Writer/director Gregory Hatanaka has a pedigree as a producer and distributor; with work by Abel Ferrara, Claude Chabrol and John Woo amongst the productions he’s brought to audiences, it’s fair to say that his taste tends towards the dark side. Now with his own Cinema Epoch brand, his latest Choke fits into his canon; it’s a mixture of art-house sensibilities and grindhouse content, not an easy watch, but a worthwhile one if you can handle the content.
As the title suggests, Choke deals with auto-erotic asphyxiation; actor Shane Ryan has a history with serial killer roles, and gives a baleful, striking performance as Brandon, the central character. The opening scenes find him with his hands around the neck of Jeanie (Sarah Brine), but the context is unclear. Is this Brandon reality, or an imagined fantasy? As we switch between time-lines, hard-bitten cop Robert (Scott Butler) is on his trail, but the lawman has hang-ups of his own, and with the same girl. Of course, a topical reading re police and choke-holds is possible; you can draw your own conclusions.
Choke deals with potentially exploitative subject matter, and probably merits some warnings about content in the style of Roeg’s Bad Timing. But the beating heart of the film is serious rather than frivolous; this film deals with wayward men, who struggle to see women as people rather than victims. It’s the kind of edge familiar from Nicolas Winding Refn or even Bret Easton Ellis; you’ll feel trapped within this film, and that discomfort is part of the sensory experience.
Last week, I reviewed Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d with the lowest possible rating. Despite a name cast and BFI funding, it struck me as the worst kind of exploitation. Oddly enough, Choke strikes me as the polar opposite, a low-budget, minimalist story that manages to describe a distasteful subject without exploiting it. Dropping on Amazon Prime in the US and UK Choke is worth a look for anyone seeking stronger meat that a standard thriller. It’s a bruising, elliptical drama that suggests that the prolific Hatanaka might be transcending the B-movie genre and developing a potent style of his own.