Laura wakes up one day to find she is literally rotting from the inside out…
Rotting flesh, bodily fluids, isolation, body horror, psychological disturbances, flesh-eating disease, sex.
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Thanatomorphose seems to be one of those films that has divided opinion this year, people either seem to love it or hate it, there is no middle ground. On a personal note I was challenged to come up with my top ten horror films of this year for a recent contributors poll for Diabolique Magazine and I placed it as my number five. While some people find the uneasy and graphic detail of this movie too much to stomach I personally loved it, and it was not just for the dark and gruesome nature but the loaded subtext and sly and subtle detail. It is interesting because I watched it with my other half (and sometimes co-blogger over here at The Gore Splattered Corner) and he hated it; lamenting about the darkness of some of the shots, slow pacing and some of the acting ability of the supporting cast.
The story, written and directed by Canadian Eric Falardeau, follows Laura (Kayden Rose) who after moving to a new apartment wakes up one morning to find that her body is starting to rot, as if afflicted by Necrotizing Fasciitis, and this lends itself to all manner of nauseating and repulsive concepts as the plot develops. The movie which was released in October 2012 has featured at a few festivals throughout the 2013 season for which it won a number of awards. Despite this it has attracted mixed reviews from critics.
What I loved about this first and foremost was the raw intimacy in the way it was shot, as we follow Laura while she declines both psychologically and physically. The film consists mainly of closed shots and Rose is never, if at all really, off camera; this can come in the form of either the camera focusing on her or POV shots which show her reflection. In shooting this way Falardeau gives the film a very personal vibe, we as an audience feel that we are party to Laura’s inner most secrets. Another thing I found interesting was the way in which Falardeau used quite a few bathroom shots, the bathroom signifying where we are at our most vulnerable, and this enhanced the feeling that you are complicit in Laura’s plight; there watching everything and party to her most private moments. This aspect over all others gave Thanatomorphose a really uneasy air, and lent itself to a taut atmosphere throughout. Another thing I thought worth pointing out is there is a lot a camera time spent focusing on mundane activities, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, looking in the fridge, collecting post etc… while this might seem boring or pointless to some, I feel it added a level to the absurdity of the story; on one hand you have this girl, she’s going about her daily business, but then she is literally rotting from the inside while this is happening. The stark contrast between the two components enhances the disconcerting effect of the horror at play. This has been seen before many times, but one film in particular sprung to mind, Jorg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik; a film which you have a number of shots focused around the ‘normality’ of a couple going about their day-to-day routine such as watching TV, cooking dinner, bathing, but then the situation of the people involved is anything but normal, cannibalism and necrophilia being the main plot line. There is a distinct similarity in the way in which the shots are composed, some more obvious than others.
At first glance it might seem that Thanatomorphose attempts to shock by putting as much gore and gross out imagery onto the screen, and if this had been solely the case I do not think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. But if you scratch beneath the surface there is a lot of subtext which makes for a richer viewing experience, that is if you take the time to let it all soak in. Another theme I picked up on was the similarity between this film and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Now this is not in a deliberate way, in the aforementioned literary work the lead character Gregor wakes up and has transformed into a large insect, while Laura’s change is more subtle and plays out over the entire running time of the movie. However differences aside there are some common elements you can draw from the these two pieces of work, namely how an individual copes with change while their humanity is taken away; in both cases the humanity erodes as physical change occurs. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor, after turning into an insect, concerns himself with practical problems and day-to-day worries, and this is mirrored in Thanatomorphose as Laura, despite enduring these revolting changes to her body, continues on with going about her daily routine. There is also the likeness in how physical change fuels isolation, Gregor and Laura both withdrawing from the world and social interaction because of their associated grotesque ailments, and also the reaction of those around them to these changes. Yet in both cases of the main protagonists again there also remains a yearning to retain some aspect of the social, in Kafka’s Gregor spies on his family wishing to be part of that world again, in Thanatomorphose it is in more disturbing and graphic ways ( I will not elaborate on this as it contains spoilers); both characters obviously hankering for human contact seeing it as a direct line to their former existences. In neither story do we see any attempt to explain this physical change either, it just is, and in both no attempt by the protagonist is made to change their situation; both just seem to accept things as being the way they are, no medical professionals are called, and it is almost like they just resign themselves to this way of living as if there is no other option.
Kafka references aside, there is also one more element which is very pertinent to the story of Thanatomorphose, and this is isolation and dissatisfaction. From the offset Laura is alone, she has moved into a new place, her boyfriend is distant, selfish and abusive. Falardeau uses the way in which Laura’s feelings about her life are mirrored in physical change, the rotting can be seen as a reflection for the feelings of unfulfillment she finds within herself. Laura is a very lonely character even before the stench and the rot scare people away, and from the start is presented as a somewhat detached, tragic, frustrated artist. Kayden Rose’s portrayal of this poor lamented soul is spot on, emotionless through many of her scenes, blank faced, she manages to encompass the heart of someone who just seems to have given up on life. It is a difficult role as most of the action focuses on her, and of course her body, which is naked for a large portion of the film. Less can be said for the supporting characters who just play a part on the sidelines, David Tousignant as the boyfriend manages to display a distinct air of revoltingness which matches Laura’s physical decline, but his line delivery at times seems awkward ( a French actor speaking English lines). There is potential for the male ‘friend’ played by Emile Beaudry as the knight in shining armour being the only character who manages to solicit any sort of emotional reaction from Laura but in the end fails to redeem himself due to some of his actions. Beaudry’s acting again is slightly awkward but he plays a very small part so it does not remove any resonance from the overall piece.
If all this deep subtext doesn’t float your boat then there is always the delicious gore to enjoy, or not, as some people really didn’t appreciate some of the effects on show; peeling fingernails, putrid flesh rotting effects, brutal gore and bloody shows of violence. Visually for gorefans it never fails to deliver as the story reaches its climax, and we have an array of bodily excretions on display to make things just all the more tastier. The make-up effects by David Scherer (Theatre Bizarre) are exquisite in a disgustingly beautiful and macabre way, managing to extract the right amount of heave factor, don’t watch this one just after dinner. As the plot starts to develop the gore becomes more and more explicit and Falardeau also intersects this with frenetic and disorienting dreamscape sequences which match the disintegration of Laura’s fragile mind. The score matches the atmosphere perfectly with jarring violin based music courtsey of the Guild of Funerary Violinists, and the dreamscapes are accompanied by a harsh industrial score which is reminscent of something you might hear in a Japanese Cyberpunk feature like Tetsuo.
On balance Thanatomorphose is not going to be for everyone and overall it has a very nihilistic and dreadful air which will put off those who like their stories to end on a high note, while lacking in any humour the tragic air could make this a depressing experience for some. It is graphic and grotesque and not for the faint hearted, a stark portrayal of what it is to literally rot from the inside out, both physically and emotionally. All this aside it contains some very thought-provoking elements which, if you allow yourself to immerse yourself in, can make for a very rich experience. Horror for me at it’s best confronts the uncomfortable and explores the taboo, when it fails to shy away from the disgusting and the revolting and puts it out there in all its gory glory, on that score Thanatomorphose certainly brings this to the mix. An innovative and interesting first feature for director Eric Falardeau which shows a promising start into the arena of feature-length horror.