Nothing is what it seems

Sanatorium seems like a porn film, but my impression of it was quite different. Instead of being arousing, it's confusing. Instead of moans of pleasure, there's darkly monotonous music and screams of insanity. And instead of returning to it to decipher its complexities, I'll move onto better films after getting some explanations and closure from the director's commentary.
Great scenery, interesting costumes, good messages if you understand them
Bad acting, creepy music, disturbing themes, confusing plot, fake boobs
Rating by reviewer:
extremely useful review

One of my favorite films is Requiem for a Dream. It's shocking, viscerally engaging, entertaining, and even has some hot moments amidst the drug-laden chaos. I've watched Requiem at least four times. It's a thought-provoking movie with more than a handful of symbols and metaphors, and as much as certain parts make me squirm, my love for Requiem is steadfast.

Sanatorium was presented to me as a pornographic film; I was sent this film for review as a member of Porn Club. Its director and producers advertise it as a feature porn film, and want the viewer to come back to it four or five times to try to figure out the plot and all the symbolism. After I watched Sanatorium the first time, I had almost no desire to watch it again, ever. I knew I would need to watch it again to review it thoroughly, but if I didn't have to, I'd have either given it away or tossed it. Other reviewers said the director's commentary helped the film make sense, and I completely agree. But at the end of the day, I'm not a fan of Sanatorium, even if I feel like I have a decent understanding of it now.

Sanatorium is a story within a story. There might be a third layer of storytelling, but either way it doesn't really affect my plot summary. Tabitha Stevens is telling us a story about her life, and she says she needs to begin at the end of the story. Tabitha and another sex worker entertain a senator (Nick Manning) in a hotel room. Afterward, the senator wants to build some tension before fucking Tabitha.

Tabitha tells him about her life, and this story makes up the majority of the film. There's a lot of commentary on the porn industry in general and clips from her personal experiences. Tabitha has some sex and is tormented by Marcellus (Teddy ZigZag), who I think is her manager, but who also represents ego. In order to free herself from Marcellus's control, she goes on a vision quest in the desert for about four days. On the vision quest there are numerous scenes involving sex, power, and self-image. Tabitha survives the vision quest and returns to reality as a sexual warrior.

The sex in Sanatorium is quite varied. There are blowjobs, handjobs, PIV, anal, cunnilingus, and both vaginal and anal fingering. There's also an ass-to-mouth scene, which I found disgusting. Tabitha has her first interracial scene with Tyler Knight. Lots of fake boobs appear in this film, which was disappointing. I think only one actress (Raylene) had natural breasts, and they were large, lovely, and bouncy.

The foursome scene was my favorite. Raylene and Francesca Le have sex together and with Mark Wood and Ethan Hawke. There's pretty good chemistry, some nice girl/girl action, and at the end of the scene, Ethan Hawke finishes inside Francesca, which is a rare porn delight.

One of my main obstacles for enjoying Sanatorium as an erotic film was that I just don't find Tabitha Stevens attractive. Additionally, even if a scene was arousing to me (regardless of the actors in it), the music was always quite haunting. And to top it off, a lot of the imagery and dialogue in this film were buzzkills. Seeing a man throw up after a snuff film, watching a scorpion scurry through the desert, and hearing Tabitha scream in anguish on her vision quest all negatively impacted my arousal. The interspersed clips of a woman bound in a straight jacket screaming through her metal open-mouth gag weren't edging me toward orgasm, either.
Sanatorium didn't feel like a porn film to me. It felt more like a creepy, artsy film where nothing was what it seemed, truly. I can try to understand the meanings behind people's words and actions, sure, but with all the dark, demented elements, don't expect me to get off while I'm deconstructing the plot.

If a film is beautiful, mesmerizing, stimulating, and makes me wonder about its significance, I am likely to want to watch it again. Even though Sanatorium has beautiful imagery, nice camera work, and an art film feel, there are too many turnoffs for me to consider rewatching it as the producers intend. I enjoy figuring out mysteries, interpreting symbols, and finding hidden meanings in film. But if I don't find the main character in a porn attractive, and I'm viscerally shaken and turned off by a lot of elements and scenes in the film, I'm not motivated to return to it again.

I love Requiem for a Dream because after watching it once, I felt quite depressed, somewhat disgusted, and thoroughly drained. After watching Sanatorium, I felt like I should feel happy and proud of Tabitha, but I was also confused and somewhat disgusted. I wasn't aroused, and I dreaded having to watch it again. Once I watched Sanatorium with the director's commentary, I felt much more in touch with his vision of the film. It became clear to me that this film was important to its makers and stars. While I can appreciate some of the film elements now, I still can't recommend Sanatorium, and I won't be returning to it.
This product was provided free of charge to the reviewer. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.

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  • Contributor: seaofneptune
    I love that you put fake boobs as a con - I thought I was the only one that felt that way! Yeah, the man throwing up would probably end the movie for me right there - thanks for the great review!
  • Contributor: P'Gell
    Great review, Rockin.

    I also really liked Requiem for a Dream, but I likewise didn't find it arousing sexually in any way. I can't STAND puke in porn. Porn is supposed to be fun. Puking isn't!

    IMO, porn should show us people fucking and sucking and getting it in every orifice and using all kinds of interesting appliances and toys and loving every minute of it.

    Leave the "messages" to the IFC people.

  • Contributor: Rockin'
    @seaofneptune - Thanks! Nope, I'm a fan of homegrown breasts, mostly because I like how they move and change shape in different positions. If they are stuck as spheres all the time, it's a turn off.

    @P'Gell - Thanks, and I'm glad you liked Requiem, too. I hoped at least a few people would understand my comparison. I agree with you. I like my porn simple. I like wondering what will happen, sure, but trying to discern a cultural message isn't what I want in my porn.
  • Contributor: Airen Wolf
    I agree with you totally especially your cons! I will usually watch a movie if the director asks me to again but I really didn't like even the whole premis of the movie. I respect the message and the time and effort but it's just not my taste.
  • Contributor: Selective Sensualist
    Great job on this review. You have summed up many of my feelings about this movie.
  • Contributor: Rockin'
    @Airen Wolf - "I respect the message and the time and effort but it's just not my taste." I think that's a very accurate statement of my feelings toward this film, too. Thanks for reading!

    @Selective Sensualist - Woo hoo! I'm glad you liked it. I'm looking forward to our next Porn Club assignments ^_^
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