Saturday, March 19, 2011

#103: Aftermath (Nacho Cerda, 1994)

This second film from the Rue Morgue list is a 30-minute short by Spanish director Nacho Cerda. Unlike the Fangoria list, the Rue Morgue list includes a number of short films, and I'm presented with a writing challenge. How do I give a short film the same treatment I give the feature-length films without giving away the entire story or cutting my review too short, especially in this film's case, in which only a few things happen? I think I'll just proceed as usual. The description of this film's plot on IMDB and the back of the DVD case gives the whole game away, but this film is more about the how rather than the what, so knowing what happens doesn't ruin anything. Still, if you want to see this one fresh and cold, I'd suggest skipping this review until you see the film. Unlike a lot of short films, it's widely available on DVD, paired with another Cerda short and his student film, and as an instantly viewed film on the streaming portion of Netflix.
The film takes place in a morgue and the only living characters are a morgue attendant and two pathologists performing autopsies. If you're squeamish about blood, guts, innards, and body fluids, you're probably not a regular reader of this blog, but you may have a tough time with Aftermath. I wasn't bothered by it, since my squeamish factor only kicks in when I see needles going into the veins of living people. Nevertheless, the special effects are quite good. Cerda spent some time witnessing autopsies before assembling his effects team, and he put that knowledge into effective practice here.

[SPOILER PARAGRAPH] The skeletal story begins with a brief shot of some kind of innard getting the pudding treatment in a blender, for reasons we don't yet know, before a fade to black. Then we hear a woman screaming and the sound of a car accident followed by a slow pan up the body of a dead dog in the highway. Then we fade to black again, the credits roll, and we see a morgue attendant delivering a body to the autopsy room, staffed by two pathologists. One of them has a creepy thousand-yard stare, and you know right away that he's up to some shit. We see a couple of autopsies in clinical detail, one of the pathologists goes home for the night, the other pathologist (the one with the creepy glare) defiles a fresh corpse and documents his misdeeds photographically, then he goes home and we see what he does with the blender and the internal organ he swiped after his defilement, then the film ends.

You might be saying so what after reading that plot description, but the so what comes from the film's structure, look, tone, atmosphere, detached dark humor, and clinical matter-of-factness. Cerda creates a compelling short film with zero dialogue. Not one word is spoken in the entire 30-minute running time, and you don't miss it at all. The story is conveyed to the audience through image, sound, and music. We hear the autopsies, we see the facial expressions, we listen to the unobtrusive and effective musical score. That's it and that's enough. This lack of speech perfectly matches the film's detached, observant tone, creating a bizarrely meditative splatter film about corpse defilement.

The film is a humorously dark observation of the sexual fetishization of ritual, death, and decay, too. Aftermath spends a lot of time on the almost lovingly photographed autopsy details. The choosing of medical instruments, the careful dissection of bodies, the cleaning of the body and the instruments, the weighing of the brain, the removal and reinsertion of internal organs, the sewing up of the chest, the placing and removal of sheets over the body, the documentation of the autopsy's findings. This same detached approach, this uniformity of tone, also documents the crazy pathologist's sexual misdeeds with one of the dead bodies. It's an almost absurdly gentle approach to transgressive subject matter, and it really makes this film interesting and compulsively watchable when it could just have been an adolescent gross-out (though there's always a place for a solid adolescent gross-out in all our lives from time to time).
On the basis of seeing only this short film, I find Cerda a truly talented and exciting formal stylist, and I'm looking forward to checking out his other work. The other short film in this DVD collection, Genesis, also appears on the Rue Morgue list, so I'm going to hold off on that film until I'm ready to write about it. Cerda also directed a handful of other short films, a documentary about Spanish horror movies, and the full-length horror feature The Abandoned. He's currently preparing to shoot another horror movie, I Am Legion, which may be released next year. Also, his name is Nacho. That's worth noting again.


Julia said...

I just watched this. I had to follow it with an episode of "National Parks: America's Best Idea" to cleanse my palate.

Dr. Mystery said...

I hear that has the least corpse-fucking of any National Parks episode.