Something about this month feels right for horror. And here’s a degree of separation from last week’s film: ritual sacrifice in a pastoral setting, connected by Nicolas Cage. Last week’s film featured Italian-American Cage fighting animatronics possessed by Satanic serial killers; this week stars Italian actors terrorized by cult members that owe much of their existence to 2006’s modern classic Wicker Man.
Sorry–no bear costumes in this one.
A Classic Horror Story
While traveling to southern Italy, a group of strangers is stranded in the woods where a cult engages in ritual human sacrifice.
Take a ride share through the Italian countryside, they said. It’s a budget-friendly alternative to renting a car that offers more convenience than public transit, they said. And obviously traveling across a remote landscape with a handful of strangers and poor cell phone reception will never take a sinister turn.
For our crew of 5 on the road, it’s clear from the beginning that a fairly straightforward journey to southern Italy will not end as anticipated. All have different reasons for traveling, and some are more eager than others to spill the details. Young couple Sofia and Mark are off to attend a friend’s wedding, while reserved Elisa is visiting her parents (who have pressured her into having an abortion). Another elusive passenger, Dr. Riccardo, seems to have little patience for his fellow travelers. And driver Fabrizio is an aspiring filmmaker cheerfully recording the journey.
Impatient with the cautious driving of Fabrizio, cocky Mark decides to take the wheel of the RV. Late at night, he fails to notice a dead goat lying in the middle of the road. Fabrizio takes the wheel, swerving to avoid the animal, though this plants the vehicle firmly in the center of a tree trunk. Both Fabrizio and Mark blame each other for the accident, in which Mark is injured and requires medical care. Luckily, there’s a doctor in the house. Unluckily, no one is getting any cell reception whatsoever.
As the crew wanders in search of help, they find a creepy, isolated cabin in the woods. Of course they do. Uncovering more ominous signs like a sacrificial site complete with decapitated pig heads, taxidermy animals, and antique photographs of people wearing animal heads, it becomes increasingly clear that the group has stumbled upon a murder cult rivaling that of Lord Summerisle.
Fabrizio, self-appointed nerd of the gang, explains the symbolism of the three brothers depicted: Osso, Mastrosso, and Carcagnosso. Legend has it these figures came from another world, promising starving people hope…but at the cost of sacrifice. In ritual sacrifice, victims would have their tongue, ears, and eyes cut before their deaths because, you know, the legend.
As everyone is getting properly freaked out, the 5 discover a young girl in a wooden structure, her tongue having been cut out. When they free the girl, one of the group is caught by several cult members and becomes the first to undergo the gruesome ritual. While the survivors attempt to escape, they merely find evidence that [in the voice of Six from Battlestar Galactica]: “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.”
As the RV has disappeared, the group has little choice but to spend the night in the creepy cabin. While it seems they will have each other’s back as they stand guard, Elisa wakes in horror to discover several of the party in the beginning stages of the ritual sacrifice. Even more disturbing is the conspiracy that begins to unfold as Elisa connects the gory dots. Could it be that (gasp) not all is what it seems in the land of cult murder and taxidermy headwear?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Okay, there are a lot of gaps in logic here that you have to be comfortable with. This film opens up more questions than it’s willing to answer with its major twist, and this isn’t entirely rewarding. Like one of our leading characters, it has a certain smug satisfaction with the proceedings, which can be downright irksome.
Overall, though, I can’t deny that this is a lot of fun to watch. There are very clear references to Evil Dead, Midsommar, Wicker Man, and more than I can remember at this point. For the most part, the balance of comedy and gore works. I also very much enjoy the commentary on the cutthroat nature of the film industry; the events of the story occur largely because a failed director has powerful connections that allow him to live out his fantasy.
Some of it falls apart here, though, as there’s too much snide social commentary thrown in at the end. We’ve got your attention economy, corrupt government, mafia, and social media boxes all checked off. The messaging about abortion is confusing too; I wouldn’t say this is necessarily an anti-abortion film, but the tone is…odd. Elisa apparently doesn’t have a strong interest in the path her parents envision for her, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what exactly any of her interests are and how that relates to what she ultimately decides.
Credit where credit’s due: this film did more to promote an anti-bullying message than Melania ever did.