Stuart Gordon is a writer/director/producer of film, television and theater. He is best known for the cult classic Re-Animator and for murdering his wife Carolyn in his films whenever possible.
In his new film Cannibal, filmmaker Manuel Martín Cuenca has broken the first nine of Billy Wilder’s ten commandments: Thou shalt not bore (repeat eight more times).
How do you make a boring cannibal film? It’s not easy, but somehow Cuenca has drained all of the excitement and terror out of an act that most of us think of as taboo and extremely disturbing.
The film starts out promisingly enough with Carlos (Antonio de la Torre), our cannibalistic anti-hero, forcing an unsuspecting couple’s car off the road. After they crash, he drags the still breathing woman victim to his lonely mountain cabin, strips her and begins cutting her up as her blood runs into the gutters of his marble autopsy table. A very intense scene. But this turns out to be the only carnage we will ever see in this anemic film.
We then follow the well-dressed murderer to his apartment, where his fridge contains nothing but carefully wrapped cuts of what we assume to be human flesh. (Doesn’t he need milk for his coffee?) He throws a filet into a frying pan with a little oil and maybe some chimichurri sauce. Then he sits down and slowly eats it with all the pleasure that most of us have for boiled Brussels sprouts. It’s a scene totally devoid of enjoyment or passion of any kind. He chews and chews and chews as all of the earlier excitement quickly leaves the film and we are left with the unhappiest cannibal in movie history.
Nothing seems to please this guy. He has a beautiful new upstairs neighbor, Alexandra, who is actually a masseuse and is constantly throwing herself at him. And later Nina, her equally pretty sister, arrives (they’re both well played by the same actress, Olimpia Melinte) and he shows as little passion for them as he does for eating human flesh or anything else. Maybe he needs a hobby.
Carlos is always meticulously groomed and dressed, and, we are told, happens to be the best tailor in Granada. But all we get to see of him at work is the man neatly folding and unfolding expensive bolts of wool (nice work if you can get it). This too is done with the same lack of passion as he listens to classical music and even manages to make the music boring. In fact I’m starting to fall asleep just describing this.
It’s clear that Carlos is a serial killer who has murdered many times and devoured his (apparently only female) victims. So why does he go to all this trouble and risk imprisonment if he’s getting so little pleasure from his crimes? Are you killing more and enjoying it less?
And why are the two sisters played by the same actress? Alexandra is a sexy blonde who we learn is financially irresponsible, Nina a pretty brunette who is trying to right her sister’s wrongs. By making them seem like twins, is director Cuenca saying that all women are alike and interchangeable? Or is he taking a page from American Psycho, in which protagonist Patrick Bateman is continually getting confused about the identity of his victims? If so, this is at odds with the fact that Carlos seems to be falling in love with the brunette. There is a difference between being mysterious and being confusing. Unfortunately, this film opts for the latter.
On the plus side, the actors are skilled and the film is beautifully shot. And the director has chosen to present his film with only source music instead of a full-blown score. A bold choice to be sure, but one that unfortunately only accentuates the film’s numbing emptiness. But maybe that was his point.
I once had a film student who told me that he wanted to make a movie so boring that the entire audience would be so frustrated that they would walk out. I told him there was a far simpler way to achieve his goal: don’t bother to make the movie in the first place.
And let’s be clear that I’m not saying that this film should be a bloodbath. Gore is not necessary to build suspense or tension. Some may say that this is an art film and I’m viewing it with B-movie expectations, but any good movie, art film or otherwise, needs to grab an audience and make them care about what they are seeing onscreen. And hopefully feel something as well.
There is so little here to make you sympathize or care about these characters. They are so devoid of basic humanity or any passion for life that this sterile film is D.O.A., and like any dead thing, the more time you spend in its presence, the worse it smells.