Death Strokes (Levantamuertos): Film Review

Low-key drama appeals mostly for its take on working-class Mexicali life.

A coroner's employee has a hard time shaking his brother's death.

MONTREAL — A man haunted by the loss of his brother finds death a hard topic to escape in Death Strokes, Miguel Nunez's lighter-than-it-sounds drama set in Mexicali, Mexico. Built around the straightforward performance of Daniel Galo, the film is less plot-driven than it initially seems; festivalgoers not put off by some narrative feints should appreciate its easy sense of place.

Galo plays Ivan, who spends his days collecting bodies for the local coroner's office. It's stomach-turning work, especially in summer's 124-degree heat; though Ivan's immaculate goatee is proof he takes care of himself, one wonders if it's just teasing when neighbors complain he brings the smell of work home with him. He meets Rosa (Sofia Felix) in a bar, takes her to a hotel, and (with the help of tequila) reluctantly plays along with her insistence on being hit during sex.

The next morning Ivan finds Rosa's motionless, badly abused body lying next to him and flees the hotel. His guilt and fear of discovery is compounded by the likelihood that he'll get the call to go pick up her body. But after a while laying low-key groundwork for a thriller plot, Nunez left-turns into something more casual and semi-comic. Ivan winds up acquiring a pet pig, whose well-being becomes a concern to replace those he has no control over.

Though the film never really finds a way to grab the viewer after its midpoint, and could do more to illuminate Ivan's grief about his brother's death, Galo's performance is likeable enough to hold our interest. Evan Phan's cinematography does justice to the sun-baked setting without turning it into a heat-shimmer cliche, and Nunez's resolution is just open-ended enough to leave the audience intrigued but not feeling cheated.

Production Company: Osuna Cine

Cast: Daniel Galo, Sofia Felix, Felipe Tututi, Roberto Medina, Heriberto Norzagaray

Director-Screenwriter: Miguel Nunez

Producers: Miguel Nunez, Yolanda Osuna

Executive producers: Armando Dupont, Ana Elva Osuna, Daniel Serrano

Director of photography: Evan Phan

Production designer: Heriberto Castro

Music: Luis Felipe Lopez Perez, Dante Ojeda Wancho

Editor: Lorraine Kirsten

No rating, 82 minutes