BIFF Film Review: Memory of the Dead

   Memory of the Dead is another UK film Premiere I caught at Bradford International Film Festival. Carry on reading for my thoughts!

   There are many wonderful films which show how individuals deal with grief: Love Liza, the little seen but splendid Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie, shows grief manifest itself in a new enthusiasm for remote controlled vehicles and the gasoline used to power them. Pixar's Up, a coming-of-age tale about an elderly man trying to come to terms with the loss of the love of his life, shows its hero abandon his senses and take a whole house on a physical and spiritual odyssey. Memory of the Dead, however, shows a very unusual alternative reaction to the loss of a loved one: murder!

   Upon the death of her husband Jorge, his devastated widow Alicia invites a circle of close friends to her abode in order for her to read out a letter written by her departed. At least, this is what the attendees believe to be true. Alicia, however, has hatched a Machiavellian plot to sacrifice each of the individuals in order to bring her husband back from beyond the grave, a scheme which sees the gatherers descend into a chaotic and occult world of terror, trauma and melodramatic plot twists.

   This Argentinian film is not the Latino horror movie those familiar with Guillermo Del Toro's early work should expect; rather it is the cinema of fear as filtered through a highly camp Tele-novella: tears, screams and soap opera acting abound as the sensationalist premise is pushed to the extremes, with seams literally bursting at points.

   There are two things that can be done with the ludicrous set up to a film like this and, rather wisely, Valentin Javier Diment decides to eschew po-faced piety to pursue the most sensationalist route possible at all times: a wise decision which means even when the film's often surreal narrative reaches the point of incoherence, as it does several times, the feature remains enjoyable due to its commitment to embrace the ridiculous. Subtlety is not its strong point and, in fairness, nor should it be. In a world where plainly ridiculous films take themselves far too seriously (the pseudo-profudity of a series based around a man who wears bat-suit latex to fight crime would be a great example), it is always refreshing to see a feature that knows exactly what it is.

   So, despite hysterical and histrionic performances littered through the film, cinematography which often appears like a cross between a Mexican soap opera and Knightmare, and a plot which often wanders in to the realms of incomprehensibility (as opposed to its regular lucid off-beat terrain), Memory of the Dead is an ultimately fun movie to watch. As an additional bonus, despite the film-stock appearing to be of sub-televisual standard, there are some surprisingly high quality set pieces in the feature, particularly those which require special effects make-up: the grotesquery on display is magnificently, perversely assembled and a testament to the make-up artist's imagination. Similarly too, there are a couple of moments which, unexpectedly, are genuinely quite emotive - something which is quite rare in this genre of movie, particularly at the trashy end which this resides in.

  Whilst Memory of the Dead is unlikely to be awards bait any time, I salute it for this - it might not be perfectly assembled, or even coherent all the way through, but it knows exactly what it is and doesn't fail at being something it isn't. It's trashy, sleazy, skeezy, camp, ridiculous, ludicrous and, ultimately, fun.

   If all you're after in a film is a couple of laughs and perhaps a jolt, then this is the feature for you. If you expect anything more from your cinematic outings, however, then this is going to leave you disappointed. For better or worse, Memory of the Dead is a ridiculous, often dumb horror, nothing more, nothing less, one which I'd hesitate to recommend to more serious film-goers. For those who enjoy camp insanity, however, there is much to enjoy.

* This film was screened as part of Bradford International Film Festival

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