Are The Procedure (2016) and The Procedure Part 2 (2019) Hidden Gem Movies? — Diamonds in the Rough

Diamonds in the Rough (DitR, /dɪ’tər/) takes some of the most derided, divisive, controversial, financially catastrophic, and meme-worthy movies and tries to find the silver lining. Bad movies don’t always start as bad ideas, and flops aren’t always flop-worthy. DitR seeks to find the good within the bad, because the world could use some positivity. And when all else fails, making fun of bad movies is oh-so satisfying.

In this first installment of Diamonds in the Rough, we look at The Procedure and The Procedure Part 2, two psychological horror/comedy short films from director Calvin Lee Reeder. And boy oh boy is this a rite of passage episode! If you can get on board with these two shorts, then you can get on board with pretty much anything this series is going to contend with (although, this is no guarantee).

 

The Procedure

  • IMDb: 5.6/10 (209 ratings)
  • Letterboxd: 3.1/5 (373 ratings)

The Procedure Part 2

  • IMDb: 5.6/10 (16 ratings)
  • Letterboxd: 3.2/5 (36 ratings)

The narratives of The Procedure and The Procedure Part 2 are spare enough that I can outline them here in full (Content Warning: non-violent torture. Also, spoiler alert).

In The Procedure, a man leaving work (Christian Palmer) is shot with a dart gun wielded by an unseen assailant. He wakes in an empty white room, strapped to an operating table with a device prying the eyelids of his left eye open. He calls out for help. An alarm sounds, and a sign illuminates with the words “QUIET PLEASE.” He struggles against the restraints and continues yelling, to no avail. Then, a panel in the ceiling opens up, revealing a bare buttocks. The owner of the naked rear end, a masked man, descends from above as the captive begins screaming for help once more. The naked buttocks stops inches from the captive’s face, farts, and is then drawn back up into the ceiling. The restraints are released, and the man escapes.

In the sequel, a man (Palmer) falls in the woods and is kidnapped by an unseen assailant. He wakes in a sterile white room, strapped onto an operating table with a device prying his mouth open. When he attempts to scream, an alarm sounds and signs illuminate with the words “QUIET PLEASE.” He stops screaming, and a panel opens in the wall revealing a bare buttocks. Suddenly, the operating table is mechanically foisted into the air so that the man’s face is a mere inch from the naked backside. The naked buttocks releases a fart, which enters the trapped man’s mouth, and the table returns to its normal position. The restraints are released, and the man runs out of the room. Credits.

I will be up front about this. I truly do not enjoy these films on any level. High concept and crisply edited as they are, they feel like shorts meant to elicit a reaction (to nauseate, more specifically) and nothing else. This leaves the audience with a frustrating feeling that Reeder has executed a cruel practical joke on them, and there is a callousness to that which I can’t appreciate.

That said, this is Diamonds in the Rough, and we are here to mine the good out of derided films. Given that I just admitted my own derision of these short films, it is only fair that I begin by extending Reeder a compliment. I watched the director’s other shorts (which are available on Vimeo), as well as his feature The Oregonian, and there is a lot of craftsmanship in them. Reeder is not a hack artist simply going for a cheap reaction; he has something to add, stylistically, to the genre film landscape. As such, it only makes sense to view the two Procedure films on their own terms, as opposed to merely seeing them as practical jokes.

Reeder’s films have screened at Sundance, Slamdance, Fantastic Fest, SXSW, and Melbourne International Film Festival. The Procedure won awards at Sundance and Fantastic Fest. There is clearly a gut reaction to the films’ shared premise that some appreciate, yet the internet reaction to them is less than stellar. While some of the 5-star reviews on Letterboxd read as genuine, others are memes. And there are plenty of low-star ratings.

