Release Date: 29th November 2013
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
Starring: Fishermen, Fish, Seagulls
As the world ambivalently plods towards its own demise in the increasingly terrifying 21st Century, one factor which has increasingly been a talking point is the overfishing of the seas. Around 3/4 of the world’s fish are being harvested faster than they can reproduced, which has prompted policy makers to take more effective steps towards sustainable fishing. Sadly, since they don’t have a lot of personality and aren’t coated in fur, it’s hard to get some as enthused when cuddlier animals are being slaughtered unethically elsewhere. Many are ignorant of commercial fishing and the extremely wasteful practices that come with net fishing and other harmful practices. A living nightmare of sound and image, Leviathan won’t give you any of the hard facts, but chooses instead to take you through a deeply visceral experience that’ll leave you both breathless and quite possibly reaching for the nearest vomit receptacle. In a good way, mind. If you’re not excited yet, then you probably should be: it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before or are indeed ever likely to see.
Granted, if the idea of an abstract, dialogue free documentary about fishing doesn’t have you forcibly throwing money at your nearest cinema cashier, then Leviathan probably isn’t going to sound too appealing. However if I told you that it was by far and away the most terrifying film I’ve seen this year, then that might prick up your ears a bit. Directors Castaing-Taylor and Paravel bring an unrelentingly harrowing experience; a dream-like concoction of half formed figures, menacing machinery and an unyielding din which reverberates around your brain like a repeating fog horn.
It starts how it means to finish, too. When it initially begins, we have no sense of time or space. As the camera emerges slowly from the shadows, we realise that we are on a huge commercial fishing boat, watching in horror as the utterly gigantic nets full of thousands of squirming fish are being hauled onto the deck. The nightmarish orgy of organic matter and machinery evoke HR Giger; you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were standing at the mouth of hell itself. The horrific visions don’t stop there, either: fish carcasses are unceremoniously gutted and thrown away, and the entire deck is covered in severed heads and other species unfortunate enough to get caught in the process. Blood stained water pours out the ship, and where dead fish are to be found, so seagulls follow the trawler like vultures. The cold, mechanical, methodical nature of harvesting food has never been more terrifyingly documented.
There is a perverse beauty to be found, however. The unconventional camera means that we experience everything from all angles: whether it be soaring overhead with the seagulls, on deck with the crew, or even in the ocean watching the trail of debris form behind the ship. It’s masterful stuff, and despite its stomach churning content will have you utterly transfixed. There are those who will suggest bias, as the fishermen don’t get the opportunity to comment and the manipulation of the image means that you are constantly bombarded with brutal imagery, however anyone who has seen any of Ron Fricke’s output will be familiar with how powerful invoking an emotional response purely through sound and image can be. Love it or hate it, Leviathan is an experience you’re not likely to forget any time soon. Searingly visceral and thought-provoking without uttering a single line of dialogue; this is incredibly important filmmaking. Go on; brave it.