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Cast: Kayden Rose, David Tousignant, Émile Beaudry, Karine Picard, Roch-Denis Gagnon
Unearthed Films / Region 1 / Unrated / 1.85:1 Widescreen / 2.0 Dolby Digital / 100 minutes
Extras: Making of / Sitges 2012 interview / Three short films / Trailers
From the opening pre-title card scene, you just know that Canadian filmmaker Éric Falardeau's first feature will be special. It begins with very dark close-ups of slowly writhing body parts bathed in cool, serene colors with a low, ominous bass line playing, seemingly in the throes of passion. A grating industrial cacophony rises from the depths while more of the bodies come into the light and the colors become heated with yellows, oranges and reds. Now it is apparent that the sex is intense, aggressive and maybe even a little abusive. Boom, title card. That is how Thanatomorphose begins, and from there it only gets more severe and exquisite.
Laura is a young woman living on her own in a slowly rotting apartment. She is terribly unhappy with her asshole boyfriend and is at a creative stand-still in her career as an artist. Laura isn't in control, feels detached and is just letting life happen to her. After one particularly rough night of sex (the one in the fierce opening) she notices a couple of bruises but assumes they are from the asshole boyfriend. She wakes up the next morning to see that the bruising has spread and become more intense. Slowly but surely, day after day, her body becomes like an over-ripe peach; bruised, soft and tearing. As she deteriorates, Laura begins to gain confidence, begins working on her sculpture and takes back her sexual power. It's a terrible irony that her physical body is eroding.
I have read comments online like "it was pretty cool but didn't have a story", "I didn't get it" or "Thanatomorphose was all gore effects and nothing else" and I couldn't disagree more. Thanatomorphose is a sickening 100 minute portrait of a young woman being torn down so that she is able to grow. It's a horrific character study showing the fragile human state through graphic and bloody depictions of rot. The tone of the majority of the film is a calm serenity enveloped in hopelessness, but intercut are these intensely grating scenes similar to the opening, jarring the viewer from their melancholy stupor. There is a sorrowful stringed score that both evokes sadness and fear, often at the same time.
Yes, the make-up effects were terrific and as the decay intensifies, the movie becomes visually darker which is brilliant on many levels. It intensifies the special effects, masking some things while leaving others to the imagination. Éric Falardeau's script is pretty sparse with most of the narrative being pushed by actress Kayden Rose's role as "Laura" as she battles with her new life of dying to be reborn. The pace is deliberately slow, showing every detail and creating an unsettling and uncomfortable closeness with her. Thanatomorphose's grotesque and sad sexual component adds another level to that discomfort. This is not your everyday horror movie with a mask-wearing madman, teenage vampire or slowly shuffling zombie. This is a carnal, emotional rending. A deeper terror.
Unearthed Films, the bringers of disturbing art house-type horrors, gladly bring this acclaimed and maligned Canadian film to the U.S. on DVD. The disk extras are a little disappointing in that a lot of them are in French with no subtitles, specifically the "Making of" which would have been interesting otherwise. Kayden Rose's part was interesting enough (she speaks English) to fast-forward through the French interviews if you are a one language dope like me. The "interview" at Sitges is 3 minutes long and a lot of that has no sound and the rest is in French. The three short films are definitely worth watching as they show a definite talent to filmmaking, all of them in a different way. My favorite being "Purgatory", a religion-based gorefest that will blow your mind. It's early in the year but Thanatomorphose is at the top of my list for Film of the Year.