Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 17th 2021
Argentina gives us a good film
I am a lover of stories. I prefer my songs to have good lyrics, I like my writing to be about something happening (not just pretentious twaddle), and I like my movies to have strong stories. Okay, yes, regular readers know of my love for trashy films that I occasionally try to foist upon my readers, but there is still something endearing about them. However, if I am going to watch a film, I want to have things happen and be engaged in what is happening.
I was recently asked to review two films for WeekendNotes from a new distributor named Danse Macabre. This one was sold as a science fiction film in the style of Mad Max. It got some positive reviews and it looked like an interesting concept, so I thought I'd give it a go. Well, the people who write these things up, I wonder if they've seen the film in its entirety. This was not that. What I got instead was a tense drama about people not coping with their changed world. And the fact I am writing a review tells you that I liked this one.
Producers: Néstor Sánchez Sotelo & Daniel De la Vega Director: Pablo Parés Writers: Paulo Soria, Daniel de la Vega & Pablo Parés Starring: Esteban Prol , Horacio Fontova, Fini Boccino, Sergio Podeley, Gaston Cocchiarale & Verónica Intile Runtime: 80 minutes
So, let's start with a (hopefully) spoiler-free run-down. The film is from Argentina, so I had to rely on the subtitles as my Spanish is not very good. But that was not a huge issue for various reasons.
A man with no memory wakes up in the midst of a pile of bodies. He finds he has been branded with a symbol that looks like the one for dangerous biological waste. He stumbles around until he finds some clothing. Then he sees one of the dried ones, a humanoid being with no eyes, feeding on one of the corpses. This being attacks him, but he is saved by an old man with a shotgun.
The old man tells the story of bacteriological warfare in the northern hemisphere, and the subsequent dumping of the bodies by plane – which we see and hear – in the southern. The old man takes the nameless man to his compound where we meet his "family", and they attack him. We learn that the first stage to becoming one of the dried ones is memory loss, then loss of sight, then they become one of those cannibal monstrosities.
The nameless man is briefly tortured and thrown into a cell with a few corpses of, obviously, others like him. However, he escapes with the help of one of the family, a girl who has been unable to bring herself to harm him and who doesn't speak. (We find out why on both counts much later in the film.)
But the others don't like this, and we briefly enter Mad Max territory as they hunt him down (the girl has gone with them). The man makes it to an abandoned and trashed city and hides as well as he can, but he is found, evades them for a while, is captured and is about to be killed when (deus ex machina) dried ones appear en masse and the two males hunting him go to investigate. The female saves him again, then leaves with the two men, leaving the nameless man alone with the dried ones.
And that is where I will stop because, from here on out, it is spoilers everywhere. However, I will say this – the entire protagonist/antagonist dynamic is flipped and the title gives it away. And then flashbacks fill in the blanks, making the film somehow even darker, before we have an ending I did not see coming. At all. It has been a long time since I've been able to say that about a movie. And the final image is a gender-swapped version of that final image from Mad Max.
All right, three things stand out about this film.
The first is the look of it. The sheer desolation of the landscape, be it with the bodies, in the compound, in the city, or in the desert, is captured magnificently. It really gives a feel for the environment. And though it is grim, it is stunning. The visuals of this film, right from the word go, are impressive.
The second is the dialogue. Or lack of dialogue. Yes, I had to read subtitles, but they did not really take away from the film because so much of it was portrayed through action, facial expressions and simple scenes. It added a touch of realism to proceedings. Same for music; sometimes all we had was the sound of those involved doing what they were doing.
And finally, it did not sit in one genre. Though advertised as science fiction, it could easily be classified as action, horror, even drama. This meant the expected clichés and tropes simply were not thrown at you. But there were some incredibly tense scenes – when the dried ones find the man in the town after the others who had hunted him had gone is well done – and the film did not rely on jump scares, but a growing sense of dread. And then there was even poignancy, like the burial in the city, which felt actually sad, even without dialogue at all.
Okay, there is a fourth thing. There are no good guys. This is a world that has no heroes, only survivors. And I really enjoy that.
Look, there were some story issues. The way he woke up was too alert and sudden, for example is one right off the bat. And shaky-cam is always headache-inducing and adds absolutely nothing to a film like this. The acting of the two younger males hunting the nameless man was dodgy at times, and the female's character arc was odd, especially when we discover her identity. But they did not detract too much from the film.
This was a great way to spend an hour and a half. It flew by. The film was not overly gory, but definitely not PG-13, it had real atmosphere and it felt different.
Was it the best film I've seen? Not by a long shot. But it was (I say it again) different and entertaining and so much better than many, films I have seen recently. It wears it nihilism on its sleeve. There was such a sense of depressed inevitability about the entire story. It's not a feel-good film, but it is still a good film.
Recommended. This is available on DVD and VOD from February 1st.