Artik is a film in which a man is hammered in the skull. Another has a fork skewered under his jaw. People are tortured and killed with impunity. Its straight edge hero, however, is forced to face the most damning torture of all: Against his will, our boy has to drink some whiskey–and then watch the bad guy’s son also drink some whiskey.
I think even the most repentant of alcoholics would count that as a blissfully light punishment.
In a film that edits away from most violence and trims its bloodiest bits short, this whiskey waterboarding is the most drawn-out moment of “horror” when almost nothing else in Artik is drawn-out to any extent. I get it. Alcohol can mess people up and ruin lives, sure, but to conflate it with slamming nails into someone’s legs? I’m not buying it, and it does Artik no favors that this is the single moment the film works hardest to drive into your mind.
Director: Tom Botchii Skowronski
Release Date: September 6 (Limited), September 10 (Blu-ray, VOD)
Holton (Chase Williamson) is a young man struggling to find peace and balance after a rough childhood (that we learn nothing about) who comes across a boy spray painting the side of a building. He befriends this boy and learns that the child comes from an equally broken home and wants to rescue him from a cycle that sent his life (presumably) into a nosedive. The only problem is that the boy’s father, Artik (Jerry G. Angelo) is one imposing Viking-haired serial killer who will stop at nothing to keep the boy under his own thumb.
If only we got to see more of that.
Much of Artik is vague or clipped with a shrugging assumption that you basically get what’s going on so there’s no need to follow through. This sucks if you enjoy feeling any level of closeness to a character. We get scraps of backstory and see scant slices of their lives that more often raise questions than offer answers.
Artik has some sort of obsession with the hero’s journey, in creating a hero for himself. He seems to treat it like a calling and makes it the point of his tortures and killings, but we never understand exactly what it means. Why is it his calling? What will accomplishing his goal mean? Who instilled this belief in him? What does it have to do with comic books? Artik rambles bits and pieces about people being marked, sends the boy out to scout for folks to kidnap, and he sketches grimy and intriguing comics as mementos of his killings, which offer tantalizing glimpses that never form a full picture.
When all this comes to a head (which happens with little tension or buildup) we’re left scrambling for any kind of thematic meaning. The whiskey torture is meant to be some culmination of great importance, but we have no exact reason to understand why it’s so damning for Holton that Artik is pouring a half-bottle of Jack down his throat through a funnel, and we have no reason for why Holton’s rage following the torture shows some lack of inner purity that proves to Artik he’s not the hero he’d been searching for. This scene is played as troubling and revealing, but it all comes off as pretty damn goofy.
That’s a shame, because there’s some good shooting and dramatic lighting. Artik has a map of the surrounding area cut into sections he refers to by names like “The Wasteland,” which hints at some cool internal fiction that he and his family see the world through. He has a whole hoard of (kidnapped?) children on his farm, and yet only the one boy gets any attention. There’s a world here, and yet we’re left speeding away from it as quickly as possible.
Artik needs more of a lot: It needs more characterization, more world-building, more thematic focus. Most of all, though, it just needs more time. It’s well under an hour-and-a-half, and you feel it. Characters barely interact, the climax jumps at you, and even the credits slam into the end of the film like it just can’t wait to be over. Scenes are clipped, plot threads tossed aside. What should have been a harrowing bit of hardcore horror ends as a bundle of decent ideas that were never given the chance to come together.