Venom Review (Film, 2018) #31DaysofHorror

Venom Review (Film, 2018) #31DaysofHorror

Venom, as a film, is a lot to process. It’s sensory overload even by the loud and special effects heavy standards of the superhero genre. It shares more with the horror genre, specifically the old fashioned Universal-style monster movie, than it does with the modern superhero film, yet it’s clearly an attempt to stand out an in over-saturated superhero market with a new antihero in the Deadpool vein. The film is screaming for its own identity so badly that you wish the studios would just cooperate with each other for mutual financial gain and just let a film in one character’s universe—Spider-Man—actually exist in that universe.

Venom sees Eddie Brock fall from the top of the news industry over a failed attempt to expose a massive, surprisingly beloved mega-corporation as corrupt. He commits a journalistic no-no, basing a story off of stolen legal documents, that ruins his relationship with his fiance, Anne Weying, and leaves him unemployed and a social pariah. Out of nowhere, he’s tailed by a research scientist at the company, Dr. Dora Skirth, who can no longer stand idly by while the clearly corrupt company she works for continues to put human lives in harm’s way for the sake of research. Eddie Brock is snuck into the research facility to see the horrific experiments on homeless people first hand.

 Eddie Brock and Venom don’t always see eye to eye.

Eddie Brock and Venom don’t always see eye to eye.

Those experiments mean the people are left in a room alone with an alien parasite that wants to enter and take over the human body. The parasite, called a symbiote, has restorative properties if bonded correctly, but typically eats its host from the inside out. How the owner of the corporation Carlton Drake knows the mysterious alien substance his failed private corporation space mission encounters has the potential to be a medical miracle is never explained. All we know for sure is Eddie Brock successfully pairs with a symbiote and becomes the titular Venom.

Moment by moment, scene by scene, character by character, Venom works as a fascinating horror/thriller/superhero film hybrid. There are wonderfully disturbing performances by an all-star cast. Tom Hardy’s double-duty as Eddie falling apart as Venom grows stronger is some of the best work in a superhero film since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Michelle Williams as Anne and Jenny Slate as Dr. Skirth actually have their own agency as supporting female characters in a superhero film, coming across as believable characters in their own right and not just window dressing/love interests for some dropped subplot. Riz Ahmed’s Carlton is equal parts charming and menacing in the same wonderfully disturbing vein as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones. The cast, across the board, is given the freedom to play these wonderfully off characters in a way that feels real to a PG-13 splatter film.

That rating is largely where the film’s problems come from. I don’t believe you need to see all the gore for there to be a real threat and sense of terror in the film. Suggestion is powerful and the fights and gore scenes in Venom are especially well shot and edited. This just feels like a film that’s missing large chunks of its story. As compelling as the actors are, no one gets to explore what feels like a complete character arc. The overall film has the effect of reading a novel where someone ripped out entire chapters because you might find something inappropriate in them. You’ll still get to the end of the story; it just won’t make much sense.

  Venom  poster, featuring Eddie Brock transforming into the titular monster/hero.

Venom poster, featuring Eddie Brock transforming into the titular monster/hero.

It really is a shame that the story dissolves into disconnected nonsense. The visual effects and sound design are really strong. The animation of the symbiote and shift between Eddie/Venom is disturbing and believable. There are some great sight gags involving symbiotes shifting hosts and how people respond to the alien transformation in the world.

The sound is what really sells the transformation. The quick shift from host to symbiote is given a lot of weight through consistently applied sound effects that define a disgusting shift to fluid monster. The distinction between Eddie/Venom is made even clearer with believable voice modulation on Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Venom. Best of all, Venom’s voice provides a running commentary on Eddie’s life that is mixed crystal clear above all for the audience. Eddie often responds out loud to the voice in his head, creating awkward situations everywhere he goes even after his friends discover what’s actually happening. Venom’s voice only becomes audible for everyone else when he takes over Eddie’s physical appearance. It’s a wonderful conceit that makes the powers and transformation pop onscreen.

Venom is a tough one to wrap my head around. I liked a lot of moments, but I’m still not entirely sure I understand the how, why, or even what of the film. It feels very much like Iron Man 3 in that I know technically what happened, but have no real understanding of what I just watched. It’s just a bit too removed from what we expect in film to really pop as a film narrative.

Venom is currently playing in theaters.

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