An elegantly dressed woman thrones herself into the middle of a grungy corridor, pointing a video camera toward two unconscious men. One man lies face down on the floor while the other is gagged and bound naked to a chair. When both men awake from their slumber, the man from the floor continuously tortures the man confined the chair by beating him, slicing his face open with a knife, scraping his skin open with steel wool, bludgeoning him with a clothes iron, and hammering his scrotum all the while the mysterious woman videotapes. The woman coddles her delusional torturous goon with powerful narcotics and motherly affection to do her bidding. She also participates in a few pain inflicting activities that adds more insult to injury to the beaten to a pulp and humiliated young man hanging onto his life by a thread.
Italian gore and shock filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo wanted to emulate the notoriously extreme and underground horror series Guinea Pig that originated in Japan and was westernized for North American audiences with their own version of American panorama of sadism. For Italy, Cristopharo set out to create his own compendium of starkly violent and gory films Cristopharo dubs the Trilogy of Death. All three films dealing with a theme of punitive suffering were produced in 2017, beginning with “Sacrifice” that written by Samuel Marolla and directed by Poison Rouge (“A Taste of Phobia”). “Sacrifice” was actually turn Cristopharo’s aspiration into reality when it was picked up by the American Guinea Pig series. The next film, “Torment,” was cowritten by Cristopharo and Likov Milotoskih and directed by Adam Ford (“XXX Dark Web”) that pulled inspiration from the infamous John Wayne Gacy murders. The third and last segment, “Xpiation, was helmed by Cristopharo himself from an Andrea Cavaletto (“Dark Waves”) script that finally placed Cristopharo personal touch upon the series he fully endorsed as creator and producer under his production company, Enchanted Architect.
The principal cast is tightly coiled around just the three individuals in the isolated corridor of a vacant, graffiti painted building. Right away, we’re intrigued by the opening scene of a sophisticatedly dressed woman with blond hair draped over her left eye. She’s sitting in an armchair with her exposed legs to the side. She has forearm length black gloves, lushes red lipstick, a tightfitting low cut short skirt black dress slightly exposed by her short sleeve steel gray jacket with a matching pin hat with a clear veil over her face, a purse around her left forearm resting on her thigh, and a camera clutched in her right hand for viewing the spectacle before her. The provocative Italian actress Chiara Pavoni is the sharply eye-catching center figure amongst the rumble she sits and the two disheveled men she videotapes. Having had roles in previous obscure horror, such as “Demonium,” “Bad Brains,” and VelvetMorgue,” Pavoni established herself as an Italian scream queen that suited her more domicile, yet underhandedly authoritative, role as the Lady in “Xpiation” that has since been a springboard for her career working with Cristopharo on a number of future projects. We see what Cristopharo sees in the mature in age actress: a commanding presence with range and willingness to absorb extreme content for the sake of art. As the Lady, Pavoni orchestrates the drug-fueled violence of Simone Tolu’s character, the drug addict. Tolu’s crazed approach to a hallucinating and aggressive, substance abusive druggie is more childlike that crosses the line into overzealous disability. The addict is supposed to be under the Lady’s narcotic spell, bewitched by her motherly presence in feeding love to him by way of various powders, pills, and penetrating needles of unknown liquid matter and while that is certainly what’s on screen, Tolu oversteps his swiss-cheese child mind into more of just maniacal horseplay that cheapens the desired effect. One of the easier performances in the film is from Emanuele Delia who has to sit naked in a chair, bound and gagged, and take Tolu’s manhandling beatings for most of the duration. Delia has a handful of scenes where he’s engaged with the Lady in flashback and an existential representation finish but neither one of his three-sided role squeezes out a smidgen of dialogue, reducing his inked and pierced body to be a model of crime and punishment, or in this theme, sin and atonement.
Sin and atonement. “Xpiation” is simply that. A minor reconstructing toward a more panache play on the word expiation, the act of making right for wrongdoing, to home in on concluding Cristapharo’s Trilogy of Death. “Xpiation” expresses this message in the form of vengeance in an exploitation playground of brutality where eye-for-an-eye is a steep slide toward grinding a sinner into the rubber mulch of penitence. Cristpharo directs a straight up torture film that aims to avoid a fanciful apathetic and really divulges itself into humanizing the torturer with flashbacks of far-from-comfortable life. Multitudes of abuse fester in the Lady’s past until it suppurates outward after one final act of transgression pushes the Lady beyond the point of enough-is-enough and every ounce of anger and hate that’s been bottled up tightly all the years is shook so hard the cap finally explodes into a meticulously premeditated plan for revenge and relief. Non-linear avant garde is Cristpharo’s go-to storytelling weapon, one that provides “Xpiation” with more layers than just surface level brutality as the director spoon feeds the audience with little bits and pieces of the Lady’s background. As he accomplished with his breakout film, “House of Flesh Mannequins,” the filmmaker is a master at commanding the pace, a maestro del ritmo!
You can now own a piece of the trinity or conclude Domiziano Cristopharo’s trilogy of death with a Blu-ray release of the last installment, “Xpiation,” as the director attempts to revive erotic-horror and institute extreme horror in his home country of Italy. Unearthed Films, a leading distributor in gore, arthouse, and horror films, releases an AVC encode full high definition, 1080p, Blu-ray in a standard widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Distributed by MVD Visual, I tested the Region A release on a Region B setting and was able to play the not rated film in its 73-minute entirety. Image looks consistently good and more gruesome with the closeup mauling of skin. Colors are vivid enough in the blood and in the contrast, through good lighting, of the lady’s aristocratically lush and starkly colored outfits compared to the bleak rubble that surrounds her. Often, during the flashbacks, does the coloring dull or reduce to indicate flashback. The English dubbed PCM 2.0 stereo is where most of the inconsistencies lie with an uneven dialogue track due to the forced English upon English dub, as the actors are basically whispering their lines in English, and “Sick Sock Monsters from Outer Space’s” Antony Cola’s industrial hum and brood soundtrack masks the dialogue to a muddled intelligibility. I wonder why if the plan was to always dub the film in English, why even bother with dense accents? The bonus features include a decent blooper reel that showcases a lot of the dubbed dialogue, an interview with director Domiziano Cristopharo as he goes into the construction and issues of his seeing his trilogy to fruition, a still gallery of the film, and trailers. With “Xpiation,” Cristopharo continues to amaze and impress with small bubble stories that seldomly traipse to new locations, sticking to a confinement and cruelty disposition, and still be able to build interesting, layered characters trounced in pain and dripping with blood.