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Privileged Mexican hipsters live inside a pesos-lined cocoon of sex, drugs and upper-class ennui in The Dead (Los Muertos), a meticulously directed if fairly familiar feature debut of Santiago Mohar Volkow. Essentially playing as a cross between Gus Van Sant’s meandering yet observant Death trilogy (composed of Elephant, Last Days and Gerry) and Sofia Coppola’s perceptive explorations of the self-obsessed narcissism of the moneyed classes, with a dash of vintage Bret Easton Ellis thrown in for good measure, this Spanish-language item premiered at Morelia and should hit hardest at home. Elsewhere, it should appeal to festivals, while theatrical bookings could be in the offing in especially the Hispanosphere, though it’s not unthinkable that this white-privilege horror film of sorts (in which the gore is more psychological than visual) might reach beyond the language barrier.
Spoiled rich kid Diego (Jorge Caballero) is dropped off by his family’s driver at a party one of his friends has organized in the opulent if oddly cavernous, almost hospital-like home of his late grandparents. While the young man is probably pouring his first of many drinks, his driver, returning home alone, is shot by a car thief and he’s simply never seen or spoken of again. The party is a wild affair, with people staggering about drunk and someone even passing out under the shower, inadvertently inundating the room. When the boy’s finally yanked from the bathroom and his friends try to get him to regain consciousness, one of them seems more obsessed with finding the right angle to Vine the proceedings rather than making sure that his buddy is OK.
Though the party will very likely be remembered as a wild affair by those in attendance, Volkow and cinematographer Lluis Sols often keep the protagonists at arm’s length, making them look pathetic more than fun-loving and shockingly uncaring instead of simply careless. The film also occasionally backtracks slightly to show the same event from the point of view of another character (this particular storytelling trick feels very Ellis circa The Rules of Attraction), thus making it clear some things are happening simultaneously.
Of course, the next day, there’s another party to attend, though not before Santiago (Santiago Corcuera) has made out with Elena (Elena Larrea), even though she’s theoretically dating Nacho (Ignacio Beteta) and Santiago’s dating Elsa (Florencia Rios), who’s Diego’s older sister (I told you it felt like vintage Ellis).
The title of Volkow’s film is significant in several ways. Firstly, it directly refers to the people who end up dead, victims of either organized crime or poor and desperate people who’ll do anything so they can pay for another meal. This is the ugly outside world in which destitution and crime reign, a daily reality in Mexico for a part of the population that uneasily co-exists with its quickly growing middle and upper classes. They have the money to not only do what they want to do but also to keep almost all of these problems out of their daily lives, or at least out of their direct view.
The rich middle and upper classers aren’t literally dead but might as well be dead inside, any compassion for their fellow countrymen completely drained from their beings so they don’t have to feel guilty about what they have and how they live their lives (this could also be spotted in more embryonic form in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2001 arthouse hit Y Tu Mama Tambien). How two apparently opposing realities can co-exist in practically the same space is something that clearly interests Volkow, who explored the very different private and professional lives of a porn actress from Romania in his 2013 short Sofia from Bucharest.
The men, often bare-chested, might have body hair but nonetheless look and especially act often like spoiled and self-entitled kids, while the women are just as self-absorbed as the menfolk they hang out with. The cast portray their unpleasant but very real-feeling characters in a naturalistic way that jibes with the material’s overall tone, while the production and costume design pleasingly keep the bling to a minimum.
Production company: Purgatorio Films
Cast: Ignacio Beteta, Jorge Caballero, Santiago Corcuera, Elena Larrea, Florencia Rios
Writer-Director: Santiago Mohar Volkow
Producer: Regina Galaz Davila
Director of photography: Lluis Sols
Production designer: Sebastian Narbona
Costume designer: Sebastian Narbona
Editor: Didac Palou
Music: Diego Lozano
No rating, 87 minutes
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