AUGUST 16, 2016
It's rare, but every now and then I see an underwhelming movie at (or, in this case, out of) Fantastic Fest, and my reaction is always the same: I've done something wrong as a viewer. The festival is so fun and its programmers so like-minded (yes, before anyone points it out - I work for one of them), and most of what I see is, even if I don't love it, at least so nutty or unique that I can ADMIRE it, that those odd lackluster entries almost make me feel bad for saying so. Such is the case with Necrophobia 3D, which played at the festival in 2014 - a year I missed due to my son's recent birth, but had I been there I almost certainly would have been at one of its showings, as on paper it sounds exactly like my kind of thing. Plus I still get a kick out of legitimate 3D when used properly, and lacking a home set I usually make extra efforts to see them in their native gimmicky glory.
But this would have been one of those screenings where I start looking at my food instead of the screen, because it landed in that decidedly un-sweet spot of being both hard to follow and also not particularly compelling - the movie didn't do enough to make piecing together its narrative worth the effort. It's got a good hook: a giallo-esque thriller about a man whose twin brother dies and then everyone in his life starts following him to the grave, but there are no viable red herrings to keep the "mystery" afloat, so you're just waiting for the obvious reveal. When it comes, rather early (then again the movie is only 75 minutes with credits so even scenes in the 3rd act are "rather early"), I started wondering if it was a misdirect, and one of the other characters would turn out to be the REAL culprit, but that didn't happen. Instead...
(OK, spoilers are coming!)
...the movie keeps doubling down on its central "twist", which is a Raising Cain kinda deal with multiple incarnations of the same character. Whether they're figments of his imagination or actual physical beings that have come to life somehow, I'm not sure - I even rewatched the last 25 minutes or so and still couldn't come down hard on either answer. Then writer/director Daniel de la Vega throws a fun but even less coherent time travel element into the proceedings, showing that the mysterious phone call our protagonist got near the beginning of the film was sent by one of his doubles here at the end of the (otherwise linear) movie. It's the sort of twist that'd be great if it was the only one in a film (and, you know, had some logical way of occurring), but it's one too many for the film, which - again - already suffered from simply not being particularly engaging. Our killer wipes out all of the supporting cast almost as soon as they become important, and even a 75 minute movie should have time for more than 5-6 important characters - ESPECIALLY for an alleged mystery.
Plus there's no real story. The brother dies, our main man Dante freaks out, then the wife is killed, he freaks out, then a priest is killed... you get the gist. Not that any of the classic giallo movies had current-day narratives that were really terrific, but you'd get the nutty backstory and colorful cast of characters to make up for it, not to mention the usually stylish murder sequences. Here, most of them are fairly quick - the priest is offed almost the second Dante leaves the room, instead of de la Vega giving us a nice buildup with the guy wandering around his church and being pursued by the gloved killer. In fact, I often wondered why they bothered with the 3D - apart from a couple of the scenes where Dante was having a mental collapse, and maybe (if done well) the wide shots of his tailor workshop (mannequins pop up with frequency), there wasn't anything in the film that seemed like it would benefit from the technology, so I am curious what inspired them to do it that way in the first place. If it was five years ago, sure - every other movie was in 3D, it seems. But this was shot in 2013, when 3D was already past its peak popularity, so who knows. Maybe they got a tax break or something? Whatever the reason, not counting post-converts it's the most pointless 3D entry I can recall since the woeful Julia X.
The titular phobia is equally pointless in the narrative - it's the fear of being near a dead body, but this isn't something particularly worth revolving a movie around. For starters, it's not like this is some weird tic - who the hell DOES want to be around dead bodies (well, I'm sure there's a term for it, but it'd be more interesting to watch), and phobia or not, all of the people who die in the movie are very close to him, making his inability to be around them kind of understandable. When a protagonist suffers from a phobia, part of the filmmaker's job is to get the audience - who presumably doesn't feel that way for the most part - to walk in his shoes a little bit. Agoraphobia movies usually do a fine job with this; you and I don't feel any particular fear of going outside, so they will employ heightened sound effects, off-kilter angles, etc. to make the act of walking out the front door seem like a herculean feat. Here, actor Luis Machin just sort of yelps and staggers around, which I'm guessing lots of people would do if they found their brother or wife dead. And by the halfway point he's around corpses in every other scene anyway so it's not even a "thing" anymore.
On the plus side, Machin does a fine job with the various incarnations of his character; the main one, Dante, is kind of a Toby Jones-y nebbish, but the others are like Richard Lynch level menacing - it's a shame we don't get to see much of his brother Tomas, since we'd get a fleshed out third version. Also, I'm sure it wasn't intentional, but the killer's dark appearance and black hat give him a Halloween Man in Black vibe that amused me (especially considering that mystery was equally easy to solve and woefully underwhelming). If the movie threw Druids into the mix I might have actually liked it more, now that I think of it - it's nutty, but not nutty ENOUGH to elevate to "WTF" kind of cinema. It's just got some twists for the sake of having twists, I suspect, and when you consider the 3D, it's not hard to think the movie was an exercise of some sort to try out the cameras for a more elaborate project. You can almost hear a producer asking for some horror script that could be banged out quickly so they could work out the kinks on a movie that would find an audience anyway.
Oh well. I'm all for filmmakers trying to revive the giallo genre, but Necrophobia lacks a lot of the things that make those movies so enjoyable, and doesn't really do anything unique on its own to make up for it. It's watchable enough, and again quite short, so you can't accuse it of wasting too much of your time, but apart from admiring Machin acting opposite himself in a few scenes and the Lost Highway-tinged phone call stuff, there isn't enough here to really make it worth seeking out. I later asked some attendees of that year's Fantastic Fest and few even remembered the title let alone the movie, so it clearly didn't make much of an impression, and I probably would have been downright angry if I picked it over (scans that year's lineup) Spring, Cub, or Let Us Prey to name a few. Of course, that's the nature of fests, and even part of the fun to take such gambles, but it really stings when those gambles don't pay off. The food would have been good though.
What say you?
p.s. I'm not sure when it's coming out to see for yourself, I saw it via screener for my freelance job but that means nothing with regards to a looming release. I couldn't find it on Blu even in other regions, so maybe it's just in limbo? I normally don't bother reviewing movies like this since it defeats the purpose of the site, but it was the only thing I've watched in two weeks thanks to my move (which I'm STILL technically in the middle of doing) and I wanted to post something so you guys knew I wasn't dead.