Why do we like Horror movies? A million reasons. Why do we like Body-Horror, the subgenre that deals with the destruction or decomposition of the human body? That’s more complex. By definition graphic and nauseating, Body-Horror forces us to face our mortality in a grim and un-glamorized way, with special attention paid to the suffering of transition. Most Horror subgenres are designed to make us fear an outside terror, but Body is a terror that comes from within—something you can’t run away from or eradicate with a weapon. I recently reviewed Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral (HERE), which is an excellent example of Body Horror, as are many of the films in the Sr. Cronenberg’s filmography.
Another film that tackles this gruesome and complex subgenre is Canadian writer/director Eric Faladreau’s Thanatomorphose. This title is a French word meaning the visible signs of an organism’s decomposition caused by death.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Discovering several bruises on her body after a night of rough sex, a young woman is shocked as, rather than heal itself, her body begins rotting from the inside out. She faces a terrifying and gory descent into a living death, as her putrefying body begins to literally ‘fall off the bone’.
SPOILER WARNING: It is impossible to have an in-depth discussion about Thanatomorphose without revealing portions of the viewing experience. Reason: Aside from the most minimal of human interactions, the decomposition of Laura’s body literally is the entire plot. It’s not much deeper than that. So if you plan on experiencing Thanatomorphose for yourself, stop reading now. But know this: Thanatomorphose is a difficult film for me to recommend to anyone on any level. It’s perhaps the foulest movie I have ever seen. Watching it was not pleasant and I was often tempted to abandon ship. But if you’ve seen Thanatomorphose or don’t plan to and want to hear why I found it so putrid, by all means read on!
The first 3 minutes of the film consists of shadowy blue and green blobs floating in and out of focus on a black, grainy screen, all to a backdrop of arrhythmic distortion that only the most generous of critics would actually call “music”. If this sounds boring, it was—extremely. The shapes are eventually revealed to be two people fucking processed with a heavy 1980’s camera effect. Sounds promising, right? While the nudity is immediate and full-frontal, Thanatomorphose’s instant lethargy makes even the boobs and pubes of a tattooed pixie-chick seem dull.
Thanatomorphose is filmed dark, grainy, and out of focus ON PURPOSE. I mean, it HAS to be intentional; with digital and auto-focus cameras the norm on even the most low-budget flicks, it’s an effect that Faladreau must have wanted. It strained my eyes and gave me a headache. Bad choice, man. Really distracting and annoying.
20 minutes in I was already itching to quit. Half way through, when Laura already looks like death, I asked myself: “How much deeper into hell is this film going to take me?” That’s when the maggots burst from her flesh. Laura oozes and bleeds and shits—and Faladreau makes us look at it all (at length and ad nauseum). She tries to hold herself together, first with gauze, then glue, and eventually needles, thread, and duct tape. She fixates on a vaginal shaped crack in the wall that seems to be deteriorating with her in parallel.
To be fair, I do recognize that Faladreau is working with some decent metaphors. Laura is a disaffected 20-something who doesn’t have the self-esteem necessary to ditch her abusive boyfriend. She’s an artist who has lost her flame; a wet clay bust she’s been working on remains unformed and incomplete. I get it: If you don’t care about life, you might as well be dead. An artist without passion is a corpse. Without a willingness to better herself or her circumstances, Laura’s body shuts down and decomposes. Why doesn’t she just go to the hospital? When she covers the windows, it becomes clear that Laura doesn’t even want to heal—she’s content to rot away in isolation… for the most part.
Even as she seriously deteriorates, Laura remains primitively sexual; she masturbates, gives head, and begs her neighbor to fuck her (a requests he responds to by vomiting). I feel bad for lead actress Kayden Rose because filming must have been gruelingly uncomfortable. She’s a decent actress and gives herself completely to the role. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but wonder: Were her talents wasted realizing the vision of a closet necrophiliac? Talking about you again Mr. Faladreau.
I’m not saying that Thanatomorphose is unsuccessful because it’s gross. Truth is, the grossness is the film’s biggest triumph. Thanatomorphose is unsuccessful because it’s so fucking boring! Not only is it slow and grueling, it’s way too long. What might have been a decent 20 minute short is, at 100 minutes, about as exciting as actually watching meat rot. And this violates the core tenet of Body Horror: If you’re going to be grotesque, you have to be exciting or at least intriguing—you have to make us want to endure the nausea. Asking us to watch a woman decompose into jelly while boring us is just weak sauce and nearly unforgivable. Sorry, Mr. Faladreau, you missed the mark by miles.
Thanatomorphose might be a good film to make someone watch on a dare. Or make a game of it: Invite some friends over to watch this film while eating hot seafood gumbo. The winner is the person who can eat an entire bowl and keep it down until the film ends. Or if you hate someone, you can say that Thanatomorphose is the greatest film you’ve ever seen and insist that they watch it.
I really don’t enjoy bashing movies; I understand that films are labors of love that require the sweat blood and tears of an entire team. No one sets out to make a shitty flick. But in addition to guiding aficionados towards underrated gems, I must also warn them about films that should be skipped. Thanatomorphose is unpleasant, unsatisfying, and nearly unwatchable.
1 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Éric Falardeau|
|Written by||Éric Falardeau|
|Starring||Kayden Rose, Émile Beaudry, Eryka Cantieri, Roch-Denis Gagnon|
|Editing by||Benoît Lemire|
|Studio||Black Flag Pictures, ThanatoFilms|
|Distributed by||Bounty Films|
|Running time||100 minutes|