“You are a man with some serious cojones,” one prisoner tells Mitch before hanging him. If I ever have the chance to meet German director Uwe Boll, I’d tell him the same thing, for it’s films like Stoic that require a lot of courage and an abundance of faith in ones trade. Stoic, which marked the first of two dramas (the second being Darfur) that Boll planned to direct, chronicles an incident which occurred in a German prison four years ago, in which three prisoners tortured, raped, and finally forced their fellow inmate to commit suicide in order to cover up their vile actions. Luckily, the hammer of justice came down on these animalistic individuals and all of them were handed hefty-sentences for their crimes against humanity.
The film is split into two forms of reenactments: The dramatizations of the actual events that transpired inside the cell room and reenacted interviews by the torturers. Both are equally painful to see. Throughout the majority of the motion picture, it’s just difficult to watch Harry (Edward Furlong), Sam (Peter Thompson), and Steffen (Jack Ulrich) force Mitch (Shaun Sipos) to eat combinations of several bodily fluids and common prison material and it’s just stomach-turning to see him being brutally beaten and raped over a reason as petty as a heated card game which involved a bet of eating tooth-paste. However, there is no reason that can deem worthy of such a punishment.
Stoic, though sporting fairly realistic performances, becomes physically draining after about twenty minutes. Mixed with the ultra-violence, the characters lack any form of remorse for doing such an act. Even Jack Ulrich’s character, based on the brief interviews, makes himself out to be a conformist because of his fear of death at the hands of his prisoners, clearly contradicts himself in the dramatic reenactments inside the cell. He instigates a lot of the torture; this glimmer and sparkle in his eye signifies just one thing — blood-thirst.
But it’s hard to even feel remorse for Mitch, because Boll, who also wrote the screenplay, fails to develop the character into any more than a punching bag for the three lunatics. The only detail that we get about Mitch’s character before he is denounced as “nothing” is that he’s a gambling man. In the poker game that transpired before the torture and brutality, he holds all the chips and goes all in with the thought of winning. However, like most gambling men, he’s unable to consider the consequences of losing and this is where the other three prisoners, like parasites, parade on top of him and slowly leech off his life in a desperate attempt to regain machismo and even adrenaline after being punished for their individual crimes.
However, Stoic, which was shot using handheld cameras, does have a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. For the audience, it’s easy to see the difficulty in Mitch’s situation and even though it’s hard to care, it does make a point that his situation is that of an inescapable hell and that is truly a horror story. But Boll doesn’t make the most of this and instead crams the film with a plethora of shock value and no real substance.
Fairly early in the film, Jack Ulrich screams, “It takes something like this? It takes something like this to see that our fucking systems fucked up?” Speaking about the real life incidents that inspired the film, yes, I believe that sometimes acts of depravity must happen before the Government becomes aware of the problem. But in terms of the movie, no, it takes a lot more moving of a film in order to raise public awareness and although Stoic does raise the issue of violence and dehumanization in today’s prisons, the film itself is too much of a torture porn to matter or to remain memorable in its audience.