Holy Shit! (2023)

There are plenty reasons why Spielberg’s shark-attack classic Jaws has endured in the public consciousness for the past half-century: its early showcase of the crowd-pleaser director’s technical talents, its emotional scarring of young aquaphobic Gen-Xrs, its annual holiday celebrations on both The 4th of July and Shark Week, etc.  Between all of the praise for its iconic horror scoring & mechanical-shark puppetry, though, we rarely take the time to praise Jaws for one of its most frequent, looming influences on modern genre filmmaking – the motivations of its villain.  I don’t mean its monstrously gigantic shark, whose descendants would not be assigned clear motivations for their people-eating sprees until preposterous sequels like Jaws 4: The Revenge.  No, I mean the capitalist mayor of Amity, who refuses to shut down his small town’s beaches for The 4th of July to prevent more inevitable shark attacks so local businesses can keep the holiday money flowing, like so much swimmers’ blood.  The Mayor Vaughn motivator is an easy go-to for cheap-o genre movies that need a simple, clear reason for their villains to allow needless violence to continue past the point of credulity.  It works both as ready-made stock political commentary that makes the schlockiest schlock out there appear to have something to say about the evils of Capitalism, and as a self-fulfilling “The show must go on” handwave that endorses the continuation of outlandish movie violence because the violence needs to happen for there to be a movie worth making in the first place.

The Mayor Vaughn motivator has trickled so far down the genre-filmmaking hierarchy that it’s now reached German scheisse comedies about exploding port-a-potties.  The low-brow, high-concept, single-location thriller Holy Shit! is set entirely within the four plastic walls of a locked German port-a-potty, which is set to explode with our shit-smeared hero inside it if he does not escape in time.  Much of the fun is in admiring the ways the film stretches this bar-napkin premise to feature length, which includes impaling the poor prisoner’s arm on a long stretch of rebar to lock him in place and dropping his smartphone just out of reach on the wrong side of the toilet seat.  The film never cheats on its premise; it remains locked inside the portable toilet for the entire runtime, only flashing back to outside events in auditory hallucination and bringing all outside characters within the visible frame of the port-a-potty door.  The only place it doesn’t have to strain its premise, really, is in finding motivation for the madman who locks his professional nemesis inside the toilet and rigs it to explode.  He’s given the off-the-shelf Mayor Vaughn motivator for expediency, trapping his plastic-shitter prisoner on a construction site that he’s determined to see dynamited to oblivion no matter who dares get in the way.  It’s almost overkill when the villain goes a step further by attempting to woo the hero’s girlfriend on top of demanding that the show must go on, but no one is watching a movie with this premise and this title expecting narrative restraint.

The only time Holy Shit! ventures outside its port-a-potty setting is in an opening music video fantasy featuring a hot-babe construction worker posing in full nudie-magazine glamour.  It turns out that image is of a centerfold crudely pasted to the construction site port-a-potty’s walls, which our concussed hero blankly stares at until he fully comes to.  After piecing together how he got trapped in his 127 Hours On The Crapper prison in the first place and abandoning his plans to dial for help on his shitty phone, he begins to MacGyver his way out of the predicament using whatever basic items are within reach.  His skills as an architect eventually come into play when he starts drawing geometric escape plans on the port-a-potty walls, making the film a scatological rehash of CubeHoly Shit! earns its title multiple times over as the shituation escalates and our disarmed hero has to self-mutilate in order to escape, calling into question if he’ll survive the sepsis after he survives the dynamite.  Incredibly, as juvenile as the film can be conceptually, it never pushes itself too far into winking, mood-killing irony.  It even often pauses between its outrageous shit & gore gags to focus on small, delicate details: dripping water, a ladybug, a sentimental photograph.  Only the Mayor Vaughn archetype goes fully off the rails in his broad caricature of genre movie villainy, and it’s somewhat necessary to keep him so over-the-top in every single beat so that all of the exploding port-a-potty gross-outs around him appear tame & tasteful by comparison.

You’d expect this scatological perversion of trapped-in-a-box thrillers like Cube, Devil, Buried, Phone Booth, and Panic Room would come off desperate & thin, but Holy Shit! is surprisingly solid.  Fibrous, even.  It’s continuously shocking without ever cheating on its extremely limited premise, which is all most shlock audiences are asking for out of movies of its ilk.  There’s nothing especially surprising about its villain, though, who is a cookie-cutter capitalist monster who those same audiences have watched wash up on the beaches of Amity over & over again for the past five decades running.

-Brandon Ledet

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