The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The making of ‘Suicide Squad’ was awful and so is the movie, reviewers say

From left, Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara as Katana in a scene from “Suicide Squad.” (Clay Enos/Warner Bros via AP)

If your co-worker mailed you a potentially used condom, that co-worker would likely be fired more quickly than you can say “severe HR violation” or, more appropriately, “what?”

If you’re in David Ayer’s upcoming film “Suicide Squad,” which hits theaters Friday, you laugh about it on talk shows and in magazine profiles.

Stories keep mounting of the strange, dark and, at times, downright harrowing experience the filming of “Suicide Squad” seemed to be. It was perhaps a way to generate buzz around the film, which might be dearly needed. Critical reviews started trickling in Wednesday, and they are not good, to say the least.

As of Wednesday morning, the film had an abysmal 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Vulture’s David Edelstein called it “the year’s most muddled piece of storytelling.” Time’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “by the end, it’s as if you’ve seen nothing.” Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy wrote that it’s a “puzzlingly confused undertaking that never becomes as cool as it thinks it is.”

With the stream of bad reviews, one can’t help but wonder if all the backstage nastiness actually hurt the production.

The film, starring, among others, Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis and Jared Leto, is about a group of supervillains that share the same world as Batman and Superman. Most well-known among these anti-heroes are the Joker and Harley Quinn.

The film is gleefully dark — uncomfortably dark, really, given recent current events. Apparently attempting to draw this darkness out of his actors, Ayer encouraged them to live out the more unseemly aspects of their characters.

To make sure that didn’t cause any lasting damage, he kept a “kind of therapist” on set, according to Adam Beach, one of the film’s actors.

“David Ayer is about realism,” Beach told E! News. “So if your character is tormented, he wants you to torment yourself. He wants the real thing.”

That might sound like traditional press tour, pre-screening movie fodder, until you hear the actors’ experience.

Jared Leto’s antics, in particular, stand out as ghastly and potentially illegal. Leto is the first person to play the Joker since the late Heath Ledger was awarded a postmortem supporting actor Oscar for his shocking, tremendous turn in “The Dark Knight.”

To get into character — or for some other reason that we’re probably all better off not considering — Leto sent his castmates a number of increasingly bizarre, disgusting items. Will Smith received a set of bullets. To Margot Robbie, he gifted a dead rat. The whole cast got a shared gift, although it’s unlikely they’ll be fighting over it: It was a dead pig.

Those aren’t even the weird ones.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje received sticky Playboy magazines. Then, as a horrible denouement, Leto sent the rest of the cast anal beads and used condoms.

“I did a lot of things to create a dynamic to create an element of surprise, a spontaneity and to really break down any kind of walls that may be there,” Leto told E! News. “The Joker is somebody who doesn’t really respect things like personal space or boundaries.”

That still wasn’t enough for Ayer, who told Yahoo! Movies that he forced his cast into fistfights with each other.

“The rehearsal was very intense,” Ayer said. “It wasn’t a normal rehearsal, we’d talk about their lives, their history, and really got them to open up as people to each other. I also had them fight. I had them fight each other. You learn a lot about who a person really is when you punch them in the face. It gets rid of a lot of the actor stuff.”

It wasn’t all fighting. According to Cara Delevingne, who plays June Moone, Ayer specifically asked her to walk into the woods and strip naked if there was a full moon. She told W magazine that’s exactly what she did.

Jai Courtney, meanwhile, who plays a character named Boomerang, told Empire that he took mushrooms and proceeded to stub lit cigarettes out on his arms during a Skype video call with Ayer. And, according to io9, Akinnuoye-Agbaje spent his time in makeup listening to tapes of Issei Sagawa, a Japanese man known for killing and eating a Dutch woman in Paris in 1981.

For film buffs, the dark tales of filming might be reminiscent to the filming of 1979’s “Apocalypse Now.” The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, was a Vietnam War adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Its filming was marred with alarming incidents, as captured in the excellent “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.”

During the filming, Sheen reportedly had a mental breakdown, and Brando showed up extremely overweight and unable to remember his lines. One of the film’s opening scenes shows Sheen, drunk in a bedroom, punching a mirror until it shattered and his hands began bleeding everywhere.

The blood, legend has it, was real.

“I had a dream that somehow the key to getting the actor to disclose all that was in him was his vanity,” Coppola told the Hollywood Reporter. Because Martin was a low-key person, such a good person, a handsome guy, very open, but you sensed that maybe there was a lot more to him. So I started goading him on his vanity. ‘Look at yourself in the mirror, you’re so handsome, look at your face, look at how beautiful you are.’ ”

“He started to get really weird. He punched his own image in the mirror, and all this poured out of him.”

The main difference, it would seem, is that the suffering involved in that filming was accidental.

The other is that “Apocalypse Now” is a terrific, seminal American film.

“Suicide Squad” seems to be anything but.