I missed “Thanatomorphose” when it was screened during Horrorthon here in Dublin last year. It was one of the films I was most curious to see given a couple of mentions I'd seen online. The premise is simple: “A young girl called Laura mysteriously contracts a disease that causes her to rot from the inside out”. Fair enough, a feature film length visual accompaniment to Pungent Stench's "Just Let Me Rot" then, clearly.. Body horror's my bag, seemed like something I should see. And so finally, last night, I got around to sitting down and giving the dvd a look.
“Thanatomorphose” is one of those films you come across once in a while that every ounce of your being just wants to absolutely fucking hate, but some part of you can't dismiss entirely. There's not a great deal to recommend the movie – it features some of the most atrocious acting I've encountered in some time,particularly from the boyfriend character, who is excruciating to watch for the brief periods he's on screen.There is barely any plot, no explanation for why or how Laura contracts this mysterious virus. The camera angles at times seem completely random. It seems to last a lot longer than the 100 minutes it actually goes on for. It almost feels at times like you're watching a gore version of “The Room”, such is the overall shodiness of it.
But at the same time, there are a couple of saving graces. For one thing – let's be clear on this – the film is basically just a riff on one single idea, the idea of watching someone physically disintegrate over time. That's really the only reason the film exists, all the other elements are incidental and are probably just there to stretch this into a feature length film rather than the short it could have been. If you're okay with that, and you know that going in, it might make the movie work a little better for you. For one thing, the “drawn out” approach is really the only way I suppose you can portray something as gradual as the rotting process Laura goes through. And obviously, given the premise, the film can only end one way, so if you're not a fan of predictable endings this isn't the film for you.
The sexual aspect of the film, which kind of seems played up a little in the trailer and some reviews, is again somewhat incidental – it's often suggested rather than graphically shown, and the nudity is practical more than anything. If you want to have a film where the main character is basically rotting alive, you kind of need to have that person not wearing any clothes so that their body, and the rotting process it undergoes, is visible. So if you're hoping for some kind of meditation on sex and death, again, this ain't the film for you. And indeed, the real stars of the movie are the make up team here.
The slow process that begins with some bruising and a nail or two falling off gets into some genuinely grotesque paces over the film as Laura becomes a living corpse. She shuts herself away in a world of bodily functions, duct tape and bandages as her skin becomes gradually more putrid and her limbs decay. I have to take my hat off to the folks who created the make up, because it's honestly pretty fucking disgusting. Which it had to be.
In terms of mood and tone the directors have nailed it. The weird dream sequences are a little too randomly thrown in to make any sense, but the dimly lit set, the sense of claustrophobia and almost tangible atmosphere of utter misery and degradation is bang on. The alternating sombre violin/death industrial soundtrack is pretty fitting too – indeed it's one of the things I liked most about the film. Actually it strikes me that for the second half of the film in particular, a lot of the visual elements wouldn't be entirely out of place as background projections at some dingy power electronics gig.
By the time I reached the last, lingering shot, assured in its' utter finality, I was left with some pretty mixed feelings about “Thanatomorphose”. The filmmakers can't, clearly, tell a decent story here. You feel no empathy for Laura or any other characters. Any attempt at hiding some sort of hidden meaning (the repeated shots of Laura masturbating during various staged of decay, the vaginally shaped hole in her ceiling she sees as she does so), are cringeworthy at best.
But I'm not entirely sure that was their aim. There are a lot of blatant, unforgiveable flaws about this film, and I can see why most people would absolutely trash it. It feels, almost accidentally, like a film out of time – I can very easily imagine having read about this 20 years ago in Film Threat alongside “Schramm” or “The Mutilation Man” or something. I can't say I'll ever watch it again, I'm not sure I'd say I even like it – but there is definitely something about it that made it worth watching at least once.
Surreal by accident rather than choice, as clumsy as it it bleak, “Thanatomorphose” is a one of a kind, I'll give it that. It's more of a mood piece than a horror film. Proceed with caution.