A crime investigation meets an incredibly strange creature in an oddly brilliant Argentinian curio.
Caution: discussing Murder Me, Monster involves several spoilers, none of which actually spoil the film (if anything, they give you something to eagerly anticipate) – but those of you worried about such things should proceed carefully.
Murder Me, Monster comes with an immediate problem that seems to have led to some critical confusion. That is the title. There is a significant plot point that requires the phrase uttered by a major character – a phrase that is also the film title – to have three ‘M’s. Without the three ‘M’s, the significance of the phrase is lost – indeed, it no longer makes any sense. The English language title solves the problem in that way, but also entirely changes the broader context of what is being said. The film’s Argentinian title is Muere, Monstruo, Muere – which translates as Die, Monster, Die. So the phrase uttered by the characters in the film is less a self-destructive cry than a wish for the monster that they fear to die. It’s an interesting shift in how some people are interpreting the film – that there is a wish for death somehow forced onto the characters rather than a wish for the monster (who we are not sure for the longest time exists outside their minds, and so might be themselves anyway) to be destroyed. As a central point of the film, it doesn’t actually matter that much; but it was a point of fascination that struck me while watching, if only because some of the things I’d read about this film made quite a big deal of the (English) phrase.
This is a film of some ambiguity anyway, awash with oddball characters, visual symbols and strange, violent deaths that eventually take us into a very weird area where normality – at least normality as it lives within this film – is suspended as the monster becomes flesh. And how! At the most basic, the story follows a rural cop, Cruz (Victor Lopez), as he investigates a series of decapitation murders. Cruz has good reason to let this go after David (Esteban Bigliardi) is arrested; he has been sleeping with the accused’s wife, who is now one of the victims, so no love lost there you might think. But he can’t shake the suspicion that David’s claim of a monster might have some substance to it, especially after finding a giant tooth in one severed head and some gloopy fluid dripping from another. Those things will raise eyebrows, I guess.
Within that basic structure, we get a collection of eccentrics – Cruz himself is given to strangely dancing at the drop of a hat, seemingly hating himself as he does; his boss is aggressively friendly – while weirdness abounds; motorcycle riders appear out of nowhere and are vaguely threatening, Cruz designs extravagant maps in paperback books, and everyone heads out to the mountains for a final investigation that ends with them – and prime suspect David – sheltering in a cave during a torrential rainstorm. We’re unsure who is who – indeed, the film plays on an ambiguity that keeps us guessing about who the murderer might really be. Is there actually a monster? Does it live inside one of the main characters? the film seems to be heading in that direction, before pulling the rug from under us.
Because there is a monster. And it is quite the monster. We first see it (early hints of its existence that might still be Alejandro Fadel playing with us) in part and in brief, and then discover it in full at the film’s finale, when it first appears as a long, penis-headed tentacle that wraps around Cruz’s throat. That’s an extraordinary moment – you look at the head of the tentacle and think “is that what it looks like?” – and yes, it’s a dick. Then we see the monster itself, and it has a vagina-face. With teeth. You could possibly write an entire gender studies thesis based on this creature alone. The fact that the rest of the monster looks like a Moomin or Teletubby or similarly cuddly children’s character just adds to the unsettling wrongness of everything. It’s a moment of audacious outrageousness; audacious because the absurdity of this risks unbalancing everything that the film has set up with its off-kilter universe that certainly has moments of humour (the cries of “FORENSICS!” after each body is found are almost Pythonesque bits of comedy, while other scenes play on eccentricity and ludicrous dialogue to create a sense of the absurd) but is also low key and subtle. That it doesn’t throw the film is because you sense Fadal is almost daring us to laugh, and if we do, to carry on laughing as the scene with the monster goes on and on. He keeps the creature on screen for so long, and with such a lack of sensation for the most part, that any chuckles will abate into bafflement. In other words, the monster eventually becomes just another part of the strange universe that has been created.
Murder Me, Monster is a film of long takes and visual beauty, where every scene is carefully structured and every shot looks gorgeous. It has a haunting, languid score by Alex Nante that gives the film a sense of ongoing tragedy, one underscored by Lopez’s beaten up face – this is a man who has seen a lot, you feel. It’s a story that refuses to be rushed – and which is frequently told in non-linear form during the first half – but which never feels slow, and it is very, very weird throughout – I mentioned that, right? There are comparisons that we could make – indeed, every other critic has – to other stories where we find strange and dark netherworlds uncovered by murder investigations in small-town locations, and in fairness, the influences are worn on the sleeve. But this film doesn’t feel like a pastiche – it remains its own thing, a defiantly strange, haunting and stylish story that maintains a sense of ambiguity and mystery right to the end. Part of me thinks the film is a masterpiece, and another part of me is less sure. But it’s something that lingers long after you’ve seen it, and that alone is rare these days. It won’t be for everyone – but we very much recommend taking a look.
Murder Me, Monster is playing UK cinemas and is on-demand from December 4th.
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