The sadistic Aussie export “Beaten to Death” is unspeakably nasty, nihilistic, and sickeningly vicious — a masterpiece of monstrosity.
I used to think the New French Extremity was the pinnacle of punishing, ultra-visceral horror — the kind that revels in relentless brutality and suffering, which is almost impossible to shake, even long after the film ends.
After watching Beaten to Death, the nasty new title from renegade distribution company Welcome Villain Films (the madmen behind Malum), I’m convinced the Australians are hungry to wrestle the title of most depraved away from those twisted French fucks.
If you’ve experienced any French extreme films like Martyrs and Irreversible or Australian shockers like Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, you may be at least somewhat prepared for the onslaught of misery and torment doled out by the unflinchingly mean-spirited Beaten to Death.
And if you enjoyed those films, there’s a good chance you’ll eat up every second of this all-out assault helmed by Sam Curtain and written by Benjamin Jung-Clarke (the duo previously worked together on 2020’s The Slaughterhouse Killer).
However, even if you’re a seasoned veteran of violence, Beaten to Death is a tough watch.
It wastes no time thrusting into the kind of savagery that’s hard to stomach.
A mere thirty minutes into this sadistic juggernaut, I wasn’t sure how much more I could endure — and that’s coming from someone who considers herself a rabid hardcore horror aficionado.
All this is meant as the highest possible praise.
It’s hard to be astonished when you watch as much extreme horror as I do, but the aptly titled Beaten to Death took my breath away most unexpectedly.
A bloodied, broken man stumbles across a red desert as the sun rises on the horizon. We don’t know who he is, and it will be some time before we discover that his name is Jack (played by Thomas Roach), and he’s just survived the most devastating 48 hours imaginable.
Immediately, we rewind to the start of his agonizing ordeal without understanding how he got here or why a hulk of a man (Justan Wagner) is mercilessly beating him to a bloody pulp. The man tells Jack, “You’re gonna suffer,” and he might as well be talking to the audience as well.
It’s clear this is not something Jack is meant to survive, and his tormentor tells him as much in a chilling exchange. But he does survive, only to find his wife’s (Nicole Tudor) lifeless body in the room beside him.
Emotionally and physically shattered, he stumbles into the Outback to find help.
When he happens upon the home of a burly wilderness man named Ned (David Tracy), he believes he’s found salvation. But his harrowing journey is only just beginning.
And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does; it gets much worse.
Curtain wisely structures the film non-linearly, moving backward and forward in time while filling in Jack’s backstory and slowly revealing how he got to this wretched place. It works exceedingly well because it offers character depth and bite to the sordid tale, keeping viewers in a state of suspense and nail-biting tension while offering a reprieve from the worst atrocities committed against our pitiable protagonist.
Curtain allows you just enough time to catch your breath before running you back through the wringer.
However, if you can survive the first third of the film, it gets easier to endure as the latter half of the film focuses more on Jack’s mental and emotional anguish rather than solely his physical defilement.
As intensely uncomfortable as the whole horror show is, it’s also impossible to look away from. It’s riveting in a twisted, nearly guilt-inducing, “I shouldn’t be watching — much less enjoying — this kind of monstrosity” kind of way.
But barbarity aside, it’s also gorgeously shot, sumptuously scored, and truly stellar on a technical level.
Still, it’s the uncompromising, fully committed performance from Roach that fully elevates the film and invests you fully in his unthinkable plight. It’s not torture porn. There’s gravitas and empathy and beauty among the bleakness.
The last fifteen minutes are sublime.
We forego our foray into the depths of human cruelty and shift to a battle for survival against a harsh and unforgiven landscape, with Jack’s desperate desire to endure while everything tells him to give up and let the elements end his suffering.
The ending is exquisite in its annihilating emotional vivisection — unpredictable and deeply affecting.
A word of caution comes with this glowing review; it is most certainly not for everyone; many will simply not have the constitution for this kind of excruciating assault on the senses.
It’s squarely targeted at a very specific audience. And you’ll know in the first five minutes if you’re up for the challenge or need to exit this ferociously feral ride.
For those willing and able to hang on, you’re in for quite a treat, albeit a particularly unpleasant one.
This is fearless, unmerciful, and unrestrained extreme horror at its best… but don’t say I didn’t warn you.