Horror fans are no stranger to silent hulks who kill any soul unlucky enough to cross their paths...
...For many people outside the genre, these behemoths are the first thing that comes to mind when the conversation turns to scary movies. It’s no wonder why, since we horror fans so often have lively debates about who our favorite killers are. While these debates center around a few chosen characters, occasionally we’re gifted some new blood to add to the conversation.
Fortunately for slasher fans, this is exactly what we get with Skull: The Mask, a new Brazilian action-horror film celebrating its world premiere at the Chattanooga Film Festival. Written and directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman, Skull: The Mask mixes the modern with the mythological, introducing a killer whose origins predate civilization as we know it.
The film opens in 1944, when an ancient artifact, a skull mask, is stolen and used as part of a military experiment to summon the servant of a murderous pre-Columbian god. The experiment fails and the mask is lost, only to resurface during an archeological dig in the present. The skull is brought to the city of Sao Paulo, where it is activated and possesses a human body. The murderous Skull (played by Brazilian wrestler Rurik Jr.) begins to stalk the city, committing savage murders as sacrifices to his god. As expected, a string of murders attracts attention from local police, who put tortured police officer Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) on the case. While Beatriz tries to put the clues together and her suspicions are turned towards loner Manco Ramirez (Wilton Andrade), Skull’s gruesome rampage continues.
Skull: The Mask is a gift to slasher fans everywhere. Not only does the story add a deeper sense of dread by basing Skull’s origin in myth, adding to the sense of invincibility that many slasher villains share, the killer’s intense bloodlust in honor of his god is a perfect setting for visceral kills and stomach-turning special effects. The throat-slitting, ribcage-splitting, and guts-spilling practical effects work by Kapel Furman and Michelle Rodrigues are sure to please even the most brutal gorehounds.
In between grisly killings, Fonseca and Furman show their keen eye for directing and, with the help of director of photography Andre Sigwalt, craft shots that will stick with viewers even after the credits roll. They manage to use the camera both as a tool to create atmosphere and add value to the practical effects throughout.
No review of a slasher would be complete without mention of the killer. As Skull, Rurik Jr. makes a serious impression. His hulking figure alone gives the character a threatening aura, but he also manages to instill an unstoppable determination in the beast. Add the blood and viscera that he accumulates on his body as he kills, and we’ve got a recipe for one truly terrifying mythological monster.
Skull: The Mask suffers from some issues that likely stem from its low budget and small cast/crew size. A few of the action sequences seem a bit clumsy, as if they weren’t choreographed or rehearsed enough, but not to a level that can’t be overlooked. In addition to practical effects, the movie makes use of digital effects, some of which are creative and interesting, adding a depth and beauty to the world, but some leave something more to be desired, which is expected when dealing with lower budgets. While these problems exist, they aren’t serious enough to negatively impact a viewing of film.
Skull: The Mask may live or die based on its script. At 90 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, something I appreciate. The script is light on exposition, which is a great thing, but Fonseca and Furman attempt a level of world and character building that may be too much for the runtime, leaving several threads unexplained. Viewers who need every detail to make sense will likely be irked by this lack of explanation, but those of us who can look past that will find a lot to love in the world the film creates.
Skull: The Mask is gory fun and a must-see for fans of the slasher genre. It’s easy to see how the film builds a groundwork that further entries could build upon, and I would love to see more of this world.
Skull: The Mask is currently playing at the online digital version of Chattanooga Film Festival. The festival is only open to U.S. residents, so if you'd like to attend, get your badges at chattfilmfest.org/badges. The festival will be ongoing from now through May 24th.
By Tim Beirne
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