Memory of the Dead/La Memoria del Muerto (2011)
Starring Lola Berthet, Horacio Acosta, Raquel Albeniz, and Jimena Anganuzzi
Directed by Valentin Javier Diment
Memory of the Dead was introduced as a cross between Giallo and Luis Buñuel. Giallo is Italian for ‘yellow’ and for English speaking audiences refers to bloody crime films or thrillers coming out of Italy predominately during the 1970’s. On the other hand, Luis Buñuel is famous in the film world for being one of the most original directors to every use the medium, and he still is, although he died in the 80’s. Buñuel could take the most ridiculous premise for a story and turn it into a masterpiece. Therefore, when I heard the introduction for Memory or the Dead I was very perplexed. How is a writer or director able to combine the suspense and gore of Giallo and the surrealism of Buñuel? It turned out they weren’t able to combine the two very effectively, as Memory of the Dead was a confusing film, which often felt too ambitious for its own good.
The movie opens with Alicia and Jorge as they walk down a garden path leading to their country home. Jorge has had premonitions of his own death and tells Alicia, but she doesn’t take it as seriously as Jorge. One night Alicia wakes from a frightening dream in which Jorge kills himself, only to find Jorge lying in bed next to her, unresponsive and bleeding badly from his face. Jorge dies, but has left instructions for Alicia, the last narcissistic wish of a selfish man. Through a previously written letter Jorge instructs Alicia to gather those who loved him in life, and spend an evening with them recounting memories of Jorge. The evening starts with a letter-reading scene, as Alicia tells everyone in attendance exactly what they meant to Jorge. However, the evening quickly turns from reminiscence to horror as strange happenings outside the house indicate that the group who have assembled may be in store for a very long night.
As you can see the premise of the film is certainly inspired by the work of Buñuel, as it is set up to be very character and dialogue driven. However, we never get a chance to invest in these characters. The melodrama starts with a seemingly interminable letter-reading scene, in which the most intimate relationships between members of the group and Jorge are on full display. Tears flow, cries are muffled, but the audience is left wondering ‘who the hell are these people?’ The melodrama stays in 5th gear for nearly the entire film, but as the audience we can never get close enough to these characters to actually care.
As for the horror or Giallo aspect, there is a nice little gem of a slasher premise at the heart of this film which I won’t spoil. However, it never gets a chance to shine as the story is constantly bogged down by melodrama. Also, a couple of horrendous ‘jump-scares’ near the beginning of the film caused me wonder if the horror genre is Diment’s natural home. I should mention that while I’m not aware of the budget of the film, it was likely made for a very small amount and this is commendable given how good the film looks. Diment and his crew also created some digital ghostly landscapes which demonstrate great creativity and CG skill. Finally, the last third of the film really picked up and entertained me. It’s really unfortunate that the first two-thirds weren’t as successful.
In the end, Memory of the Dead is a strange film. More arthouse than horror, more melodrama than scares, Memory of the Dead was a little too ambitious from the beginning.