Monday, February 08, 2021

Two Sentence Horror Stories: El Muerto

If Willie Sutton were making horror movies, he’d set them in morgues, because that’s where the bodies are. There have been films that take advantage of the possibilities provided by fresh corpses, like The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Nightshifter, but pathologists get a relatively easy time of it in horror programming. However, this night will be hard for everyone, especially the coroner’s daughter in “El Muerto,” the latest episode of Two Sentence Horror Stories, premiering tomorrow on the CW.

There are a lot of bodies coming in, so Grace has no time for her daughter, Laura. Instead, the young girl huddles in a makeshift bed set up in the morgue’s back room, yearning for some human contact. From time to time, Antonio takes a break from the autopsies to check on her, but despite his assurances, she knows her mother is profoundly angry with her. She is not the only one. Apparently, Laura can see the spirit of a recently deceased boy, who is quite put out by his current state and he might just take it out on her.

As it often happens with anthology horror, we can more or less estimate the climactic twist of “El Muerto,” but the execution of co-directors Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia (who have done some of the best “sentences” of the series) is super-effective. They build an over-powering sense of foreboding, heightened by the grim, oppressive institutional set design work. The grey-on-grey striped walls and checkered floors evoke the vibe of the Black Lodge in
Tein Peaks, but with a Kafkaesque twist.

Young Isla Sunar is terrific as Laura. She is totally believable when playing scared silly and covering a wide range of other feelings and sentiments. She will break viewers hearts, but it is the quiet, deeply affecting work of Carlos Albornoz as Antonio that really drives home the episode’s emotional kicker.

After a so-so start, Attieh & Garcia have helped the current season rebound to its previous form. In this genre, atmosphere is disproportionally important and “El Muerto has it in spades. Highly recommended, “El Muerto” premieres tomorrow night (2/9), as part of the current season of
Two Sentence Horror Stories, on the CW.