Showing posts with label Roch-Denis Gagnon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roch-Denis Gagnon. Show all posts

22 November 2013

DVD Review - Thanatomorphose

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Genre:
Horror
Distributor:
Monster Pics UK
Release Date:
9th December 2013 (UK)
Director:
Éric Falardeau
Cast:
Émile Beaudry, Eryka Cantieri, Roch-Denis Gagnon
Buy Thanatomorphose: DVD


The word Thanatomorphose is a French term for the decomposition of an organism’s flesh after death. In Eric Falardeau’s film a young woman (played by Emile Beaudry) suddenly finds herself decomposing despite being alive. It’s clearly very influenced by the body horror films of David Cronenberg. He often used a horror conceit to explore a theme and to an extent Thanatomorphose does this too. Sadly the film ends up feeling like a vague idea stretched to feature length without saying much of anything unlike the films of Cronenberg making it an unpleasant and sometimes dull experience.

The film opens with a colourful montage of close-ups of the main couple in the film having rough sex. It’s pretty unclear what’s happening, it kind of has the look of the credits sequence of a grindhouse film and is underscored with John Carpenter-esque synth music. After this ends we are properly introduced to the main character, a woman who at one point had artistic ambitions but now seems devoid of any personality. She is defined by her weakness, her weakness in not saying no to her boyfriend who is a total ass, as well as another man in her life. The opening act of somewhat violent and uncaring sex is what seemingly causes her decay. In typical Cronenbergian fashion this body horror element is used as a metaphor, but in the case of Thanatomorphose the metaphor is so half-baked that it brings nothing more to the film other than a slight air of misogyny.

After the pulpy looking opening the film transitions into something else completely. The synths are replaced with strings and everything slows down. From this point on, other than another short pulpy interlude, the film is in full art-film mode. I say that because it’s full of mumblecore style muttered dialogue, constant nudity, and the aforementioned slow pace. The strange mix of genre elements and art aesthetics is something that Cronenberg’s films nailed, but this film is less successful. The reason Cronenberg’s best films succeeded were because their ideas were so strong. Thanatomorphose on the other hand seems very muddled with its ideas to the point that they really take a back seat to the pure experience of the film. The problem is that the experience of the film is just rampant unpleasantness.

To get more specific about what I mean I’ll use an example from the film where it very obviously references Cronenberg’s The Fly. In The Fly Jeff Goldblum’s character is slowly becoming an inhuman creature; his body is slowly falling apart as he changes into a monstrous human/fly hybrid. It’s a brilliant and heartbreaking allegory for disease and more specifically the AIDS epidemic of the time. In one scene we see him open his medicine cabinet and there are jars containing different appendages and body parts that have fallen off of him. This scene shows us that despite his changes he is still the scientist he was before. As monstrous as he appears the man he was still exists underneath, the man who wants to take note of everything and learn from this horror. Thanatomorphose takes this image of someone storing and noting their bodily decomposition but in this situation it tells us nothing. There’s nothing specific to her character that lends any significance to this moment other than “Oh cool, they’re referencing The Fly”. So much of the film’s attempts at bringing depth to its simple story end up adding nothing and if anything just draws attention to its emptiness.

As I said, the key thing that made Cronenberg’s films succeed was the strength of his horrific metaphors. In the case of Thanatomorphose this is one of the most troublesome aspects of the film. The idea of externalising internal decay is interesting but what the film denotes as decay worthy of this horrible experience is rather strange. This woman’s relationships with men are what are rotting her. Her boyfriend is cruel and obnoxious who seems to just want her for sex, something that is mirrored by another male friend who appeared nicer than he actually was. The male characters are dismissed as animals wanting sex in one strange scene but she seems to be held accountable for her weakness. The idea of someone causing their own pain and unhappiness (and by extension this being externalized) could be interesting and if done well could be quite brave. The thing is that here we know so little about her that it kind of comes across as victim blaming. As if these relationship mistakes are completely her fault, because men are just beasts, and how they are destroying her are due to her and nothing else. I don’t want to completely chastise the films ideas and proclaim they are hateful of women but they’re so underdeveloped and surface level that they could definitely come across that way.

A lot of this could be excused if the experience of watching the film was good enough. Sadly this is not the case. Other than one moment (which was also very similar to a scene from The Fly), which definitely got to me, I didn’t feel anything other than grossed-out. The special effects of this woman’s living decomposition are generally well done, but that’s not enough for me to be interested in any way. Even the camerawork was completely uninteresting. It was hard to tell if the incessant blurriness and close-ups was meant to be a reflection of her delirium, they didn’t know how to make this apartment look interesting (the whole film is set in her apartment), or the effects were not solid enough to show entirely clearly.

When a film invokes the memory of some classic horror films it better be good enough to pull us in and not solely think of those other films. In this case the comparisons it drew just highlighted its failings even more. All in all I found it to be a very empty film with one good idea. The performances, music, and camerawork could have been one way that the film made itself more interesting but they were nothing more than fine. Everything other than the effects and one burst of craziness lacked any kind of character and that was really the films downfall. Disgusting effects can forcefully pull an audience in to reflect on the film’s ideas but when there are no ideas the effects serve nothing other than to disgust, and that’s all this film has.

☆☆☆☆

James MacLeod