Studio: Unearthed Films
Director: Eric Falardeau
Writer: Eric Falardeau
Producer: Eric Falardeau
Stars: Kayden Rose, Davyd Tousignant, Emile Beaudry, Karine Picard, Roch-Denis Gagnon, Eryka L. Cantieri, Pat Lemaire, Simon Laperriere
A despondent young woman’s body begins to decay from the inside out.
Standards of professionalism for film journalism suggest mincing words in this situation, but why beat around the bush? “Thanatomorphose” is dull.
Writer/director Eric Falardeau’s first feature film is an experimental mood piece. That mood is intentionally one of oppressive despair and isolated abandonment. Those themes are ripe fruit for artistic exploration, though they do not make for the most captivating cinema.
To illustrate the arthouse appeal that the film means to accomplish, it is worth noting that the score is comprised mainly of funerary violins screeching the pained strains of pieces with composition dates ranging between 1586 and 1810. Melded with chapter-separating montages of fast cuts and distorted imagery, there is no mistaking that this is a movie made without concern for mainstream multiplexes or typical filmmaking conventions.
“Thanatomorphose” is so avant-garde that its characters do not have names. The basic concept, as there is not enough here to constitute a full story under the common definition of that term, is that a young woman consumed by ennui wakes one morning to discover her body rotting from the inside out. The following hour and a half is a depiction of that bodily breakdown along with the collapse of her claustrophobic world.
Falardeau’s film quickly comes to a point where it chooses to abandon any semblance of realism. The woman rots gradually into a living corpse on a bed infested with maggots and massive amounts of blood congealed into black jelly. The idea is to watch her struggle with a physical transformation mimicking her psychological one at a time well after anyone in a logical world would have gone for help or to a hospital.
She continues entertaining a pair of suitors while afflicted. The men express only the mildest of concerns for being face-to-face with the walking dead. The way they all but dismiss the seriousness of her condition highlights the Kafkaesque unreality in which “Thanatomorphose” takes place. This is a realm where mutating into a fly raises barely an eyebrow from anyone involved. The real focus is on what the portrayal signifies, although that too becomes lost in an overuse of pretentious artistic devices.
As uninterested as the characters are in socially accepted behaviors, Falardeau is uninterested in technical aesthetics. The director wants the story to take shape on its own terms, allowing action to fall into already framed shots. The result of this approach is a lot of soft focus scenery. Shots are staged without regard for pleasing composition or sensible negative space. The film credits two camera operators (one of whom was the director) and two camera assistants, so these are unlikely technical gaffes. Rather, it suggests a camera capturing events unplanned to take place in this space, as though scenes were unblocked and unrehearsed.
Stylized sloppiness or not, the purposefully mundane tone fuels an urge to watch the film on fast-forward. When moments are not livened by the gruesome carnage of the woman’s metamorphosis, the viewer has to sigh through unrelenting visuals of brushing teeth, shaving armpits, plucking eyebrows, blow-drying hair, frying bacon, and filling ice trays with water.
There are audiences out there that may enjoy reading philosophical meanings into “Thanatomorphose,” whether it has any or not. Those interested in a more traditional horror movie with nearly identical subject matter might try the film “Contracted” instead (review here).
If this were a film made in an era of expressionism or the French Nouvelle Vague, then philosophers and film students alike could dissect “Thanatomorphose” alongside “Un Chien Andalou” or the works of Jean Cocteau. With a 2012 copyright date however, “Thanatomorphose” plays with a palette that the execution never backs up, and considers itself to be more meaningful than it is. Some may interpret various manners of symbolism aside from the obvious ones regarding female genitalia. The rest of us see empty style choices overcompensating for the lack of narrative substance.
Review Score: 40