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Review: Murder Me, Monster – “Sparse, beautifully filmed, and deeply, deeply weird”

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Murder me, Monster is a 2018 Argentinian film written and directed by Alejandro Fadel.

It’s sparse, beautifully filmed, and deeply, deeply weird. But is it any good?

Spoilers throughout.

The plot, such as there is, involves a police investigation into a series of beheadings of female victims. The main protagonist is Cruz (Victor Lopez), who has been conducting an affair with Francisca, one of the victims (that isn’t much of a spoiler… if you see a woman in this film, she’s there to be decapitated). The film also focuses on her husband, who is ostensibly suffering severe mental health problems and is unable to show physical warmth to his wife, despite loving her. She becomes his carer. There are a few further characters, mainly police officers. Cruz’s Captain has significant dialogue and impact on the story. Cruz has another colleague who acts like a depressed, resentful Basil Exposition.

The tone of the film is peculiar. There’s a repeated Pythonesque cry of ‘Forensics!’ every time the cops find a body sans head. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see white-coated scientists arrive clacking coconuts together. They never do arrive… the only time we do meet a forensics officer, he’s somehow managed to miss a gigantic tooth buried in one of the heads, which is so obviously not human you’d think he might comment, but no. The Captain gets by on Pinot Noir and Tramadol, and at one point explains that trichophobia (fear of hair), invariably leads to suicide, all while giving Cruz a head massage.

Cruz dances. A lot. Sometimes naked, sometimes in a mirror at a bowling alley. I don’t know why other than that was the main thing Francisca loved about him. Not anymore, because she doesn’t have a head. He’s not terribly upset about that though. He takes a day off work then carries on with the investigation. When, during the said investigation, Francisca’s husband says he gruesomely killed her using a motorbike, Cruz’s response is to help him escape from the asylum he’s incarcerated in. After which, more people die.

In fairness to Cruz, by that point there’s been enough spooky goings-on to convince him that the monster is real, so let’s deal with that. To be sure, the monster is interesting. It has an obviously phallic tail, which it appears to use to rape Cruz in a more explicit version of Lambert’s fate at the end of the original Alien. Its face is … well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but we seem to have a walking hermaphroditic example of vagina dentata. In short, it’s very obviously not just a monster (even if it exists outside of Cruz’s head). So, what is it? An expression of toxic masculinity? An embodiment of a fear of intimacy (that does seem to be a recurring theme). An illustration of some guilt in the national psyche, unclear to foreigners? I suppose it’s possible that the creature designer loves HR Giger but lost the subtlety. Or maybe he just felt that there’s not enough dicks, fannies, and ball-sacks in the existing film monster canon. I have no idea, and by that point, despite being impressed by the effects and intrigued by what the creature represented, the surrounding story had left me struggling to really care.

The movie does have atmosphere to spare, I must give it that. The cinematography is gorgeous and makes Argentina look utterly stunning. It makes effective use of natural light and torches in several scenes. The film uses only diegetic sound until the end credits, all of which is well designed. Lopez as Cruz has a rumbling, bear-like voice that gives James Earl Jones a run for his money. The monster effects are good and there’s a couple of uses of effects in the background to hint that the monster is close and unsettle the viewer. All of this contributes very well to that atmosphere, and in its best moments, the film manages to unnerve during daylight. It’s probably the Spanish connection, but during those high points, the film recalled the eeriness of La Cabina, the little known 1972 TV film adored by those fans of scary movies who have seen it. But La Cabina is 35 minutes long and devastatingly simple. This goes on for 109 minutes and does not reach a rewarding conclusion.

They made the film in 2018. That is telling, given that we’re only seeing it now. As for releasing during awards season… well perhaps there are smarter reviewers than me who will warm to some subtext that I’ve missed. Who knows, it could win the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film as a result. There’s no doubt that this will get Fadel noticed, and don’t be surprised to see him directing something for a Hollywood studio (or streaming service) before long.

I must give it the benefit of the doubt. There could be much I’m missing here through both language and cultural translation (indeed, it seems that the Spanish language reviews are positive). Other reviewers have favourably compared it with David Lynch’s work.

But this is a review of Murder Me Monster, and I cannot in good conscience recommend a film which, despite excelling in some technical regards and having interesting ideas, simply fails to cohere in any interesting or worthwhile way.

Murder Me Monster is released on 4th December.

For more of my ramblings, check out FiskFilm or Medium.

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