Donde duerme el horror: Costa Rican Film

Posted by Ilse Marie Bussing on July 15, 2010 in Blog tagged with , , , , ,

This recently released film (June 2010), directed by Argentinian brothers Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano, but placed in a Costa Rican setting and featuring Costa Rican actors, is the first movie produced in this Central American country that decides to explore the horror genre:

Donde duerme el horror, [Where Horror Sleeps] adapts two classical tales, W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw,” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Inn of the Two Witches.” In my opinion, there are some severe drawbacks that hinder the film’s success and that do not allow it to become a worthwhile attempt at the genre. For example, there are some overabundant sex scenes that do not seem to be doing much for the overall story; instead of presenting sexuality as a powerful appendix to horror (for instance, as part of the excessive and pagan sexuality of the witches that are portrayed in the story), these scenes just seem to be there to improve box office results. But perhaps the most poignant defect of this film is the unsuccessful use of clichéd elements borrowed from global horror productions. For instance, near the end, a decomposing yet revived teenage “corpse” visits his parents, after these had asked for his return from the grave, from the monkey’s paw. This unfortunate creature’s movements, instead of mirroring the jerky and extremely frightening movements that one sees in Asian horror films, give one the impression that the teenager is giving breakdancing one last go, before having to return to the grave. Personally, I could not help it, and had to laugh.

So, after this quite grim list of defects, you might ask, why would anyone bother to mention the movie? Well, there are some things that did catch my attention and that I believe were promising, and that could some day lead to the production of a decent Costa Rican horror film. First, there is the issue of the adaptation of the original tales. The two stories are ingeniously intertwined, and even though the decision to adapt, vs. create an original story evinces a certain lack of imagination, I believe that these stories are weaved into a Costa Rican setting quite cleverly. The stories remit directly to elements that are already considered horrific in an everyday Costa Rican setting, such as the sense of escalating violence generated by random crime. The film begins when three robbers break into an American’s house and kill his Costa Rican partner.  She is one of the witches, and her murder unleashes even more violence and revenge, when the remaining witches hunt down the criminals.

Then, there is the issue of the dependence of the country on foreign (usually American) capital, in order to sustain its tourist industry. Therefore, one of the main settings is a small family-run hotel that is at the brink of going bankrupt, until an American war veteran, who is a guest there, gives the monkey’s paw to the owner. Part of the horror of the story, then, is generated by the anxiety that permeates Costa Rican society because of the fragile dependence on foreign capital, and the placing of all of its eggs in the tourist-industry basket.

The last element that is definitely worth highlighting is the good use of natural, tropical scenery in order to convey feelings of horror. It is encouraging to see how a tropical scene, featuring dense bamboo forests, for instance, and rainforest landscapes accompanied by eerie sounds, can generate feelings of horror and anxiety, just as much as more conventional or classical horror settings. Just as the Asian film industry takes advantage of technology and the eerie hallways within its skyscrapers, this Costa Rican movie makes the most of its ecological reputation and natural settings, but also of inherent anxieties, such as those related to its economic reliance on foreign capital, and to escalating, senseless crime.  Donde duerme el horror is not a great film, but it is the first attempt in the limited Costa Rican film scene which decides to tackle the horror genre; I believe that the inclusion of cultural anxieties into the plot of the movie is at least a step in the right direction.

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