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rochefort [Film Festival 09.21.12] Argentina horror

When her husband Jorge (Gabriel Goity) dies a sudden but not unexpected death, Alicia (Lola Berthet) holds a gathering to celebrate both his passing and his return. Jorge, an expert practitioner of the occult arts, had foreseen his own death, and before dying had informed Alice how she might bring him back to life. Per his instructions, she has invited to her home his five dearest comrades, including his best friend and a former lover, so that they may together focus their love for the deceased and guide him back to the land of the living. They agree to the rite, but she warns them of two things: one, they must not leave the house while the ritual is in progress lest they be outside the field of protection, and two, they will each be visited by spirits of the dead from their respective pasts.

An ambitious low-budget feature from Argentinian director Valentin Javier Diment, Memory of the Dead (La Memoria del Muerto) is equal parts Evil Dead and haunted house story, and pits Alicia's guests against returned spectres that include dead daughters, ex-girlfriends, and abusive fathers. There's quite a lot of the freaky stuff in here, the blood flows freely, and Diment does a nice job of conjuring an atmosphere that calls to mind both Italian giallo and the Hammer heyday. The hauntings feature some moments of inventive gore, the standout being a sequence wherein painter Nicanor (Matias Marmorato) is visited by the spirit of his dead, faceless sister who then proceeds to give herself a particularly gruesome makeover. By the end we've learned that there's more to the ritual than Alicia had initially revealed, of course, and that her guests are here for a very different reason.

And by the end I also couldn't shake the notion that the whole thing would have worked much better as a short. It's not necessarily that I think the premise can't fill a feature, but rather that Memory starts to drone well before the midpoint, as the bulk of the script is all about getting the characters separated throughout the house so that their lengthy hauntings can commence. None of the characters are particularly appealing, either; what we know about their personal histories and their relation to Jorge is scattershot, often told in quick and clumsy bits of hysterical exposition, and it doesn't take long to abandon any real concern for any of them. As a result, their hauntings register as neither tragic nor terrifying.

It's a shame, too; there's a clearly palpable level of enthusiasm on display, especially in the gleeful way Diment pours buckets of blood over everything, and if he'd put as much effort into character setup and payoff we'd really have something interesting. But each of the opportunities for genuinely disturbing chills are squandered, each individual haunting basically an excuse for a punch line that frequently consists of a knife to the neck or belly. With all the potential that comes with a houseful of people haunted by bloody avatars for their own unresolved life issues, you'd think that it would provoke more than just the need to take a long shower.

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