In this monthly column, I’ll spotlight a horror movie from a country outside the United States that has flown under the radar. The goal is to showcase the talents of horror filmmakers around the world and make sure their voices don’t go unheard.
Movie: México Bárbaro
Watch if you like: V/H/S, Southbound, From Dusk ‘til Dawn
With Dia de los Muertos approaching, it seemed appropriate to spotlight a film that includes the holiday and is directed by Mexican filmmakers. The perfect marriage of the two is available on Netflix: México Bárbaro. It is a horror anthology that tackles Mexican folklore and myths and adapts them into contemporary tales. Many of the short films pay homage to American horror, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the abstract terror of David Lynch. As with any horror anthology, some films are better than others, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall goal: to showcase some of Mexico’s best horror filmmakers, both established and new.
One of the interesting stylistic choices of México Bárbaro is its lack of a frame narrative. In most horror anthologies, there’s a reason given for why we’re seeing such different stories all together. However, this anthology forgoes any forced framing device and merely presents the films with title cards, accompanied by some disgusting graphic of a body in ruin.
While I won’t run through every short featured in this anthology (that spoils the fun), I will discuss my favorites. Each showcase a fascinating style or unique story that should put México Bárbaro near the top of your watchlist.
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Dia de los Muertos, dir. GiGi Saul Guerrero
Perhaps México Bárbaro’s best feature is GiGi Saul Guerrero’s “Dia de Los Muertos.” It is the story of an older woman who runs a strip club of young women who all seem to have been traumatized by men in varying ways. To enact revenge upon those that have wronged them, the dancers don sugar skull makeup, take to the stage, and murder their rapists and cat callers. It is a phenomenal telling of horror’s rape-revenge plot, using a much-appropriated Mexican holiday as its backdrop.
Guerrero, one of the two female directors featured in the anthology, is an up-and-coming voice in Mexican horror. She has directed several short films and all seven episodes of the series, La Quinceańera. Her work focuses on strong women, which appears in spades in “Dia de los Muertos.” Her work in the horror genre hasn’t gone unnoticed, and she is being lauded by some as a genre queen.
Muñecas, dir. Jorge Michel Grau
This story is based, and filmed, on the very real and very creepy Island of Dolls, located south of Mexico City. Here, dolls are nailed to trees in various stages of decay. It truly is something out of a horror movie, which is why it is such a great setting for Muñecas. Shot in black and white, this short film follows a similar structure to Tobe Hooper’s classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It captures the nostalgic aesthetic and atmosphere of a classic slasher, with a contemporary twist.
A young woman quietly treks through the woods, trying to evade capture from someone. That someone is revealed to be a very large man with a machete. Yes, it is the typical creepy serial killer chasing a young woman, nothing too groundbreaking. However, this killer’s shack is located on the Island of Dolls, right smack in the middle of a tourist destination. It leans into the island’s horror aesthetic, as well as offering an interesting, yet brief, commentary on the cruelty of tourism.
Grau directed the cannibal film We Are What We Are (which was adapted to an American film with the same name) and has a segment in The ABCs of Death.
Jaral de Berrios, dir. Edgar Nito
This story shares similarities with the horror western as two thieves flee into the desert to escape capture. They take refuge in the ruins of Hacienda del Jaral de Berrios in San Felipe, a place said to be under a terrible curse. Ignoring the curse in pursuit of safety, the two men rest there for the night. However, they found out quickly that those stories are true.
While “Jaral de Berrios” borrows ideas from horror westerns, it creates its own strange, dreamlike aesthetic that blur the boundary between reality and demented dreams. It also features a rather steamy sex scene that may get stuck in your head (but not in a fun way).
Nito is a newer director, working primarily on short films. However, his first full-length film, Guachicolero, is set to be finished this year.
Drena, dir. Aaron Soto
This is perhaps the most abstract and bizarre feature of the film. It echoes the style of David Lynch and other pieces of avant-garde horror. A young woman finds a joint on a dead body and smokes it. She doesn’t get a nice high from it, though. Instead, a demented puppet appears, demanding she drains blood from her sister’s vagina. If she doesn’t, there are some pretty graphic consequences. The whole experience of Drena is exceptionally unsettling, with parts that I almost couldn’t watch. But I was still so impressed with the dread Soto creates and how absolutely strange it is. It is stylistically and tonally so different from the rest of México Bárbaro, which is why it stands out to me.
Soto’s short horror films have won him numerous awards and has been lauded by Guillermo del Toro as “one of the baddest filmmakers in Mexico.” His work with “Drena” is jarring, but showcases a very unique voice, one not scared to take some risks.
México Bárbaro is a horror anthology unlike any I’ve seen. While it may not impress all audiences, it showcases eight unique and talented Mexican directors. It features stories and styles that cater to a variety of horror tastes, from ghost stories to slashers. It may be a low-budget project, but it displays the passion from its filmmakers and demands attention to the horror films coming out of Mexico.