“I will not be tied to him! Lock me in the closet!”
Larry Cohen’s 1972 debut is somehow the smoothest of his films I’ve seen, and it also the most blatantly satirical.
A seemingly rich white couple finds a rat in their pool and call for help. When the african-american Bone (Yaphet Kotto) shows up, the couple assume he is there to help with the pool. Instead, he pushes them inside and attempts to rob them, only to find bills piled high to the ceiling.
From there, Bone turns into an always problematic, sometimes surrealist, and always bitingly intelligent satire on race and class relations.
I can’t completely defend every choice Cohen makes here. Even as satire, a ton of this is horrifically offensive. But, even at its most squirm-inducing, Bone is always damn near mesmerising. Yaphet Kotto rescues his character from what could easily become stock, disgusting stereotype with his charisma and knowing eyes, and the central couple (especially Jeannie Berlin as the wife) never lose a certain amount of broken desperation that makes them sympathetic even as the descend to disgusting depths of depravity.
Having been an enormous fan of Cohen’s other work, I came into this expecting his usual genre-schlock with fantastic subtext, but this ditches the home-invasion aspect almost immediately for its bizarre, wandering condemnations.
Somehow, Cohen was able to articulate a central thesis of his work in his first feature: evil is not inherent, it is the product of an insane society working upon the sane mind. Or, here, more specifically: stereotypes are created by a fearful world needing simple enemies to hate.
And when it comes down to the ending, in which Berlin sits on a sand dune spouting horrific rhetoric to no one, hoping that the simplicity of her stories will turn her world around, I absolutely believe Larry Cohen.