Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Women in Horror: Thanatomorphose

The basic plot of Thanatomorphose is that one day a woman just starts to rot away, which is apt since the title is a French word meaning visible signs of an organism's decomposition. This basic story has turned into its own horror subgenre over the last few years with films like Contracted and Starry Eyes, but Thanatomorphose is the first of its kind. This film is the most low budget of the three and also the most simple, but it also has a lot of the same plot points and situations as the other films, namely being isolated from her peers and being completely unsatisfied with her life as a whole. After a night of rough sex, the woman wakes up with dark bruises all over her body. She brushes it off as normal because her boyfriend regularly leaves bruises on her body. After this, we get a glimpse of her everyday life. Everything is horrible and a disappointment. Her boyfriend abuses her regularly and jokes about it in front of their mutual friends. Those mutual friends just awkwardly avoid the subject and never address the problem at all or try to help her except one guy who takes the opportunity to take advantage of her and then abruptly leave. The woman bends over backwards to do everything for her boyfriend even though she's obviously not happy. He gives her nothing in return except for pain and cruelty. In her professional life, her art is rejected from a program she applied for and she's been working on a single sculpture for years that will probably never be finished. This is the only glimpse of the woman's life that we see before she starts to rot.

The decomposition process is interrupted by dreams of decomposition and dreams of the men in her life suggestively cutting off her flesh and eating it. This scene is reminiscent of the couple of sex scenes from earlier in the film, making it clear that these men simply use her and illustrate the toxic effect they have on her. She eventually kills them (or at least dreams about doing so), but it isn't enough to save her from completely rotting away. The woman spends most of the film naked, but I don't find it exploitative. It isn't to titillate the audience and the cinematography reflects that. Both she and her boyfriend walk around the film naked and there's a comfortable nonchalance as if that's what they do every day. The sex scenes are experimental and unpleasant to watch because it shows that nature of their relationship before you even hear them speak. Later, when she starts rotting, it's even less appealing for obvious reasons and more symbolic about her raw feelings behind her facade. I've seen a lot of people complain about how she doesn't go to the doctor like any sane person would, but the film really isn't about a physical affliction. Many people in her situation, trapped in an abusive relationship without anyone who cares about her with no means of escape on top of professional failure, would not seek out help. Lots of people just go about their miserable existence and accept their fate even though help is available to them. The film portrays this mentality well and makes the physical symptoms as grotesque as the mental, emotional, and physical ones are in real life.

Thanatomorphose is a minimalist film. Long stretches of time go by with no dialog; none of the characters have names; and the plot is very bare bones. The film takes place claustrophobically only in her apartment. She is shown briefly leaving and coming back, but everything else is in the few rooms where she lives. The other films in this subgenre build a better picture of the person's life and make it more palatable to watch, but at their core, they're the same. All of these women have unfulfilling lives surrounded by people who don't really care about them. The rotting is simply the physical form of what would happen to these women mentally and emotionally in these situations. The special effects are amazing for the budget and the film is shot in interesting, unexpected ways. The music is beautiful and captures the mood perfectly with mournful, slow moving strings. Unfortunately, there were quite a few things that just didn't measure up to the other films. The acting in the majority of the film is painful to watch and the dialog is wooden. The sex scenes seemed really out of place stylistically compared to the rest of the film. It featured extreme closeups, bright colors, and strange avant garde music that didn't mesh with the very stripped down and minimalist style of the film as a whole. I'm glad I watched it because it seems to be the first in this rash of women rotting away films and sets up the formula for such films, but it leaves a bit to be desired.

My rating: 6/10 fishmuffins

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