What I think divides the audience is that these films are all reaction. The intensely short runtime and matter of fact execution necessitates a gut reaction of some sort. It logically follows that these two shorts adhere to the release theory of humor [1]. Release theory views laughter as a response to a buildup of energy. For Freud, this energy builds up due to the repression of childlike urges. Alternatively, the buildup of energy can be due to rising expectations as a comedian approaches the punchline of a joke. The setup anticipates a punchline, and our knowledge of the comic structure of joke-telling has us eagerly awaiting the punchline throughout the setup. In this view, laughter is the result of tension, which is caused by the anticipation, being released.

The structure of the two The Procedure films fits into both of these perspectives on release theory. For one, the fixation on the image of an anus recalls Freud’s anal phase of psychosexual development. But beyond that, Reeder’s conceit here is to take an inherently childlike joke archetype (the fart joke) and map it onto a sterile, horror-like environment. A divided reaction could stem from this childlike origin. Those who dislike the film may see it as pointless, childish, or simply disgusting. Those who react with laughter (whether this means they like the film or not) may do so out of shock, discomfort, or as a reaction to the horror-style setup to a childish punchline.

And this is indicative of a separate theory of humor: the incongruity theory. This theory posits that what is seen as funny stems from the juxtaposition of unlike things (or an unlikely juxtaposition of things). The contrast between two competing ideas causes a comedic tension. In this case, the tension is fairly obvious. The horror premise of a man being abducted and strapped to an operating table in an ominously empty room is juxtaposed with the childlike premise of a fart joke. The incongruity of these two things yields an unexpected climax to the narrative, a punchline that no one could see coming.

Ultimately, comedy being the subjective mode that it is, structures involving incongruity and/or release are not necessarily humorous. Even having understood the incongruity and pattern of release within the narrative structure of these two shorts, I did not laugh at the comic event. It is difficult to say what it is about the execution that failed to elicit humor for me. The incongruity is, in theory, humorous. The idea is undoubtedly novel. The editing effectively illustrates the intended rhythm of the humor. And, as previously mentioned, the entire short is unpredictable in a way that is commendable. But, subjectively, it was not my cup of tea.

Perhaps it goes back to what I opened this article with. Maybe it is something about a perceived cruelty on the part of Reeder that makes it impossible for me to enjoy the films. There is another theory of humor, called superiority theory, which claims that humor has an element of abuse to it. We laugh at things that affirm our superiority to others. It is the idea behind the classic slipping on a banana peel gag. We laugh at someone else’s expense, because their clumsy action reaffirms our own lack of clumsiness. We are more ordered and competent than the man who fails to see the banana peel, therefore it is gratifying to see the man fall.

In the case of the The Procedure films, the superiority seems to lie solely with the people behind the production. Audiences in a film festival screening did not choose to be subjected to the crass, explicit depiction of a prolonged fart joke, just as the character in the films does not choose to be strapped to the table and subjected to them. There is a captivity to the unpredictability which seems to negate the humor for me. Not knowing the climax of the short beforehand (the second time around it is much harder to blame Reeder for the viewer’s dissatisfaction) leads the viewer to be the butt of the joke (it’s hard to believe, but I truly did not intend that pun).

It is worth mentioning, as a point of conclusion, that no one theory of humor exists exclusive to others. A good study of humor takes different approaches to humor into account. Also, I think individual tastes in comedy come from these differing cultural understandings of the comic event. I think some people are more receptive to incongruity, or they are receptive to more severe forms of incongruity than others. Some people may be more appreciative of the surprise that goes along with release theory; a good shock may induce more laughter in these people. No one way is superior to others (although, to be frank, I think people who laugh purely because they feel superior are a bit suspect). If nothing else, The Procedure can be viewed as a hidden gem in that it makes for a good study of subjectivity in the reception of comedy. And on a final note, just so we are all clear: I still don’t like the films.

New Diamonds in the Rough articles drop every Friday at noon, EST.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

 

[1] For more on release theory and other theories of humor, see: Carroll, Noel. Humour: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2014.

 

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