Review: Murder Me, Monster
Alejandro Fadel's film is a monstrous murder mystery that unleashes Argentina's id onto the pampas
Written by Anton Bitel
In the opening sequence of Murder Me, Monster, amid bleating sheep with bloodied faces, a woman staggers around at dusk before she sinks to her knees, a vicious wound gaping open across her throat - even as we hear a low growl approaching. Not long afterwards, the rural police find her decapitated body outside the farmhouse and arrest her blind husband - while officer Cruz (Victor Lopez), left behind at the scene, discovers her head in the pig pen.
Soon Cruz's lover Francisca (Tania Casciani) will also be found with her head missing - causing her husband David (Esteban Bigliardi), who was in the vicinity of both murders and is known locally for his strange behaviour, to be immediately arrested and confined to an asylum. Yet Cruz will be led by some odd evidence at the scene, by David's rantings about a monster, and by his own mental collapse, to take the investigation in some rather unconventional directions. "You know what you're afraid of?" Cruz will be told by his colleague Niño (Francisco Carrasco). "There being no revelation. It all being as violent and simple as a rock." Yet Cruz's quest for some kind of meaning behind these senseless acts will set him on a path of confrontation along which more than one kind of monster will be encountered.
The original Spanish title of writer/director Alejandro Fadel's feature was in fact Muere, Monstruo, Muere, whose literal meaning ('Die Monster, Die') is the opposite of Murder Me, Monster - but what is important here is that the English rendering preserves the alliteration of the original's initial letters. "It's a phrase and an image," as David will later say of the expression that he claims a voice in his head keeps saying, "M, M, M." That capitalised M will serve as a pictogram for the double mountains that Cruz will see and compulsively sketch in his notebook - 'twin peaks' evoking David Lynch's similarly surreal saga of police procedural. M is also, of course, the title of Fritz Lang's 1931 film about a serial killer and the society that creates him. Here too, one bestial killer will run loose in a world of sexual betrayal, police brutality and callous cover-up.
Mirrors are key to Murder Me, Monster. There is, near the film's beginning, a strange, stylised montage of reduplicated mountains, with snowy sierras on one half of the screen perfectly, weirdly mirrored on the other half. Francisca is seen standing at the edge of a lake, her inverted image clearly reflected in the water. She later encourages Cruz to dance for her before a mirror, and herself mimics his movements as she watches them in the glass. Later Cruz will dance alone before a mirror, or sit in front of one staring at himself, while David is interviewed by a psychiatrist (Romina Iniesta) in a room decorated with mirrors that reflect both interlocutors in an infinite regress. Cruz and David, already made parallel by their shared love for Francisca (who sits between them in a car, with a hand tenderly placed on the knee of either), start to become mirror images of one another in further ways: not only do they pursue the same monster, and end up cuffed to a wall alongside each other, but there also seems to be a supernatural bond between them, as they remotely echo each other's words and, in one scene, Cruz chokes on the wedding ring that David has just swallowed. It is almost as though they are two aspects of the same person, caught in a violent internal conflict. The film's climactic face-off takes place in a rocky underground cavern which, like Plato's allegorical cave, will stage fears and fantasies as theatricalised shadow play - less straightforwardly real than a dark, distorted reflection of reality.
"Images can also be full of horror," David tells his psychiatrist. "It's what medical science calls cinema." Certainly Fadel's cinema is an unnerving hall of mirrors, where monsters are just the dark side of the self, reflecting aberrations all at once personal and political, erotic and deadly. As Cruz goes monster hunting, we try to determine whether the beast is David, or Cruz, or Cruz's corrupt captain (Jorge Prado), or those demonic bikers that keep turning up at night. Eventually the monster will acquire a form, as an embodiment of sexual anxieties - with a whip-like penis for a tail, a vulva-cum-scrotum for a face, and a mouth that is a nightmarish vagina dentata. Like the Lovecraftian creature in Amat Escalante's The Untamed (La región salvaje, 2016), this monster is all aggressive, transgressive desire, taking far more than it gives on its own melancholic quest for satisfaction.
"Can you live without having to obey?", Cruz asks. Both he and David long for freedom - from imprisonment, from authority, from the confines of the body. What they find, though, is not so much liberty as oozing, priapic, murderous libertinage - a monstrous incarnation of pure id that will not die, but lives on in Argentina's dark and hidden spaces. Murder Me, Monster is a tale of perversion on the pampas, all at once beautiful, mysterious and jaw-droppingly outrageous.
Murder Me, Monster is released in select cinemas and on VOD from Anti-Worlds from 4 December 2020.
Director: Alejandro Fadel
Screenwriter: Alejandro Fadel
Cast: Esteban Bigliardi, Victor Lopez, Tania Casciani, Romina Iniesta, Sofia Palomina
Running time: 109mins