SXSW 2019 Review: PORNO Provides Cheap Thrills For Fans Of Magickal Mayhem

Contributing Writer; Texas, USA
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SXSW 2019 Review: PORNO Provides Cheap Thrills For Fans Of Magickal Mayhem

The crew of a small town movie theater stumbles into a boarded up basement and comes back with more than they bargained for in director Keola Racela's Porno, one of the several horror comedies anchoring SXSW's Midnight section this year. It's fitting that this film, set in a small town with a bunch of Christ-loving movie nerds, should have its premiere in Austin, which is essentially an overgrown small town filled with movie nerds that has itself become a kind of weird cinephile mecca. In Porno, the power of film corrupts the youth of this early '90s postcard existence by bringing temptation into an otherwise pretty saintly town.

As they are getting ready to close down for the night and having their daily debate over which film to watch before going home (Encino Man or A League of Their Own, which places this firmly in the summer of '92), assistant manager Chastity (Jillian Mueller), projectionist Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann), harmless miscreants Abe (Evan Daves) & Todd (Larry Saperstein), and the questionably effete Ricky (Glenn Stott) spot a scruffy looking stranger scooting about in the dark. They follow him down to the above-mentioned basement and discover a world of sleaze that appears to be from the theater's previous life as a grindhouse. None of the film reels they find seem salvageable, apart from one whose eerie glow attracts Abe and he brings it back upstairs to quench his curiosity.

The team has a seat as Heavy Metal Jeff threads the reel into the projector and what unspools before them is a magickal mystery unlike anything they've ever seen. A nude woman appears in what appears to be a Satanic black magic ritual, the kind of abstract evil that would make Kenneth Anger proud. Sadly for them, the film doesn't stay on the screen and soon they find themselves running for their lives from the reel life evil they've unleashed.

There isn't much actual porno in this film, in fact, apart from one woman who spends the entire film nude and a surprise close-up on the big screen as they experience the film-within-the-film, the explicit sexuality on display is mostly rather tame. However, for these sheltered teens, this must seem like the hardest of hardcore as they find themselves assaulted not only by a Satanic presence determined to take control of them, but also their own hormones when the evil chasing them uses their own desires against them.

Porno is a cheeky look at temptation and how easy it would be to corrupt the seemingly incorruptible by simply offering them the kind of sexual release any normal teenager with a smartphone has access to these days. It's a bloody, funny, Troma-esque romp through teenage fantasy with a dash of moralizing that doesn't quite take away from the fun the way it could.

On a technical level, Porno is competent, but far from revelatory. Racela's direction keeps the energy high, with each character given just enough breathing room to differentiate themselves. The single location helps to keep the action focused and the geography comprehensible. Porno never attempts to transition in a claustrophobic horror, in spite of a couple of perfunctory attempts by the crew to escape. Rather, the film takes advantage of its small spaces to make the most of its small cast and relatively restrictive means. Overall, the film has a kind of slapdash enthusiasm that betrays its seemingly meager budget and will surely lend this silly film a bit of goodwill from fans of horrors made with heart.

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