Barbarous Mexico II, México Bárbaro II (2017)
Directed by: Abraham Sánchez, Fernando Urdapilleta, Michelle Garza
Written by: Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Carlos Meléndez, Lex Ortega
Starring: Corina Lutski, Giancarlo Ruiz, Laura de Ita
SITGES FILM FESTIVAL 2017
AKA: BARBAROUS MEXICO II
It’s October once again, and what better time of year is there for a horror anthology or two. Of course I usually find that any time of year is good for a few gruesome short stories. But here it’s particularly fitting, as we set out to see what kind of trick or treat style assortments are on the cards. As the title suggests this is a Mexican production, one in which we’re in for a quick fire series of shorts filled with revenge, folk lore and satanic witchcraft. This kind of thing is always going to be uneven with a few hits, near misses and total duds – but it’s all fairly brisk and full of interesting regional details.
To kick things off, Juan the Soldier is the tale of a man wrongly executed by the military in 1938. His commander decides that the people just want somebody to pay for recent crimes, though his comrades are not so enthusiastic about creating a scapegoat. However it seems that the powers of evil have a sense of justice, and soon Juan returns to exact his revenge. It’s got a gritty period look and a few good practical effects to show the underworld, and it feels relatively self contained.
The same can’t be said of Paidos Phobos which sees a stressed out mother keeping a mystery child in the upstairs bedroom. Is this child evil? It’s not clear. There’s some confusing editing, and they use a lot of random black frames that don’t seem to serve any real purpose. It includes various images of a night club party gone wrong, drowning in a bathtub, and shadowy figures in the night that vanish when the lights come on. Is this a ghost story or a tale of children being raised as a result of unspeakable circumstances? I have no idea, and this is the worst segment of the whole lot by far.
Potzonalli gets things back on track with a nice family get together. They’ll be preparing the traditional dish of the title with some rather unusual ingredients, and their motives are shown quite clearly. The father of the household is a vile piece of work, brutally mistreating his wife and children. Some shots show him with facial features that resemble a pig; which is a nice touch, showing how they view him and signalling what is about to happen. It’s very bloody but it has a dark sense of humour, and this shift into black comedy keeps things interesting.
The change in tone goes a bit too far in Fireballs. This one sees two film makers get more than they bargained for when filming some kind of pornographic film linked to a series of Satanic rites. The two women that show up for the shoot are far more serious about these attempts at delving into the occult. The problem here is that it’s full of random visual effects and on-screen images. It fills up the frame with random animations like adult site spam, and in general it’s just more annoying than funny, and all the tension is drained away.
Vitriol pulls us back down from this juvenile attempt at mixing up sex and humour, in a tale of a fashion model suffering after a trauma in her life. It’s cold and distance feeling, with little dialogue. But this makes it a lot more atmospheric than the other stories here. Soon she’s purchased a bottle of sulphuric acid as the title suggests, along with a shiny new claw hammer. In a three-part story inside this anthology we first see her watching some kind of revenge movie, before we see what each of these items from the hardware store will be used for. The conclusion feels rushed and a bit more exposition might have fleshed things out a bit, but it’s still one of the stronger entries.
Do Not Sleep takes us back to the idea of folk lore and tradition, with a young boy Edgar struggling at bed time because of the stories his grandmother used to tell him. She recently passed away, but her old sayings about spiders in people’s mouths and souls going missing in the night have stuck with him. The idea of a child and a single parent coping with loss through these kinds of superstitions is pretty interesting, but the narrative just doesn’t support anything as engaging which makes this one of the weak links.
One last use of bleak humour comes along in It’s About Time which shows what Fatima, a young girl who met the Edgar in the previous chapter was up to. There are yet more pentagrams, as her and another friend summon evil forces to get back at the teenage clique they were part of. There are some bad digital effects but for the most part this is full out splatter and spectacle as the sleep over gang starts to fall apart – literally in some cases. It’s gross, and it’s fun. It should really have been the final chapter.
However Exodontia is the closing story here, a scabrous but perplexing look at the world of drugs, sex and Satan. Perhaps the physical injuries the woman at the centre of this tale inflicts on herself is symbolic of the kind of damage such a lifestyle does to her body. But I’m not entirely convinced. There’s a neat demonic figure wearing latex which shows up demanding she give it more and more, but it’s never really part of a complete feeling narrative.
Like a lot of these kind of films there are always highs and lows, some can feel like the number of episodes is too few or not quite enough. In this case a couple of the segments could probably have been dropped so that the opening and closing chapters were the among the strongest. It’s not a long feature considering there are eight stories here, but some of it could have been cut. There are some moments where there is a connecting thread, but some of the tales never feel essential. It’s a mixed bag, but I suppose that was inevitable. Still, it might be worth checking out for the few really fun parts, plenty of practical effects, and some interesting local stories.