Overview: In this anthology film, eight directors offer unique takes on horror tied to Mexico’s past and present. Dark Sky Films; 2014: Not Rated; 114 minutes.
Cultural Horrors: In whichever country we call home, we’ve become overly familiar with many of our own particular horror staples. We each have conceptions about what defines our nation’s horror canon, what figures and elements are a must. And we know that this definition stems from our histories, and personal fears as a culture. So there are few things more rewarding as a horror fan than getting to experience another culture’s fears, being drenched in unfamiliar blood, and chased by shadows similar and different from our own worst nightmares. Mexico Barbaro is, in its best moments, that reward: An opportunity to discover the legends and lore that make up Mexican horror.
The first segment, Laurette Flores’ “Tzompantli,” ends with “Mexico…terror is here…and now” and this line comes to define the entirety of Mexico Barbaro. There is a sense of history to each of these eight stories, and a timelessness that makes it hard to place any story in a particular decade. We’re given elements of eras, ranging from banditos, Aztec sacrifices, drug lords, and various folklore, but filmmaking aesthetics ranging from black and white, grainy 1970s exploitation, and sepia colored Westerns ultimately mask any true sense of time or place. Ultimately, we always come back to the notion that every story has its contemporary place, and every mile of Mexico is filled with the possibility of terror.
Sangre y Lagrimas: There’s a brutality to all of the featured stories, which is a surprising deviation from many other horror anthologies that play up their horror with a wink and occasional laugh. There’s such a lack of humor to these stories that the most intentionally light-hearted entry ends up being about a girl violently losing her virginity to a troll. The overall lack of tonal variation becomes slightly problematic as the film progresses, and the brutality, blood, and tears become less surprising. The same goes for the lack of explanation and limited use of dialogue. Taken individually, the restraint in exposition, set-up, and conversation is admirable. Early segments, like the Western-influenced “Jaral de Berrios,” where two men encounter a strange woman in an abandoned structure, and “Drena,” in which a woman must drain the blood from her sister’s vagina to satiate a demon, display a welcome use of quiet and impenetrable mystique. But as the film moves further along, these aspects become tiresome and make it difficult for each director to stand out individually.
Ritual Sacrifices: There’s such a wealth of ambition and creativity in each of the filmmaker’s ideas, it’s a shame that the film is too crowded for them all to stand-out. With eight segments, the runtime on each is brief, and while this works in favor for some, others feel truncated before they can even get started. “Lo que me importa es lo de adentro,” and “Munecas,” introduce compelling, gory concepts that are in need of fleshing out, while the film’s final two segments, “Siete veces Siete,” and “Dia de los Muertos,” manage to perfectly balance all of their individual elements and provide backstory succinctly. No idea, or display of filmmaking talent, is a poor effort, making the fact that so many feel rushed for time regrettable.
Overall: There are moments in Mexico Barbaro that show the strength of the format. But there are also missed opportunities that could have made this anthology a classic. As individual shorts, there is some measure of promise and reward in each segment. But for all their aforementioned sense of history and timelessness, there is also a sense of weightlessness. As part of a collective, operating under a central thesis, the segments that make up this filmmaking collection offer much to appreciate, but never entirely comes together with a singular impact.