This week takes us back in time again to another, er, true event(?). True in the sense it was a real historical event…except with demons.
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
It’s 1871 Argentina, and the Catholic Church is strong but so is the outbreak of yellow fever, the worst in the history of Buenos Aires. After having visions of the plague, a young priest decides it’s God’s will that he head to BA and help the sick. But not before stabbing himself in the hands with a cross, which is pretty gross honestly. But not as gross as it’s going to get with all of the vomiting that happens in this film.
Before going into the city, the priest makes a pit stop at the family estate, where his brother and family live (I don’t remember him ever having a name, but I also have a notoriously bad memory for character names).
What is meant to be a fond family reunion quickly devolves (don’t they always) when the priest learns his brother Edgardo is gravely ill with yellow fever, and his wife is holed up in the chapel with their daughter, Remedios. She will neither let anyone enter or leave, though Remedios expresses her desire to leave.
When a man who is essentially a faith healer shows up, the priest insists he leave and stop taking advantage of desperate people. The healer answers that he has the power to cure the priest’s faith problem, blah di blah, but leaves. Maybe the family should have taken the healer up on his offer, as Edgardo is in pretty bad shape—sweating, talking nonsense, and vomiting up black blood. Btw, I looked it up, and the black blood really was a symptom during this outbreak, and people even referred to the fever as the black vomit. Suffice it to say it looks really fucking unpleasant.
Just before dying, Edgardo gives his brother a journal that will explain everything because of course he does. Oh, and also takes one last stab at the conviction of his brother’s faith.
The only conclusion the priest can make is some weird shit is going on, since obviously the journal goes missing before he can read it. He senses there is something sinister that his brother feared more than his illness and death and is determined to get to the bottom of it, but first on his to-do list is helping Remedios escape the chapel.
All of this is thrown off track, however, when the priest comes down with yellow fever too. This means a series of trippy, surreal dream sequences that look cool but are confusing AF.
After waking up from his nightmarish sleep, the priest learns a shocking truth from Quispe, who has served the family for years: the priest’s sister-in-law, Lucia, killed Remedios and herself overnight. The priest refuses to believe this and is determined to find out what really happened.
It goes a bit off the rails from here on out, with Quispe going off on a tangent about how much of a dick his dad was, and then the priest’s dad was also a dick but at least he watched him die (!?!?!). Quispe doesn’t pull any punches, telling the priest if he vomits black blood, he’ll be dead within a day. Great?
As he becomes more seriously ill, the priest finds Lucia and Remedios alive, though Quispe insists this is a delusion. The priest finally breaks down and calls for the faith healer, abandoning his Catholic faith and putting his trust in…I don’t know, something that looks like a tiny carved bone? You do you.
This of course isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the priest immediately regrets his decision when the Catholic guilt returns with a vengeance. The ending is straight out of Poe, except without the suspense, emotional punch, and the feeling of everything all clicking into place. Just leave Poe alone, sir.
2/5 Pink Panther Heads
I really wanted to go with 3, but there’s too little going on here to merit that extra PPH. Guess how much fun it is to watch a feverish Argentine priest stumble around for an hour and a half with complete conviction that what he’s doing is important and makes sense.
There is virtually no suspense as it’s impossible to care about the characters and their motives. I still don’t understand why the priest cared so much about Remedios. Ok, she was his niece, but you’re going to have to do better than that to tell a good story. This goes against everything I’ve ever said about movies, but you know what this could have used more of? Some goddamn flashbacks to establish the fucking character relationships. Without that anchor, this film is emotionally empty.
Based on the trailer, this looked like a shitty version of Guillermo del Toro…which is pretty accurate, honestly. The del Toro tribute just feels like a rip-off, though, from the Gothic vibe to the haunting narration at the end (which is almost a paraphrase of the conclusion of Devil’s Backbone, but just falls flat here).
Every time someone tells me they’ve never seen Devil’s Backbone, I lose 6 months of my life, so do us both a favor and watch that instead.