Released Oct. 26, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to hard R rating for graphic and sadistic violence including rape and torture, sexual content, and language) – 1hr 38min
Directed by Luciano & Nicolás Onetti
Starring Agustín Pardella, Victoria Maurette, Victorio D’Alessandro
A documentary film crew sets off for the flood-ravaged ruins of a ghost town. Once there, they become the targets of a depraved and bloodthirsty family of cannibals.
It’s everything you thought of when you read that description – nothing more and nothing less. It’s the Argentina Chainsaw Massacre Inferno of 1000 Corpses that Have Eyes.
There’s a fine line between paying homage and being a copycat. Among notable filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino is probably the most adept at walking that tightrope. In the horror world, Rob Zombie is well-known for wearing his genre influences on his sleeve, and while he stumbles from time to time, he’s typically successful in making references to his favorite films and still creating something that feels fairly fresh with its own identity. What the Waters Left Behind does not do this. It goes to work with a hillbilly horror checklist and it does not roll the end credits until every single box has been marked off.
After watching the comparably superior Terrified (Aterrados), I was in the mood to see what else is going on in the Argentina scene and this appeared to fit the bill. As I try to approach a movie as blind as I can, all I knew here was that people go to a creepy flooded place, and then What the Waters Left Behind delivered to me its singular surprise, in that it wasn’t a monster movie. The opening sequence made it pretty obvious, but as soon as our hapless protagonists – the horny one, the princess type, her bf Overly Serious Guy, the sassy lesbian, Mr. Plain Vanilla, and She Who Is Most Likely to Survive – drive up to the world’s most impossibly disgusting gas station and meet the wildly eccentric and menacing individuals that live there, it became abundantly clear what kind of experience was in store. There’s the overly aggressive and territorial mechanic. We have a filthy old woman selling mystery meat pies and telling awkwardly grim stories to clearly uncomfortable people. We got the mysterious perv in the back room fapping to something incoherently bizarre on an antiquated TV. Meet our cannibals, ladies and gentlemen.
The whole movie progresses in this reliably predictable manner – its steadfast commitment to choosing the most obvious possibility at virtually every opportunity is impressive in a twisted, upside-down way. The biggest shame about the cliché-worn story is how good the film looks. First and foremost, the filmmakers employed the greatest set designer that will work for free – nature. The ruined city of Epecuén is a very real place that was devastated by a cataclysmic flood in the 1980s and it makes an extremely effective setting for a horror film. Its beautifully haunting devastation makes for an unsettling backdrop to the movie’s ugly events (and I’m sure, in Argentina, the place is likely steeped in urban legend, providing greater subtext to audiences there). It’s frustrating though that What the Waters Left Behind could not make more of this unique locale.
Also, the film is rather well-directed in regards to style and technique. Many shots are artistically and compellingly framed. Color is very well implemented throughout. There’s some pretty amazing tracking shots taken utilizing the Epecuén ruins that are maybe more ambitious than necessary. The Onetti brothers may have flubbed it when they wrote the staggeringly derivative script, but What the Waters Left Behind serves as quite the impressive demo reel for what they can accomplish behind the camera.
Overall, this is such a ‘been there, done that’ movie, it elevates many other such movies to a place of greater creativity by comparison. By taking no risks, it’s devoid of suspense, but it’s still rather effective when it wants to make you squirm. However, with nothing interesting to say about anything, the sadism seems rather cheap and empty. It’s still not a bad horror movie though. Setting aside, it may not have an original bone in its proverbial bone collection to which every cannibal family devotes at least one room in their ramshackle house, but it accomplishes its objectives with style, and that’s more than can be said about a lot of flicks.