Tag Archives: Spanish language horror

Blood Brothers

La Dosis

by Brandon Thomas

It’s harder to think of a more respected profession than nursing. This notion might be even more widely shared now, after the past year. Nurses are there during the worst emergencies, and they’re also there to help with recovery. We put a lot of trust and responsibility in them during our weakest moments. Writer/director Martin Kraut’s thriller La Dosis (translation: The Dose) examines what happens when that trust is breached in the worst possible way.

Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is a confident and experienced nurse with more than 20 years under his belt. His professionalism and thoroughness make him well respected in his department. Marcos has a secret though. For certain terminal patients, he uses the cover of night to administer enough medication to allow them to peacefully slip away. For Marcos, this is a way to preserve their dignity even if it goes against the ethical nature of working in medicine.

When Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers), a new young nurse arrives, Marcos finds himself threatened by the handsome man. As Marcos’s coworkers and superiors fall under Gabriel’s charming spell, the elder nurse begins to suspect that Gabriel might harbor his own homicidal tendencies.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe La Dosis, it would be deliberate. The film mirrors Marcos’s steady, pragmatic personality by slowly, and methodically, introducing us to the characters and setting. It’s the type of no-frills opening that makes Marcos’s first act of homicide all the more surprising while still seemingly mundane.

Things begin to heat up and get weirder once the character of Gabriel is introduced. Is Marcos’s distrust of the young nurse simply sour grapes or is there a more sinister reason? That’s the question the film plays with momentarily until it’s quickly answered. The suspense of toying with Gabriel’s true intentions is cast aside rather quickly.

La Dosis frustrates more than it captivates. The back and forth between Marcos and Gabriel has all the trappings of an exciting rivalry, except the film refuses to let it happen. Marcos yo-yos between being Gabriel’s adversary and his friend. The film tries to explain this away with tepid sexual tension between the two, but it’s never explored on more than a surface level. 

Portaluppi is the film’s bright spot. There’s an inviting casual sadness to the character that never strays into pity. Even when the script falters with Marcos’s questionable behavior and choices, Portaluppi does his all to make it work. 

There’s also a level of dark comedy at play that the film never truly capitalizes on. The story is ripe for this kind of approach, yet the filmmakers continue to pull their punches. The hesitancy to go full dark comedy or even full medical thriller hobbles the film in the end. 

La Dosis tantalizes with interesting character beats and odd tonal shifts, but in the end, doesn’t quite reach a satisfying conclusion.

Urban Jungle

Tigers Are Not Afraid

by Hope Madden

Comparing most films to Pan’s Labyrinth would be setting a bar too high. Guillermo del Toro’s macabre fable of war and childhood delivers more magic, humanity and tragedy than any one film should be allowed.

And yet, it’s hard to watch Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid without thinking about little Ofelia, the fairies and the Pale Man.

Lopez’s fable of children and war brandishes the same themes as del Toro’s masterpiece, but grounds the magic with a rugged street style.

Tigers follows Estrella, a child studying fairy tales—or, she was until her school is temporarily closed due to the stray bullets that make it unsafe for students. As Estrella and her classmates hide beneath desks to avoid gunfire, her teacher hands her three broken pieces of chalk and tells her these are her three wishes.

But wishes never turn out the way you want them to.

There is an echo through Latin American horror that speaks to the idea of a disposable population. You find it in Jorge Michel Grau’s brilliant 2010 cannibal horror We Are What We Are and again in Emiliano Rocha Minter’s 2016 taboo-buster, We Are the Flesh.

Lopez amplifies that voice with a film that feels horrifying in its currency and devastating in the way it travels with the most vulnerable of those discarded people.

Estrella is befriended by other orphans in her city, each aching with the loss of parents and each on the move to escape the dangers facing the powerless.

Though Tigers bears the mark of a del Toro – Labyrinth as well as The Devi’s Backbone – it can’t quite reach his level of sorrowful lyricism. It makes up for that with the gut punch of modernity. Though this ghost story with tiny dragons and stuffed tigers is darkly fanciful, it’s also surprisingly clear-eyed in its view of the toll the drug war takes on the innocent.

It’s Latin American horror at its best.

Meat is Meat

We Are the Flesh

by Hope Madden

Are you squeamish?

This is actually the first question my friend was asked in an interview for an internship with a meat packing plant, but it’s also a good piece of self-reflection before you sit down to We Are the Flesh.

