In 1992, the mockumentary was still in its relative infancy. Despite This Is Spinal Tap having released 8 years earlier (not that it was the progenitor — Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, Albert Brooks’ Real Life, and Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run had all seen critical success already), the format had not really taken off.
Rémy Belvaux decided to take the mockumentary in a new direction, as Man Bites Dog follows a film crew documenting the various crimes of serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde), as they gradually become more involved in the proceedings. Often considered a black comedy, I can’t say that there’s much comedy in it. Outside of a couple of funny scenes, it’s mostly incredibly grim, and contrasted with the slapstick of other scenes, it comes across as unsure of what its tone should be. In one moment, Ben is getting shitfaced in a bar, stumbling around the streets dressed as Santa, and the next moment he’s raping and murdering like there’s no tomorrow.
Although the film’s intent appears to be an examination of how being close to something (even under the auspices of documentation) can make one implicit in it, whether overtly or simply by inaction, it lacks substance. Once the film was over, I felt it was too nihilistic for its own good, but several fantastic scenes, as well as some extremely entertaining dialogue and clever editing, still make Man Bites Dog worth a viewing.