Cellblock 11

December 28th, 2014 by Christianne Benedict

Cellblock 11   Cell Block 11 dvd front 85x120 reviews drama action Director: Jules Stewart
Writer: Jules Stewart and Jared Kurt
Release Year: 2012
Alternative title: ‘K-11′

Cellblock 11   Zeno Pictures mini logo reviews drama action Trapped in the Body of a Bad Movie

Coked-out record producer Richard Saxx (Goran Visnjic) is accused of murder and thrown into a prison ward for at-risk prisoners; mainly gay and transgender inmates. The ward is ruled by trans capo Mousey (Kate del Castillo), who holds onto power at the behest of the vile Sgt. Johnson (D.B. Sweeney), and by child molesting monster Detroit (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister). Saxx, who is neither gay nor trans, slowly builds alliances in the ward, which comes in handy when the last straw breaks and the prisoners rise up to turn the tables against their tormentors.

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Within the trans community, there’s a drinking game for depictions of transgender characters in movies. Take a drink every time you see a trans woman putting on make-up. Take two drinks every time you see a trans woman in a shower. Take a drink whenever you see a cisgender actor play a trans character. And so on. Movies with far loftier ambitions than prison exploiter ‘K-11′ will put you in the hospital should you play along with them. ‘K-11′ will probably put you in the morgue.

Cellblock 11   K 11 02 Goran mug shot 300x124 reviews drama action

Full disclosure: I’m a trans feminist killjoy. When I was asked to write about this movie, the thought filled me with a certain amount of apprehension. The number of good, respectful depictions of trans people in film is vanishingly small. I certainly wasn’t going to find one in a low budget sleaze fest like ‘K-11′. Trans people in prison? Nothing could possibly go wrong with that, right? Just contemplating the idea made my skin crawl. And, lo and behold! This film is woefully – sometimes hilariously – misinformed about the political, social, etiological, and medical realities of gender identity. Instead, it builds its characters from tired stereotypes early and chases them down a rabbit hole. This is a collision of the tropes of the transploitation film with the women in prison film, salted with the more respectable men in prison film. The result is a car wreck of a movie that plays like the makers of TV’s ‘Oz’ (1997) went into production after huffing a whole bunch of airplane glue.

Cellblock 11   K 11 07 Portia Doubleday 300x124 reviews drama action

The first inmate we meet apart from Saxx is a trans woman named “Butterfly,” who describes herself as an avatar of change. She’s played by Portia Doubleday, who is a cisgender actress. Take a drink. Take another one for the association with butterflies. Not part of the drinking game, but, what the hell? It oughta be. When first we see Mousey, played by Kate del Castillo (another cis actress, take another drink), she’s sporting a spray-on beard shadow, but that doesn’t last. A long montage follows her transformation into a broad caricature of a trans porn star, including a shower scene that leers at her (drink) and an almost fetishistic sequence of makeup application (drink up). Mousey will be seen applying makeup at multiple points in the movie, but you’ll be in an alcohol-induced coma by then, so pay it no mind. It dresses her in improbable clothes, including impractical fuck-me platform shoes. She’s the very model a transgender sex worker as conceived by fly by night porn operators. I should probably note that this is a movie that conflates gender identity and sexual orientation, which is a mistake. At one point, it describes Mousey as “hotter than a ‘real’ woman,” which should put an end to all alcohol. The transsexual psychopath is such a cliche that it hardly bears mentioning that this film mines that trope, too.

Cellblock 11   K 11 04 Kate 01 300x124 reviews drama action

This is all on top of the requisite prison movie cliches: drug mules, prison rape, sadistic guards, shower scenes, you name it. This certainly doesn’t skimp on the exploitation element. There’s even an element of ‘Shawshank Redemption’-style comeuppance for its villains and the unexpected friendship – well, allyship, anyway – between Saxx and Mousey, though Mousey spits all her lines rather than intoning them in rich, Morgan Freeman-ish platitudes.

Cellblock 11   K 11 05 Goran Tiny 300x124 reviews drama action

This is a film that preys on a certain amount of homophobia and transphobia for its suspense. This is the point of inexplicably housing the cis-het Saxx amongst a queer population, after all. It’s intended to threaten his sexuality, and by proxy the sexuality of a hypothetical viewer who is also cis-het (and probably male). And yet, something odd happens with this theme. The film turns surprisingly sympathetic to its downtrodden queer characters, and Saxx winds up feeling not revulsion or menace from them, but something like kinship. When he starts maneuvering with agency of his own after being tormented as the new fish, he knows exactly against whom to direct his actions, and it’s not sad, mad Butterfly or even Mousey, but at the system itself and Johnson in particular. The note of sympathy this film displays doesn’t paper over the awfulness of its stereotypes, but it does make them (slightly) easier to tolerate. I should also note that there is indeed a gay-men’s ward in the L. A. Central Jail in real life. In spite of this, it still felt like I was watching something taking place in bizarro world. It certainly wasn’t taking place in the world that I live in. It’s about as real as Narnia.

Cellblock 11   K 11 06 Kate Jason 300x124 reviews drama action

There are relatively good actors stuck in this calamity, but the screenplay does them no favors and no one really rises above it. I’m sure that Goran Visnjic, D.B. Sweeney, Portia Doubleday, and Kate del Castillo all had angry conversations with their agents after wrapping this debacle. Visnjic, the film’s ostensible protagonist, sleepwalks through his part, perhaps in defiance of its crapiness, but more likely by design given that he spends the first third of the film in a heroin-induced stupor. Other cast members occasionally veer into histrionics worthy of a Russ Meyer movie or kabuki theater, perhaps at the urging of their director. Del Castillo is even made up to resemble Tura Satana. Kristen Stewart, the original choice to play Mousey, probably did a happy dance somewhere for having avoided this film, even if it was directed by her mother. She’s really the only person to escape this film unscathed.

Cellblock 11   K 11 03 Jason Mewes 300x124 reviews drama action

‘K-11′ is a film that’s destined to vanish without a trace and without the cult it so desperately seeks. It’s not authentically queer enough to appeal to a queer audience. Its trans stereotypes are egregious and we angry trans people are short on patience with egregious stereotypes. And it’s not lurid enough for an exploitation audience. Certainly, an audience of straight male cisgender exploitation fans will likely chafe at the film’s queerness. Why did no one stop this before it started with the simplest of questions: who is this film’s target audience? What possible reason could someone have for watching this film? I mean, I suppose it could appeal to an audience of chasers – it even provides a character that could act as a viewpoint for them – but hell, this fails on that count, too. Trans porn is easy to find on the internet, after all, and that stuff provides the actual goods.

Cellblock 11   K 11 09 Kate Sweeney 300x124 reviews drama action

Rating: Cellblock 11   halfstar reviews drama action Cellblock 11   blankstar reviews drama action Cellblock 11   blankstar reviews drama action Cellblock 11   blankstar reviews drama action Cellblock 11   blankstar reviews drama action


DVD specifics:

Cellblock 11   Cell Block 11 dvd sleeve 300x200 reviews drama action

Running time: 87 mins
English, Dolby Digital 5.1
Aspect ratio:
16/9 (2.35:1)
Trailers for ‘Dragon Hunter (2009), The Seasoning House (2012), ‘The 25th Reich’ (2012)

Available to order on DVD through Zeno Pictures.


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Trailer on YouTube.


Cellblock 11   K 11 poster 300x204 reviews drama action

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