"Inspired by true events".

Beneath the opening credits, three prisoners are interviewed separately in an interrogation room. They speak to the camera, to their off-screen interrogator, about an incident that occurred earlier in their cell.

Through flashbacks that are interspersed between the interview footage, we witness Mitch (Shaun Sipos) hang himself in his cell with bed linen.

The film then begins proper when it shows Mitch in his cell a few days earlier, with his three cellmates - the three guys we've just seen being interviewed: Harry (Edward Furlong), Peter (Sam Levinson) and Jack (Steffan Mennekes).

The quartet are given to sitting around a small table, gambling with tokens while smoking profusely and playfully insulting each other. The bickering tends to intensify whenever someone loses a game of poker and the issue of paying their debts (usually cigarettes) is raised.

The action centres on one particular game of poker, in which everyone opts in on the understanding that whoever loses the first hand must eat an entire tube of toothpaste. Mitch loses but refuses to honour the forfeit, instead resorting to sulking in his top-bunk bed while the remaining trio continue their game.

But the game soon grinds to a halt when Harry suddenly explodes, thrashing Mitch with a pillow and dragging him from his bed, insisting that he eat the toothpaste. Peter and Jack help to hold the screaming Mitch down while Harry force-feeds him.

Mitch does indeed fulfil the required task, and receives a brief round of applause from his cellmates ... who allow him the dignity of letting his stomach settle down - before the torment escalates ...

Mitch is further backed into a corner when the inmates next attempt to get him to drink something highly suspicious. Unsurprisingly, he's less than keen to conform - but this just brings even more trouble upon himself (even though he does actually drink it - then vomits it back up).

It turns out to be a very long night for Mitch, with much more humiliation to come. The most horrific of which turns out to be his prolonged gang-rape, followed by his enforced suicide.

The film's arc is non-existent - it's impossible to be guilty of slipping "spoilers" into a review of a film that really has no dramatic journey. We know from the start how this is going to end, and the frequent cuts to the surviving trio speaking retrospectively to the screen offer as reminders throughout of their remorseless guilt.

Rather, it's an exercise in gruelling torture that masquerades as an insight into bullying and mob mentality. Albeit, in an uncomfortable and formidably disconcerting manner.

Where the prison is, is never truly divulged - although writer-director Uwe Boll does reveal in the extras that this scenario is 'based upon' a real-life occurrence in a German prison ...

Here, the protagonists are American ... and they all seem sufficiently hardened to life. That is, when their improvised dialogue manages to come across as convincing. There are a few noticeable "errs" within the dialogue, along with some embarrassingly macho one-liners that perhaps a director who spoke English as his first language would iron or edit out.

On the plus side, the improvisational approach does frequently benefit the film's documentary-style feel. The cast, despite the dropping the ball on early occasions as per above, do grow more convincing as the drama progresses, and some of the more aggressive later scenes are consequently quite distressing.

Which, of course, is what Boll wants. Like SEED, this is an angry Boll - a bitter man with hatred coursing through his veins. He's actually all the better for it, and this along with SEED is arguably his most satisfying film.

For a start, there's the aesthetic value - it's an impressively dull-looking film. The hand-held camera technique is used to good effect, and Boll's style appears to be becoming more considered, more fluent with every new film. Deep greys and toned-down colours successfully convey a consistent air of decay, while the editing is kept loose to complement the naturalistic performances. As I said above, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But improvisation is a risky business and I commend Boll for even attempting it.

Furlong makes for compulsive viewing, if only to witness how he's transformed this decade into an overweight, knackered-looking lookalike of James Dean Bradfield. Sipos is a believable victim - you will ache for him - while Levinson and Mennekes do a fine job of depicting the slow but steady descent from guilt to outright venom during the excruciating cell scenes.

The film builds in unrelenting fashion, with an unremitting tone that is likely to alienate the more casual viewer. This truly is misanthropic fare. Given it's economic oeuvre - four men, one cell, no special effects as such - it could be argued that all Boll has to play with is a mean spirit to entice an audience inwards. But isn't that worrying in itself?

Even more worrying is that he's made a pretty convincing play at it. Okay, when the beatings and humiliation subside on occasion, the heart-to-hearts shared briefly between the other three bullies are none-too-convincing. But for the most part, this is unapologetically unpleasant viewing - a real feel-bad film. I suspect Boll intended it to be precisely this, and for that reason I can only describe his film as a resounding success.

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 and has a drab, gritty look which I presume is intentional. It suits the dank setting and bleak scenario perfectly. Images and contrasts are fine, which again points to the washed-out visuals of the film being intended on Boll's part.

English audio is provided in 2.0 and 5.1 tracks. While both offer a well-rounded, evenly balanced playback, it could be argued that the 5.1 track is underused and not entirely necessary. Still, there's many a DVDphile would whinge if it wasn't offered ...

An appropriately dour, violent animated main menu page kicks off proceedings on the disc.

From there, a static scene-selection menu is split across two pages and offers access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

Extras begin with "The Making Of Stoic". Presented over 15 minutes in black-and-white, it's a mixture of violent clips from the film and post-production interview clips talking head-style with the cast and Boll. Everyone seems very sincere about the production, and the welcome behind-the-scenes footage adds credence to everyone's claims that they went into this with serious intentions. However ... is Boll really wearing a German soldier's helmet while directing?! The interview footage is presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1, while the film clips are in 1.78:1.

Next up is "Alternative Openings Featurette". This may not sound like much but it passes an incredible 51 minutes, offering various opening scenes that were tried and then shelved (the best of which is the haunting first one, with an unedited hanging sequence during the credits). It culminates in the final cut's opening sequence. It's quite fascinating stuff, although a commentary track accompaniment would have been nice. Presented in 1.78:1, these clips are each introduced by text exposition - presumably typed by Boll, given their penchant for broken English.

"Behind The Scenes" affords us the opportunity to see various takes of scenes, which is handy seeing as though each one employs different improvised dialogue and performances. Given the wealth of supplementary footage that must have been shot, the disc keeps it to a fair 21 minutes' worth.

Finally, "Deleted Scenes" are timecoded and again met with poorly written text introductions that at least serve to shed some context to proceedings. There are 11 minutes of deleted scenes.

All of the extras features are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and in black and white.

The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for THE WARLORDS, FLAME & CITRON and SHIFTY.

STOIC shows Uwe Boll developing his craft further. Without CGI or video games to sully his name, he's made a very basic four-man soap opera that is largely set in one room. But this is no stage play - this is a harrowing, surprisingly tight and fundamentally horrible film that works despite its flaws.

A study in basic human behaviour? No, I don't buy that. But STOIC is worthy of a look, certainly. If you're cynical, rent it just to see how fat Furlong has become.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Metrodome Group
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review