by Jason Coffman
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There are countless horror films made and released every year, many of which either go directly to DVD or float around film festivals looking for distribution and may or may not ever see wide release. Out of all these films, it’s hard to say how many of them are made by or for a gay audience; thinking of the term “gay horror,” I can barely think of a handful. So it’s no surprise that Socket has been garnering attention in the horror community and among gay film fans. It’s a low-budget horror/sci-fi film, deeply indebted to David Cronenberg’s “body horror” aesthetic, that features gay characters. Unfortunately, other than this fact the film covers familiar genre territory, but it does so with the zeal of real horror fans inventively making the best of a limited budget.
The film opens with Dr. Bill Matthews (Derek Long) carted into an emergency room after being stuck by lightning. As he regains consciousness, he learns that despite the electricity using his extremities as an exit point, his hands and feet are not burned. An intern named Craig Murphy (Matthew Montgomery) takes an interest in Matthews and gives him a mysterious number, which leads to a group of people who have all been struck by lightning and find themselves addicted to the experience of electric shock and the “order” it brings to their lives. Matthews quickly escalates the group from an old generator with alligator clips to a medical-grade defibrillator and finally, with the help of an electrician in the group, sockets and plugs implanted into the flesh (neatly portrayed with some effectively creepy makeup). Matthews soon accidentally learns that he can siphon electricity from people, and the story follows his descent into murder and insanity as he comes to require “live” electricity to satisfy his urges.
Socket moves forward at a very deliberate pace in its first half, spending a lot of time setting up its characters and their relationships. Matthews is fretted over by his best friends Carol (Rasool J’han) and Olivia (Allie Rivenbark), he has a sometimes-friendly rivalry with fellow doctor Emily Anderson (Alexandra Billings) and his relationship with Murphy is given quite a bit of screen time (including more than a little sex and full-frontal nudity). The performances by Long and Montgomery are mostly very good, but the supporting cast, in true indie horror form, is all over the place. The emphasis on character will likely test many horror fans’ patience, but about halfway through the film starts to ramp up into surreal body horror territory with the introduction of the flesh-plugs that pop Wolverine-style out of the character’s wrists.
The storyline obviously owes a major debt to Cronenberg’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s Crash, which has a very similar setup: a couple is involved in a car accident and learns of an underground group of car crash fetishists who are only sexually aroused by the experience of automobile accidents. Switch “car accidents” with “electricity” and the launching point for both stories is virtually identical, but Socket goes in a much different direction than Crash. Where Crash basically becomes a porno with a series of sex scenes in and around cars, Socket instead moves into territory more similar to Cronenberg’s early films (especially Rabid), but without those films’ often apocalyptic bent.
Aside from the characters’ sexuality, it would be hard to distinguish Socket from any number of similar low-budget horror/sci-fi hybrids, which is likely part of the point. It suffers the same basic strengths and weaknesses as any independent horror film (including an often-infuriating sound mix), but writer/director Sean Abley’s clear devotion to the Cronenberg canon ends up working in the film’s favor. It’s not hard to find independent filmmakers influenced by Cronenberg, but it’s fairly rare to find one doing such an able and appropriate tribute to his work. The film also diverges from most independent horror in its careful attention to character, which is one of Socket’s strong points. While most indie horror films are content to introduce characters only to knock them off, Socket wants you to get to know the characters so that when terrible things happen to them later on, you’ll really feel it. Socket is well worth a look for the horror fan looking for a good low-budget take on vintage Cronenberg, but if you’re looking for something totally new and original you may come away a bit disappointed.
Socket was released on DVD by TLA Releasing. The DVD features a commentary with writer/director Sean Abley, an interesting and comprehensive “making-of” featurette, photo gallery, and theatrical trailers.
Jason Coffman is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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