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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Sexy Killer: You'll Die for Her (2008)

Director: Miguel Martí
Stars: Macarena Gómez, Alejo Sabras, César Camino and Ángel de Andrés López
This film was an official selection at the 3rd Phoenix Fear Film Fest in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
It's always easy to describe modern movies as ADHD or MTV or some other acronym, to highlight how untraditional they are, but it's rarely fair. Frankly, I haven't a clue what Spanish MTV might look like, but I'm tempted to haul out an acronym anyway to summarise the movie. The script by Paco Cabezas, who is a successful director in his own right, is deliberately fragmented, obscured and manipulated until it's hard to really figure out what the story is about. At the end of the day it plays out like a deconstruction of almost the entire horror genre, filtered through a quirky love story which is doomed to failure and formatted as a comedy. At least it plays out that way and I'm inclined to give it that much credit. It might just be an experiment in which Cabezas spent a night getting absolutely hammered, wrote down everything that seemed cool in that state and turned it all into a movie script. It's what Transylmania would be if Pedro Almodóvar had made it.

It's obvious who it's about from the opening scene, which has some dude in a Hallowe'en mask spying on the girls changing room at a university and stalking them in the showers. Briefly it's every bad Hollywood slasher movie, but only briefly. Then it turns it all delightfully on its head. It's the slasher who gets slashed, by another dude in a Hallowe'en mask. Santiago, the pervert in the first one recovers, in time to try to save Bárbara from the killer, only to realise, too late, that it was her all along. She's the sexy killer of the title and she very much lives up to both sides of that description, dressing in the latest expensive styles, moving like heaven in high heels and killing everyone who pisses her off. That's a lot of people. Imagine if Heathers had a little less social commentary but a lot more acid and a lot less restraint. After all, she keeps Santiago's head in her fridge with his missing poster on the door. She even takes it out for walks.

Two thirds of the film unfolds in stylised flashback, as she explains her life to a man who killed her dog with his sports car, after she nails his hand to it of course. Now, when I say stylised that's exactly what I mean. Bárbara has already broken the fourth wall and she continues to break the traditional conventions of cinema. To begin her story, she literally rewinds the film. She reads a copy of CosmoKiller during a university lecture and we're treated to an animation that shows us how many calories each method of killing uses up. One memorable death scene, in which she wraps the head of a poor lover in a plastic bag and kicks him out of the window, is accompanied by a graphical explanation as if this was an infomercial or a cooking show. How much you'll get out of this film is going to be roughly similar to how tolerant you are of these gimmicks. If you hate the very idea of them, this film isn't for you. If your imagination is piqued, you'll love it.
Of course there are pop culture references. How could there not be? They're handled well though and in keeping with the gimmickry. It's fun to see the lovely Macarena Gómez run through the time honoured Travis Bickle scene in front of the mirror. It's even more fun to see her drown a fellow student while asking her why Leo had to die in Titanic instead of the fat chick. In keeping with the concept of not just having a female serial killer but having her as the sympathetic lead of the film, many of these references tie to a redefinition of 'the weaker sex'. Bárbara doesn't just demonstrate a deeper knowledge of serial killer movies than a man, she applies her knowledge practically. The only surprising moment arrives when she turns out to not know anything about zombies. Yes, we get those too. There are no vampires here, no werewolves, nothing that comes close to sparkling unless it's due to make up, but we get pretty much everything else.

Bárbara's killing spree, credited to the Campus Killer, continues unabated until a potential victim inadvertently sets her up for a misunderstanding. She thinks he's a killer too, which naturally makes her hot, and cleverly written dialogue and situation comedy enhance the misconception. He thinks her brutal honesty about the murders she's committed is just her being weird, which he's more than happy to put up with given that it'll not just get him laid, but laid by the sexiest girl in town. In truth, he's not just not a killer, he's a forensic scientist at the Anatomical Institute trying to catch the Campus Killer. He also has the scientific genius to have built a device that can turn brain patterns into visual imagery, thus allowing a replay of a corpse's last moments. He isn't the delightfully crazy genius that Walter is on Fringe, but this is much the same sort of device that he'd come up with. The obvious potential for suspense it raises is handled well.

The most obvious success of the film is that there's never a dull moment. Blink and you'll miss something, maybe a lot of something. That may be why it opens in a women's changing room because the young ladies in this film are delightful enough to make you never want to blink. The leading lady Macarena Gómez demonstrates not just style and beauty but charm too, enticing us onto her side, regardless how batshit crazy it might be. The easy sympathy she coaxes out of us is something usually reserved for Japanese schoolgirls in movies with similar disdain for the tried and true conventions of cinema. In many ways this feels like a very Spanish translation of wacky modern Japanese comedy horror, with very little except cultural reference points coming from Hollywood. The catch is that those modern Japanese movies rarely live up to their gimmicks, but this one remains consistently solid even when it turns into something else entirely.
And no, it doesn't shrink from doing that. Two thirds of the way in, Bárbara finishes recounting her history in flashback to the sports car driver and we start moving forward. We have no reason to doubt anything she's told us, while we may translate the style into substance, but she isn't aware of what else has been going in town, most of which centres around her boyfriend/nemesis Tomás, and which is about to set us up for a riotous finalé with a heady mix of irony, philosophy, genre commentary and outright splatter. As much as this is a fast paced comedy, there's plenty of blood to keep the gorehounds happy. The death scenes are agreeably varied and delightfully set up. It's patently obvious that Paco Cabezas had a blast writing the script, probably more than Miguel Martí had directing it. He provides us with a bloodsoaked feminist serial killer movie that has us laughing out loud and rarely losing a smile, a Woman Bites Dog with Style. Bravo, señor!

Given that this is a Spanish movie, it's less likely that we're going to know anything that the cast and crew have done. This is Martí's most recent film and he seems to have found his way to it through teen sex comedies. While most notably a writer, Cabezas has almost directed as many films as Martí, certainly more serious ones such as the 2007 political horror movie, Aparecidos, which translates from the Spanish not only as The Appeared, its English title, but also as 'ghost' and has a more direct tie to the 'desaperecidos', 'the disappeared' of the dirty war in Argentina. Flanking it in his filmography are the short and long versions of Neon Flesh, which also feature Macarena Gómez. She's a prolific actress, who acts in many genres but has made more than a few horror films, including her film debut in Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft movie Dagon, an American picture shot in Spain with a predominantly Spanish cast.

Exploring filmographies tends to highlight gaps and Spanish horror films are one of mine, even though I saw this one at the Phoenix Fear Film Fest, where organisers Jim and Chris McLennan frequently program them. In fact, I've seen far too few Spanish films, regardless of genre, though I've watched Pedro Almodóvar since his early days, when the police inspector in this film, Ángel de Andrés López, made a couple for him. His may be the only face I've seen before, so I missed out on jokes like Alejo Sauras, best known for playing a gay character on TV, playing a rampant heterosexual here. These actors don't seem to venture outside of Spain very often, though Juan Carlos Vellido, a forensic scientist here, was also a sea captain in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I'm looking partly to exercise due diligence as a reviewer, but mostly because this film prompts me to do so. If Spain is making films this fun, what else am I missing?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After reading your review I watched this last night, and thoroghly enjoyed it. Thanks for the review, it was hella lot of fun and I've recommeded it to friends, if it wasn't for you I would have missed this little gem. Well done sir.

JT from the UK