Michael Haneke was a late starter in feature film production. Benny’s Video from 1992 kick-started the grim and nihilistic succession of films from the director, and those twin fascinations of media and murder are as stark and depressing as he would ever future portray them. Hollywood drivel continues to dominate homes on electromagnetic tape and the protagonist is an amoral schoolboy who obsesses over the filmed image. He collects average entertainment on film, has another camera angled out of his bedroom window in record mode. His favourite short is footage that he shot himself of a trip to an abattoir. The pause, forward frame by frame and rewind functions in overuse on the death by bolt of the large porker. He wheels and deals at school, drugs and other illicit trades.
During one of his regular pops over to the video shop he recognises a young girl out front of the window. She returns frequently to watch animated features as they run in the shop window. He invites her back to his family home, his parents absent, as they often are. She window watches as she lives with several brothers who dominate the family television with boy’s shows and sports. She is suspicious but, sadly, not suspicious enough. Seemingly respectable, an only boy with wealthy parents who spoil him with technology, surely he is harmless, and the cigarette he offers her is the uppermost of his rebellions. He shows her the pig-killing footage and invites her to take pizza.
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He grapples with her, worrying for the viewer and the girl, but they return to the food and he puts the rough games down to regular playfulness. He produces the bolt-gun, lifted at the farm. He invites her to point the gun at him, she does. He tells her to shoot him, she won’t. It is enough to reassure her the gun his safe for when he points it at her and she lightly goads him to shoot her. The gun is harmless. The gun is not harmless.
He is malleable to his self-delusion that he is guiltless. He arbitrates over his crimes and maintains his innocence, that the first shot and wounding was accidental. The girl collapses to the floor and tries to crawl from the room. His panic his drowned by the reasoning. In reloading the gun and killing the girl he is subduing her and helping her. He is not acting maliciously but conducting a procedure. It is an excuse to end the noise she is making. The removal of the body and mopping of the bloody scene is an excuse for him to strip off with the fully clothed corpse. He drags her body very slowly across the floor, mopping the trail of blood bit by bit into a sopping towel. He pretends not to savour the detail of the patterns and stubborn presence of the blood. He then arranges to sleepover at a friend’s house. The body only ever made it as far as the wardrobe and he has not considered the matter of disposal. Like all teenagers it is too much of a chore… and he simply can’t be bothered. He alienates himself by borrowing homework from his friend and failing to return it. He attacks the boy instead when he grasses him up to the teacher. He shaves his hair off switching from a foppish looking youth to a skinhead clone. His parents are outraged. He plays the video recording of the murder to his parents. Shaken, they discuss it at the kitchen table. They decide not to call the police, two days having already elapsed, but to sleep on it one more night. Their son complains that he is hungry.
They share one more night with the body in the apartment. Mother will take the boy to Luxor for several days while father disposes of the dead girl. The boy takes a video camera with him. The mother stays close. They return home. The house is clean, the body has gone, and the girl was not from his school, so there is nothing to connect her to them. The boy has one final surprise for his parents though, though it should never be seen as a signal of repentance, just another stage in his deliberate experimentation in self-destruction. He is cold and impassive and he is taking his parents down with him.
The blood simpleton completion of the killing and the mop up are horrible. The tone is true but the realism is marred by the refusal of the body to bloat and smell. The performances are good, particularly that of the young girl from whom the most distressing responses are demanded. Her death is recorded in what is largely one long continuous shot, partly off screen. Benny’s callousness is further expressed in a scene where he rifles through the dead girl’s schoolbag and casually scatters the books and trinkets that meant the world to the girl. Her love of film and her desperate need for a friend of shared interests should have brought kinship, should have protected her, but instead only provided her killer with the door in to investigate his morbid fascinations to the hilt. Using film releases of the time ages the film, studio rubbish like Tango & Cash and indie rot like The Toxic Avenger sitting like the cancerous trash it is inside the intelligent study that is Benny’s Video. It is unpleasant though, and not at all enjoyable, which is as it should be. The review copy’s image quality is poor and includes no extras.