A reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter referred to this movie as “a deranged John Waters remake of The Shawshank Redemption”. Naturally, my curiosity is being provoked. Based on the poster, it looked as if I were indulging another generic horror film where people were trapped in some fucking asylum. Blech! Over it. This was not the case with K-11. At ALL. It’s a strange exploitation film that is driven by an absurd cast of characters.
Raymond Saxx (played by Goran Visnjic) has just come to in jail. After a weekend of drug and booze binging, he’s been slapped with a jail stint for a crime he has no recollection of. Before Raymond can get his bearings, he finds himself headed to K-11, the LA County Jail’s unit for gay and transgendered inmates. From here, Raymond needs to not only navigate the political structure of this jail wing, but also find out how he’s been accused of murder. This proves to be quite difficult. Between a very troubled young girl named Butterfly, a muscle bound pedophile rapist, a transgendered tyrant who runs K-11, and the warden (played by the under-appreciated D.B. Sweeney) who’s a drug-addled level of pervert that rivals the worst of his inmates it could be next to impossible. All that and still trying to prove his innocence? Shit’s gettin’ crazy in K-11…
There was no possible way for me to know how odd this movie was going to get based on the press I’d received. I mean, I knew what the movie was about, but I couldn’t have known what I was in for. For that matter, I was not aware of writer/director Jules Stewart prior to this film. Apparently, it’s common knowledge that she’s Kristen Stewart’s mom. I wasn’t aware of this, mostly because I don’t like Kristen Stewart’s work. I have a tendency to avoid anything she’s involved in. So, I’m already behind the 8 ball, I guess. It’s safe to say that I was basically going into the movie blind. At this point, I’m glad I did…because I loved it. K-11 is ridiculous. Just completely ridiculous. The characters are the worst society has to offer AND they’re the worst version OF those characters. Vicious and overly aggressive, they exemplify stereotypes to a T. A prime example is Mousey, who’s masterfully played by Kate Del Castillo. Mousey is transgendered (pre-op). She’s Countess Bathory. She’s Cruella DeVille. She’s fucking nuts. Her dorm is a network of sex and drugs and it all lands on Mousey’s desk for approval. If she doesn’t sign off, consider yourself done. When she feels threatened, she lashes out via her “muscle”. Raymond is a kink in her plan. He doesn’t seem concerned with making her happy. He doesn’t know why he’s there to begin with. As various scenarios play out, they realize they will need one another to get ahead. This is the charm in K-11. All of these fucked up people have enemies who they can do away with, so long as they figure out how to trust one another.
K-11 is without a giant budget, but it makes due with practical effects and minimal set pieces. Because the film is set in a county jail wing, you’re limited to the dorm and the surrounding rooms. In this particular case, it’s all you need. It was the perfect backdrop to the chaos. The movie has a good look to it and it doesn’t get caught up in rapid image flashing or MTV editing. Stewart wanted to develop these characters and wanted to tell a story. She succeeded.
So, where does K-11 lie in the pantheon of genre films? Why are we covering it on The Blood Sprayer? That’s my favorite part about K-11! As previously stated, the poster art for the movie is somewhat arbitrary. It doesn’t lead you in one direction or another. It goes without saying that is certainly doesn’t lead you in the direction the movie actually goes, either. I do agree with what the writer at The Hollywood Reporter who drew a John Waters parallel. Lots of amplified sociopaths duking it out for the spotlight? Classic John Waters. But, I also noticed a definite Abel Ferrara influence on who the characters were. If you look at Raymond’s lifestyle and true nature, he’s a piece of shit. In fact, while we’re on the subject, every character in this movie is basically a piece of shit!! However, they find their means to be redeemable and that’s where they’re comparable to Ferrara’s work. Not necessarily anti-heroes, but dirtbags who end up lovable. All these components add up to being a big ol’ exploitation film. It’s going to be touted as a drama, etc. and that’s partially true. Hell, if you develop character you’re somewhat of a drama. But this movie plays out like an exploitation movie through and through.
One can never be sure, but I suspect this movie will take its hits critically. It’s excessive and offensive on several levels. Fortunately for me, that’s how I love the world to operate! K-11 is trashy, filthy, violent, and funny. Everyone’s a bad guy, but the worst guys get what they deserve in the end. It may not have been the intent behind her script, but Jules Stewart made a sleazy flick that is a lot of fun to watch. It’s full of weird dialogue that we can presume to be natural speak for those imprisoned in this dorm. Plus, how often do we get to see Jay Mewes play the love interest of a transgendered jailhouse queen? Okay, well that’s probably more likely than we think, so scratch that (I love you, Jason Mewes). Kidding aside, Jules Stewart made the LGBT community her muse and while tapping into some ridiculous stereotypes, still allowed them to be represented as badasses. K-11 is a fun movie with a surprisingly strong character arc. If you haven’t watched a prison flick in awhile, this one could restart that engine for you. It makes great use of veteran character actors (D.B. Sweeney, Jason Mewes, Tommy Lister as a few examples), while utilizing headliners in a far different capacity than they’re accustomed to. Mexican superstar Kate del Castillo literally steals this movie from the moment she enters frame. While she was unknown to me previously, I will be keeping an eye out for her. She played the transgendered prison house mama to perfection while maintaining solid range throughout her (intentionally) extreme performance. That’s the case with a majority of the main players, too. Everyone involved rose to the occasion of playing a lunatic. As a result, this movie achieves what it set out to. And if that wasn’t its intent, then it achieved something different all together!
I highly doubt that everyone will get as big of a kick out of this movie as I did. Just in discussing it with a few folks they seemed turned off to the mere notion of it. If I were to ask anything of you, it’s to give this movie a chance. There’s something unique in K-11 that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s goddamn entertaining stuff. If you took the final act of Desperate Living and crossbred it with OZ, you’re on the right track. It’s full tilt exploitation in every sense of the word. If you’re at all a fan of the same types of films we are at The Blood Sprayer, then I gotta believe you’ll enjoy K-11 the same way I did.