Thanatomorphose (2012, 1hr 40 mins)
The second screening on the first night of BITS Fest was probably, from what I gathered, the most talked about. Why, you may ask? Well, because it had to be the most stomach-churning, grotesque, cringe inducing body horror I have seen in a long, long time. Everyone that I spoke to would ask “Did you see Than..na..mo.., you know which one I’m talking about?” It left a lot of people grossed out, not impressed or loving it.
Thanatomorphose (the French word for “the visible signs of decomposition of an organism caused by death”) is about a woman who is slowly decaying, mentally and physically. Sounds pretty straightforward, but the progression of events in the film made it a grueling study of her deteriorating life, relationships, and body at an excruciating slow pace so we could see every minute detail.
There were 3 acts: Despair, Another and Oneself, where we see the main character, Laura (Kayden Rose), attempt to create a relationship with her prick of a boyfriend (David Tousignant), have a half-hearted affair, and create a half-finished sculpture. Nothing seems to come to fruition as she suffers from some sort of decaying disease and a grand ennui, if you will. She refuses to get help, and is preoccupied with sex. Basically naked for most of the film, Laura’s hands are constantly groping herself, seemingly for pleasure, and then for necessity as she tries to keep her bits from falling off. Duct tape, jars for fingers and ears, and photos are all enlisted to keep some semblance of her former self, until her actions are done in vain as Laura soon becomes a puddle of gore, maggots and a memory.
As the credits started to roll, I was set on dismissing it as a “WTF?” type of film, which on first impulse, it is. But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was because I could relate to Laura’s general discontent and stagnation. I think it’s a commentary on life and society these days. Some of us are so desensitized and dead inside that we lose our self-awareness, alienating ourselves and those around us. Her apartment served as a type of tomb as she isolated herself from “normal life”. She also maintained her solitude by disposing of anyone who wanted her to get help or found her repulsive. You only need one person to do some crazy navel gazing, or watch as it rots…
The vagina-shaped crack in the wall above her bed morphed as she did, changing from a mere crevice to a dark sickly looking wound. Did it symbolize a way out, a rebirth, that was just beyond her reach, the progression of her physical and mental demise, or the perversion of her sexual preoccupation? And what about the sex and desire aspect of the film? Laura gave in to her boyfriend’s constant need for her sexually. She also gave in to her auto-erotic urges with mechanical regularity. It was as if she was trying to feel something, to connect through sex with herself or any willing takers despite her repulsive appearance. When the decay started to change her, she still offered herself up out of habit, even attempting to apply makeup to her rotting face, only to be rejected by all her suitors. A punishing illustration of how she tried to maintain her former self even though she was already lost.
The sound design for this film was really interesting. Creaking floorboards, buzzing flies, and Laura’s labored breathing were front and centre, punctuated with a gut wrenching violin score that made the film feel like we were watching through a peephole.
Director Éric Falardeau gave us some insight after the screening. He said the film was an homage to Cronenberg (The Fly), Polanski (Repulsion) and Buttgereit (Necromantik 2). This was Kayden Rose’s first lead role, and to help with the character development, the movie was filmed in chronological order, which also helped with the extensive special makeup effects. David Scherer and Quebec’s own Rémy Couture did the makeup for this film, and they really outdid themselves. Graphic and grotesque, they took decomposition to another level. Falardeau also described the use of maggots during the filming and how Rose learned to deal with the ickiness of it all. The film also walked away with Bloodies Awards for best special effects and best actress.
I’m still not sure of my own feelings about Thanatamorphose. It was definitely though provoking and unique; an art house film buff’s playground, but the pacing killed me. If you are going to watch it, prepare yourself for some drawn out scenes, and do not eat while viewing. Trust me on this. Not a good choice. What I do know is that I find French horror to be one of the most extreme out there. From High Tension, to Inside and Martyrs, Thanatomorphose will be added to this list as a stomach-turning study of the fragile human condition.