it is incredibly jarring. This is made even more jarring when none of the characters react to the it. One character's skin is melted off their face, only for a character to shout, "It's okay!" It all adds to the nightmarish quality of the events.
However, once we're introduced to a child whose face has been half-twisted into a fleshy monitor with a dangling optic nerve plastered to the glass, the film descends into... Well, you don't put on a movie called Violence Voyager and expect something normal or even rational. Faces melt off, bloody naked children are hung up a line and a colossal phallus comprised of raw flesh makes an appearance. And these disturbing images all pop up in the first half of the film. Those, if you can believe it, are merely the warm-up acts for the rest of the horror to come.
Adding to the surrealism, the voice acting seems stilted, never quite sounding natural, which has to be deliberate choice. Likewise, the dialogue is awkwardly written and the music often poorly suits the scenes. It's often far too cartoonish, but fittingly so. All of Violence Voyager is designed to be as uncanny as possible.
Overall, a film this bleak feels like something you would have encountered late at night on MTV or dug up in the back of a video store in the '90s. It feels cheap, but, in its cheapness, is unlike any bigger studio effort; the sort of experimental horror you can only sum up as one person's demented passion project, reminiscent of ultra-violent anime like Genocyber. It's nihilistic, emphasizing the cheapness of human life. Every scene asks: How can this movie get any more fucked up?
And it gets very fucked up. If grotesque and brutal violence involving children and animals or fluids being squeezed out of people's flesh disturbs you, you should skip Violence Voyager.
That said, the horror is so fantastic and surreal it lacks the bite of, say, Martyrs. None of the violence ever feels real. It's nightmare-violence, the sort of stuff you know can never really happen. Even though you will see children and animals viciously mauled, it stops being scary at a certain point, becoming instead more like an Alice in Wonderland-style descent into insanity. After a while, you feel strangely removed from all the violence. You accept the artificial world and the increasing horrors you bare witness to. As a result, something strange starts to happen: you start to feel entertained.
Violence Voyager is a nightmarish tribute to unreality. Its deliberately artificial animation style and profound violence will alienate many viewers. But it's a good recommendation for those willing to explore the limits of what sci-fi body horror can offer.
Violence Voyager is set for release on VoD on October 21st.
KEEP READING: Promare Burns Bright With Astonishing Animation