Movies

NSFW: A Chilean Film – Lucio Rojas Channels The Ghost Of Pinochet In His Film Trauma

Trauma succeeds as an artistic statement on Chile's recent dark history but fails as a horror film.

Photo Credit: IMDB

If you’ve heard about the Chilean film Trauma by director Lucio Rojas (see our press release for more information about the production of the film), then chances are good you have heard that it is a movie that doesn’t shy away from brutal depictions of awful, inhuman acts like nothing you’ve seen since the infamous A Serbian Film. However, that comparison might be more apt than most people know.

Out Of Context Horror

Let’s go back to A Serbian Film for a second here. If you’ve heard of it, then you’re aware that its reputation is built almost entirely on its depictions of brutal violence, sexual abuse, necrophilia, and other heinous acts. The plot of the movie is incidental; we’re here for the degradation.

This is what I refer to as endurance horror. It doesn’t engage the existential dread the way cosmic horror can, and it doesn’t even poke the amygdala the way that low-budget slashers do. There’s no attempt to make us gasp, and there’s nothing chilling or supernatural at play… it’s just watching people engage in the most debased acts the filmmakers can come up with and pointing a camera at them while they do it.

If I were being kind, I’d say it was gauche. I’m not kind, though, so I’ll call it what it is… juvenile. It’s reveling in excess and awfulness almost for the sake of doing so, turning the film into nothing more than a sideshow with all the pointless cruelty and needless filth that phrase implies.

However, both A Serbian Film and Trauma are using this art style to make a point. The problem is that if you’re not part of the cultures that birthed these films, then you get none of that context. All of the bile, with none of the point.

So what is the point? Well, A Serbian Film was meant as a statement against the cleaned-up kinds of films that are often made in that country, typically with foreign money. It was meant to show the hypocrisy of that practice and to parody how Serbians are often portrayed in the media (as crazed killers, sexual deviants, etc.). Trauma is making a similar statement, but if you’re not familiar with Augusto Pinochet’s reign in Chile, then it’s going to go right over your head.

The Point Being Made

We’re getting into the explicit stuff now. This is your warning.

Trauma opens with a scene that’s just as confusing as it is abhorrent. A woman has been beaten by some type of military or paramilitary force, and she’s strapped to what looks like a birthing chair. Her son is brought in, given a deep cut across his face, injected with some sort of drug, and then forced to have sex with his mother at gunpoint. She’s shot in the head, and the son is forced to complete the act with her corpse.

Photo Credit: indie-eye.it

Then we jump to 2011, and a pair of young, attractive women are having sex in their upscale apartment.

Photo Credit: IMDB

This is the movie’s real start. Our lovers are meeting up with two other women, and they are going out to a small cabin in the countryside for a relaxing weekend. And from this point on, we’re in fairly familiar slasher movie territory. Our cast is small, they’re far away from help,  they’re set upon by a monster with a human face (the adult version of the boy we saw in the opener), and they’re forced to endure extreme situations. The major difference between this film and your standard American slasher, though, is that while the depredations of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers are almost always antisexual, it seems that sexual abuse is the major M.O. of this film’s villain. And given that all four of our protagonists are women, things quickly bury themselves down the misogyny hole.

Photo Credit: indie-eye.it

But why does Trauma do this? Why does it show us explicit scene after explicit scene of rape, torture, etc. seemingly without purpose or relevance? What is the purpose of these scenes, especially when they feel like a teenager’s attempt to be dark and gritty and the sheer pornography of these acts strip them of any meaning or impact?

Photo Credit: IMDB
Photo Credit: listverse.com

Well, for those who aren’t up on their Chilean history, Pinochet ran a brutal regime where people were disappeared by the secret police and where torture, sexual abuse, and rampant human rights violations were the norm. It lasted from the late 1970s until 1990 or so. That bubbling stew of vile corruption is what led to our villain being brainwashed, abused, and molded into the abhorrent creature we see in this movie.

That’s where the political label you see attached to Trauma comes in. The movie is a repudiation of that period of the country’s history, and its villain is meant to show that those scars still exist. Even in a country that has advanced and moved into the modern day, the beast of those years is not all that far gone. The rampant dehumanization, the casual cruelty, and the erasure of identity and meaning are all still there, and they’re so in your face that they’re impossible to miss.

Chilean army troop taking possession of the streets during Pinochet’s coup – Santiago, Chile, September 11, 1973. Photo Credit: sbs.com.au

Does it get the point across? Yes. Does it depict with numbing accuracy the kind of sadism that was inflicted on and then taught to those who survived this kind of treatment? Yes. Is it a functional artistic statement on the dark history of Chile? Sure, I think that’s a fair statement to make.

Is it a good horror movie? I don’t think so.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t consider watching someone eat dog turds on-screen to be a great basis for horror (See Salo–Ed). It’s unsettling, and it’s unpleasant. After the second or third bite, I’m just sighing and waiting for it to be over because I didn’t go to Wikipedia to find out what was significant about the year 1978 in Chile until later.

Having that context would have helped, but it still wouldn’t have made it a good horror movie.

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