Cyberpunk thriller Sixteen Tongues is a grimy 1999 SOV feature from cult director Scooter McCrae (Shatter Dead). This tense no budget feature shows a near-future dystopia where outcasts are playthings for a government that uses body modification and sexual stimulation to hold their lives hostage. Chaotic and unnerving, it boldly goes where few cyberpunk features have gone. Saturn’s Core and OCN Distribution bring the filthy film to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package given the VHS source materials. Special features are a buffet of goodies for fans. Recommended.
“If I don't have a soul then what's the voice inside me?”
Agro policeman Adrian Torque (Crawford James, Dregs of Society) is tortured by the skin grafts on his body as a result of burns from an explosion that ripped society apart society in 2007 America. These grafts are the tongues from 16 victims of the explosion. The tongues constantly toy with his notions of pain, pleasure, and existence. In the same seedy hotel is prostitute/assassin Ginny (Jane Chase) whose personal mission is to hunt the doctor who implanted a clitoris under her eyeballs. Her room mate and lover Alik (Alice Liu, Stepmom) is a hacker hellbent on tracking down her brother’s killer by surfing local networks using homemade neural hardware. Tortured by their pasts and unable to find comfort in the present, this trio of traumatized outcasts will have their paths collide in ways they never expected.
Sixteen Tongues is a sleazy cyberpunk thriller about the human condition in the face of trauma and the hyper-sexualizing of society as a means of control. Ambitious in scope and execution, the film barrels through these themes at breakneck speed concealing its no-budget trappings. Shot in a single hallway and two bedrooms the feature has a decidedly claustrophobic appearance which helps intensify the chaotic energy pulsating in every scene. Celebrated cult director Scooter McCrae helms the feature with the giddy energy of a kid in a candy store. Emphasis is heavy on makeup effects, set design, and snap character building while allowing everything else to fall to the side. Within those tiny rooms dialogue heavy scenes build sexual tension, develop character arcs, and reveal the complexities of a cop and soldier whose lives were ripped apart and reassembled in the name of humanity continuing forward.
Where simulation would be the controlling force in other films like The Matrix, here stimulation is the de facto action for keeping citizens docile in a world seemingly destroying itself. Every scene drips with sexual images, sounds, and dialogue. Let me be clear: None of it is sexy per se. It projects a filthy and perverse flood of disgust. If that’s your thing, then party on my friend. Though the feature is rife with hardcore pornographic images pasted on walls and bizarre images on TVs the actors don’t engage in real sex acts save for one scene using prosthetics.
Throughout the feature credit card terminals and janky tech signal a world caught between past and future. Alik’s collection of cables and devices scattered around her ordinary apartment looks like anyone’s tech jumble today. Cyberpunk allows these time periods to coexist with a messy yet homogeneous aesthetic. Adrian’s reaction to the idea that paying to shut off the TV reveals a sense of confusion essential to cyberpunk world-building: the environment is outpacing your slow human acknowledgment and acceptance of new ideas. We don’t ever see the outside world but Adrian’s disjointed experiences in the hotel help develop our assumptions of a planet gone mad.
Performances here are aggressive and committed to the material. Crawford James easily channels the troubled cop's emotions and drives through his tense delivery and physical dominance. His opening scene with a suspect is a punch-in-the-face opener for the film that will catch you off guard. Jane Chase allows Ginny’s vulnerabilities to trickle through as a tough exterior is retained. Kudos to her for navigating the ultra-weird sex scene with confidence. Of the three Alice Liu’s Alik is the most troubled character on the surface which she projects convincingly. It’s a shame we don’t have more time with these characters and understand more about their motivations.
In Sixteen Tongues the solution to regaining balance in a messy world becomes constant and overwhelming stimulation. Not a stretch for us to believe in our reality, right? I wouldn’t call this a pornographic Blade Runner, but the ideas of cyberpunk are firm in the portrayal of a chaotic layered future where people must rediscover their humanity. McCrae’s vision is a stunning display of his creative abilities even if the film can’t keep up with him. At every turn it seems to follow an expected course but the dense sexuality and cyberpunk elements kept me interested until the credits rolled. Double feature this one with No Resistance or Videodrome for a near-future brainblast.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sixteen Tongues arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Saturn’s Core and OCN Distribution. Housed in a transparent keepcase with reversible artwork, the Region Free disc loads the Saturn’s Core logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with scenes from the film playing against typical navigation options.
Presented in the film’s original 1.33:1 this AVC encoded 1080p HD image of Sixteen Tongues retains the film’s SOV textures nicely. Analogue fuzz and poor lighting make most scenes difficult to read. Shooting within darkened interiors can hide budgetary limitations but it also hides the tense performances as well. The grimy porno theater aesthetic pairs nicely with the S&M vibes here leaving some of the visuals to your imagination. Colors are discernible with blues and reds prominent though much is lost within source format and artistic lighting choices. Keep your room as dark as possible to enjoy the film.
Dialogue for the film is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 which is clear and discernible even with on-camera microphones. Dialogue exchanges are clear with minimal hiss and pop detected. Effects can be muddy but are readable within scene specifics. Levels are maintained though some scoring elements can top out higher than expected.
Saturn’s Core doesn’t disappoint with the special features on this release. Multiple commentary tracks, short films, and loads of behind-the-scenes footage fill out the package nicely. Start with the on-set featurettes then move through the commentaries before checking out the short films.
For a cyberpunk thriller, Sixteen Tongues makes some bold choices that may reveal more about the hands behind the wheel rather than the story itself. Ambitious and uncompromising with its portrayal of a hyper-sexualized capitalist world, the film boldly goes where few near-future films have gone. The film is brought to Blu-ray thanks to Saturn’s Core and OCN Distribution. The A/V package is quite solid for an SOV feature of this ilk allowing for clear dialogue and a picture quality that while still hampered by its source looks appropriate for the cyberpunk aesthetic at hand. Special Features are a buffet of McCrae content allowing for fans to get their fill and then some. While weird and unsettling at times this feature comes Recommended.