First time feature writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter announces his presence with authority – and a lot of body fluids – in this carnal horror show.

A hellish vision if ever there was one, the film opens on a filthy man with a lot of packing tape. He’s taking different types of nastiness, taping it inside a plastic drum to ferment, and eventually turning it into a drink or a drug. Hard to tell – loud drum banging follows, as well as hallucinations and really, really deep sleep.

During that sleep we meet two siblings, a teenaged brother and sister who’ve stumbled into the abandoned building where the hermit lives.

What happens next? What doesn’t?! Incest, cannibalism, a lot of shared body fluids of every manner, rape, maybe some necrophilia – depending on your perspective – a lot of stuff, none of it pleasant.

Minter has created a fever dream as close to hell as anything we’ve seen since last year’s Turkish nightmare Baskin.

Had Minter not found an anchor for the overwhelmingly lurid imagery, his movie would have felt like little more than self-indulgent horror porn (like literally horror and porn).

Noé Hernández conjures a goblin-like image, his unblinking eyes and demonic grin permanent fixtures as he mentors his teenage charges in his repellant ways. The boy he’s dubbed Skeletor (Diego Gamaleil) resists, though his consistently surprising sister (María Evoli) is less inhibited.

There’s little chance you’ll watch this film in its entirety without diverting your eyes – whether your concern is the problematic sexuality or just the onslaught of viscous secretions, the screen is a slurry of shit you don’t really want to see.

What opens as a post-apocalyptic hellscape eventually morphs into a social comment on Mexico City’s disposable population, which is both the film’s strength and its weakness.

Unfortunately, though Minter’s movie boasts deeply unnerving ideas and compelling performances, in light of other Mexican filmmakers making social commentaries – Jorge Michel Grau’s brilliant 2010 We Are What We Are, in particular – We Are the Flesh comes up slightly lacking.





Halloween Countdown, Day 12: Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead (Juan de los muertos) (2011)

By 2011, finding a zombie film with something new to say was pretty difficult, but writer/director/Cuban Alejandro Brugues managed to do just that with his bloody political satire Juan of the Dead.

First, what a kick ass title. Honestly, that’s a lot to live up to, aligning yourself to three of the great zombie flicks, both Dawns and Shaun of the Dead. That’s heady company, begging the comparison of Dawn’s scathing social commentary and Shaun’s ingenious wit. Juan actually survives this comparison.

Breathtakingly and unapologetically Cuban, the film shadows slacker Juan and his layabout pals as they reconfigure their longtime survival instincts to make the most of Cuba’s zombie infestation.

I’m sorry – dissidents. Thankfully the Cuban media is on top of this situation, letting the faithful patriots know that the violent, flesh-hungry villains outside are all dissidents. You old, fat auntie? Dissident. Paperboy, missing a foot and dragging himself toward that priest? Dissident.

One of a thousand hilarious touches is that the word zombie is never used – even Juan and his friends thoughtlessly refer to the mayhem happy characters as dissidents. It’s a whole new approach to the zombiepocalypse – not to mention social satire – and it’s entirely entertaining.

Alexis Diaz de las Villegas is outstanding as longtime, intentional loser Juan. Brugues surrounds him with a charmingly disreputable posse ready to take on the dissidents and find freedom – if that’s what they want.

It’s such a clever, eye-opening film with some added oomph via soundtrack and closing credits animation. Juan of the Dead promises one killer dia de los muertos!

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Halloween Countdown, Day 7

We Are What We Are (2010)

Give writer/director Jorge Michel Grau credit, he took a fresh approach to the cannibalism film. His Spanish language picture lives in a drab underworld of poverty teeming with disposable populations and those who consume flesh, figuratively and literally.

In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.

It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.

We’re never privy to the particulars – which again gives the whole affair a feel of authenticity – but adding to the crisis is the impending Ritual, which apparently involves a deadline and some specific meat preparations.

Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Indeed, were this family fighting to survive on a more traditional level, this film would simply be a fine piece of social realism focused on Mexico City’s enormous population in poverty. But it’s more than that. Sure, the cannibalism is simply an extreme metaphor, but it’s so beautifully thought out and executed!

The family dynamic is fascinating, every glance weighted and meaningful, every closed door significant. Grau draws eerie, powerful performances across the board, and forever veers in unexpected directions.

We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film in the genre, but certainly one of the most relevant.


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