Fantasia Fest 2011: 'Morituris' Review


When it comes to horror films that hail from the great land of Italy, you never know what you're going to get -- but you can bet it will probably be pretty aggressive. From the classic days of Bava, Argento and Fulci to today's film festival fare, Italy certainly does deliver horror films of a decidedly controversial nature. One of their most recent exports, Raffaele Picchio's Morituris, is sure to earn itself lots of post-screening chit-chat as it bounces across the festival circuit.

Rarely am I of two distinct minds on one specific film, but I really am torn on this one. Let's start with the good news:

This is a brutal, unrelenting, and frequently unpredictable piece of survival horror. Although we open with five typical youths on their way to another typical rave, the filmmakers pull the rug out from us right away: turns out this is not at all a group of friends. Instead it is a group of three predators and two prey. The travelers turn on one another in truly shocking fashion, which leads to some rather nasty repercussions -- and all of this happens well before the "real" horrors of the foreboding forest show themselves.

From the moment the cruelty begins, Morituris becomes awash in bleak, oppressive horror. Characters are brutally abused and left wandering naked into even worse fates; the music and the cinematography are consistently unnerving; there's an feverish and savage edge to the proceedings that most horror films wouldn't have the stones to explore. There's actually a lot to like about this nasty little horror flick, not the least of which is that it may mark a small return to form for the horror-lovin' nation of Italy.

But ... on the other hand -- and this is where things get a little "second-act spoilery," although I'll tread carefully:

Morituris features an extended rape scene so hateful and despicable that it almost renders the rest of the film unwatchable. If the goal of the filmmakers was to illustrate how vile and soulless its villains are, that point is made (and made well) practically one-third into the sequence of outrageous abuse. Although I'm certainly not offended when graphic rape is portrayed in the service of a film, one simply has to wonder why a director would feel the need to leer and linger on something that starts out as horrifying, remains virtually unwatchable, and quickly becomes noxious?

Perhaps Picchio's intent was to bring a grindhouse-style "I Spit On Your Grave" aspect to the proceedings; I'd say he's succeeded -- but that's not a compliment. I'm sure that the director (and his two co-writers) would have a good explanation as to why their dark, nasty, mostly effective little horror flick has to feature such a long and soul-bruising scene of sexual abuse, but speaking only as one horror fan (and one who despises censorship) I'd be a lot more comfortable recommending Morituris if it didn't wallow in basic depravity quite so tenaciously. 

So in the long run: Morituris is a harsh and rough little stretch of road, and one that has some strong assets in its corner -- but something slightly askew in its soul.