Saturday, May 23, 2020

CFF ’20: Skull—The Mask

Forget about getting Medieval. Vengeful Pre-Columbian gods are way more hardcore than that. Tahawatinsupay is one of the hardest-cored, but it is his executioner you really have to worry about. That would be whoever happens to be wearing the skull-like Mask of Anhanga. Unfortunately, it finds its way onto someone’s head in modern-day São Paulo, resulting in a trail of fresh corpses. A disgraced police detective is out of her depth working the uncanny case in Kapel Furman & Armando Fonseca’s Skull: The Mask, which screens (virtually) as part of the (online) 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.

The film starts way back in 1944, when a sinister military expedition tried to harvest the power of the Mask of Anhanga. It ended badly for them. The mask next resurfaces in our time, when the Brazilian branch of a sinister Chinese conglomerate unearths it in an Amazonian construction site. It turns out Tack Waelder, the CEO was hoping to find it. In fact, he already abducted three Bolivian immigrant kids to sacrifice in his planned ceremony. That is the case Det. Beatriz Obdias is currently working, but making no progress on.

Unfortunately, the young gothy lover of Waelder’s deputy cannot resist performing her own ritual with the mask. This is obviously an extraordinarily stupid decision that ends just as badly for her. It also launches the mask into the world and onto the streets of São Paulo, where it does what it does best—kill people. Obdias and her partner have no idea what they are tracking, but Manco Ramirez does. He has sworn to protect the world from the mask, but as a classic loner-type, he is not good at making friends and influencing people.

Basically, Skull is about as micro as a budget can get. However, its admirable energy level, intriguing use of Pre-Columbian lore, and gleefully gory practical effects make it a highly watchable overachiever. It is important to emphasis the latter, because Furman & Fonseca have blood splattering and body parts flying everywhere. Yet, despite the supernatural elements, Skull often functions like a slasher movie and a procedural.

Natalia Rodrigues (who appeared in the Elis Regina biopic) is suitably disillusioned and hard-bitten as Det. Obdias. Ivo Muller has a real Hammer Horror villain thing going on as Waelder, which is cool, but Wilton Andrade just doesn’t look like the indestructible superman his character, Ramirez, seems to be (sometimes to such a laughable extent, the film approaches parody).

Skull certainly has its share of rough edges, but you can see the inspiration in scene after scene. Cronos was more polished, but seeing Skull today is similar to the lightning-bolt-out-of-the-blue experience of watching Del Toro’s film for the first-time in 1993. These filmmakers have that much potential, so just imagine what they can do with a semi-professional budget. Highly recommended for fans of scrappy independent horror and maniacally graphic practical effects, Skull: The Mask screens virtually (5/22-5/25) during this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival.