The title is hardly a metaphor in writer-director Boaz Yakin’s Death in Love, a painfully self-indulgent art film. Yes, love hurts, but a letter opener to your aorta hurts even more.

A far cry from Yakin’s feel-good box office hits Remember the Titans and Uptown Girls, Death in Love disregards the ol’ “less is more” adage and instead, overwhelms its audience with an odd and oftentimes perplexing collage of psychological terror, familial neuroses and shamelessly vivid gore. Yakin relies solely on shock value, evident from the film’s opening, which consist of a montage intertwining sadistic Holocaust acts with violent, rough sex that borders on pornographic – and it only gets worse.

Death in Love follows a wealthy yet hardened Jewish family on the outermost fringes of reality, slowly but steadily collapsing for years under the weight of their mother’s (Jacqueline Bisset) mental instability – a result of her time spent in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Her bursts of anger and sociopathic behavior are seen through the eyes of her eldest son and presumably alpha male of the family (Josh Lucas), attempting to keep the family from bursting at the seams even though his own life is less than exemplary – extremely sexual yet totally loveless, Lucas’ 40-something is a misogynistic con artist with little to no moral truths.

Ping-ponging between Lucas’ aimless business prospects and sexual conquests and Bisset’s scandalous love affair in the concentration camp, Yakin paints a hopeless world teeming with existential angst and despair. The plot becomes muddled thematically in this dark philosophy, a complex web of deception and betrayal, and explicitly, in the blood and sex.

Yet for all of its high concepts and stylized direction, it is the performances that make the film’s physical and psychological torture slightly easier to endure – specifically Bisset, Lukas Haas as the family’s younger sibling and a brilliant but crazy pianist and Vanessa Kai as Lucas’ beautiful yet steely boss and vicious lover. From Haas’ perpetually pink-hued, constantly searching eyes that mirror his always on-the-edge persona to Bisset’s piercingly cool baby blues erecting a wall between her contemporaries and her sadistic past, these actors are truly in the moment, exuding a nervous fear that is more expressive than Yakin’s emotion-spewing dialogue.

Death in Love
leaves one wide-eyed and rigid in his or her seat – it shocks, alright, but fails to leave a lasting impression beyond its unexpected visuals.

Grade: C

Death in Love releases in select theaters July 17.