❉ Visually impressive, with universally excellent performances, but ultimately bonkers!
So… Alright look, my first reaction upon the fade out on the final shot of Alejandro Fadel’s Murder Me, Monster was, “What the hell was all that about?!”
Yeah. It’s one of those movies.
Okay, I’m being a bit glib. But just a bit. For the most part, the film actually walks an interesting line. In a rural community in the Andes, a small team of angsty police officers are confronted with a series of utterly horrifying murders perpetrated against female victims, whose headless bodies have been found violated in the most vile and misogynistic way. The actual murders are for the most part mercifully perpetrated off-screen but the condition of the bodies and the nature of the crimes is described in graphic detail. The film and film makers might be open to accusations of misogyny themselves, were it not for the fact that the film is entirely self-aware as to how horrifying and incomprehensible these murders are. What we do see of them suggests something supernatural, or perhaps a vision of something supernatural from the point of view of a very human and very, very disturbed killer.
Our hero, investigating officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is personally affected by these deaths as one of the victims was his lover Francisca (Tania Casciani), whose husband, David (Esteban Bigliardi) becomes the prime suspect in the case thanks to his constant state of near-catatonic mental illness and habit of muttering cryptic things following an encounter with something in the wilderness. Throughout the film, Cruz’s pain is very real, and there are certain moments that feel genuinely, achingly sad, like when he dances alone in a mirror in a bar, recreating a post-coital ritual he and Francisca used to enact. His fellow officers are hardly models of stability themselves; his Captain (Jorge Prado) is constantly popping pills and sharing them with his fellow, shell-shocked officers and his colleague Sara (Sofia Palomino) seems to be in a constant state of resigned dread, as if she’s fully aware that her gender alone marks her out as a target for whoever or whatever it is they’re hunting.
For about two thirds of the movie, the film maintains not just an air of tragedy but one of creeping dread. We occasionally see glimpses of something demonic lurking in the shadows, a hideously phallic tentacle, mysterious bikers who look like they’ve just come down an off-ramp from Under the Skin (2013) and weird details about the crimes that the police initially seem to ignore and that Cruz only every now and then brings up purely because the implications are so incomprehensible. Throughout, the film is visually impressive, with stunning anamorphic cinematography echoing John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), the epics of Werner Herzog, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), and such neon-lit rain-soaked nightmares as Blade Runner (1982) and Alien3 (1992). At one point, a character reveals themselves to be the monster, but then in the very next scene, continues acting perfectly normally and the plot moves on, as if he were briefly possessed and had no memory of the incident, which led me to believe — at least at that point in the narrative — that the point of the film was that all men have some inner demon rendering them capable of extreme acts of harm toward women.
Unfortunately, the film does not go that route, which is a pity because such a misandrist revelation would have been as interesting as it would have been controversial. Ultimately, the conclusion we do get is absolutely bonkers. It does seem, at least, that the film is making the more sober point that such violence towards women is utterly incomprehensible and that we’ll never truly have an explanation for it, but after spending so long on slowly building up its mystery and atmosphere, the way the film chooses to make that point is nothing short of completely and utterly batshit whilst ignoring the problem of toxic masculinity
The weird thing is, before we get to the big reveal, everyone is clearly taking proceedings extremely carefully and seriously. The performances are universally excellent (and in a couple of cases downright fearless) and the characters all have a haggard, lived-in look with each of them having the kind of faces that have a story to tell; the pacing, though slow, is justifiably measured and never drags; the aforementioned cinematography is beautiful and Fadel’s direction is restrained and dignified, even in the face of the graphic depictions of sexually violated female corpses; such depictions are supposed to be difficult to stomach, horrible, undignified, shocking and tragic. One really does feel the gravity of these crimes.
BUT then the film goes somewhere that rather makes you wonder if you were just watching a classy exploitation film, yet it seems to do so in all sincerity, so it doesn’t make you re-evaluate what has gone before, more wonder how it went from being a potentially interesting examination of the darkness of the human soul to a bonkers rape-themed Doctor Who episode.
Sadly, this does have the unintended consequence of trivialising its subject matter. It’s as if the film bottles it at the last hurdle, and can’t face up to the true horror that it’s trying to tackle; that always, always, always acts of incomprehensible evil can come from within humanity alone. True, seeds of the ending are planted throughout, but we never expect these hallucinatory glimpses to be objective. I keep thinking back to a shot early on in the film where a character we’ve come to know and develop and attachment to is found dead, naked, her legs sprawled open, her head missing, so we see her body in the most exposed and undignified state imaginable. This is by no means titillating; it’s a deliberate choice by the film makers to show the vileness of the crime and the impact it has, yet by the end of the film, I was wondering how we went from that to what we actually get. Fine if you want to keep the mystery a mystery and the horror left unresolved, that’s more frightening and punches home the point better, but what we actually get would make you wonder if you’ve not just been massively trolled by someone who’s read too much Clive Barker, if it weren’t for the fact that’s presented in all seriousness.
❉ Murder Me Monster: Starring Victor Lopez, Esteban Bigliardi & Tania Casciani. Spanish with English subtitles – 95 mins. Available to stream or download to own from Friday 4th December 2020 in the UK & Ireland.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became an actor and has appeared in several film and television productions. Visit his website.