I’ve always loved exploring the folklore of countries from all over the world. Folklore, like horror, reminds us that fears and anxieties are universal. They might be articulated differently, but their roots are the same no matter where you go. It’s only natural, then, that Panama’s first horror film should delve into its folklore...
...Diablo Rojo PTY, written by Jota Nájera and directed by Sol Moreno, digs deep into the tale of La Tulivieja. According to myth (with some variation), La Tulivieja was a beautiful young woman who, after a secret affair with a young man from town, left her baby in the river. As punishment for her sin, she is cursed with holes in her face, hair covering the front of her body, bat wings, and inverted feet. She roams rivers and riversides driven mad looking for the baby she lost and transforms at the slightest sound of disturbance. Diablo Rojo PTY takes this legend and adds another layer…what if the baby from the river did not die, but was taken in by witches instead? What if those witches were fueled by vengeance? What if some hapless men lured and lost in the woods stumbled on the witches and encountered La Tulivieja? What if one of those men was the young man she had an affair with who left town, returned?
Watching this around Mother’s Day gave it an unexpected depth. Nothing is more terrifying than women—mothers in particular—out to avenge a wrong, and Diablo Rojo PTY isn’t afraid to explore that theme to its extremes. We don’t get a lot of the detail about the main characters until the second half of the film, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t family and community dynamics around. They’re at the edges and, in fact, are made up of the characters we’re signaled to fear. The witches, for example, are so much a family they bring in those left behind by the rest of society and teach them. Their family comes with strings, however. By the age of 33 witches must perform an act of extreme cruelty. And Diablo Rojo isn’t afraid to show it. In one of its most graphic moments, the witches sacrificially consume a baby. A still-living baby. Just descend on it like a bunch of wolves. So, while they cobble together their own family, they’re not afraid to rip one to shreds either.
I wish we got to spend more time with the witches of this film. They’re brutal and terrifying and amazing. I can’t quite tell if they’re meant to be aiding La Tulivieja in her search for her missing lover and lost child or if the hapless bus group just wandered into the wrong neck of the woods. One thing’s for sure, though; once La Tulivieja finds her man she’ll stop at nothing to bring about his end, lost child or no.
While there are some elements that falter a bit, some pieces to the story that seem tacked on and forgotten halfway through in the interest of exploring the myth, on the whole Diablo Rojo is strong with a fantastically gruesome creature design. The film is at its strongest when the witches and Tulivieja show up. I’ve never seen anything quite like the design for Tulivieja. She’s terrifying, repulsive, and brutal in her rage. She’s a perfect example of what can happen when men in movies get lured in by false beauty. When she transforms from the gorgeous Josefina (Alejandra Araúz) into La Tulivieja we see her true purpose made come to life. She doesn’t want to get back with the lover who left her behind. She wants him to pay. Her method of attack was intriguing. It went in a bit of a different direction than expected. Up to the point of their confrontation, we’ve only seen people being ripped to shreds. I mean, come on, they tore apart a baby and ate its insides for god sakes. Like Aronofsky’s Mother! but, somehow, worse.
I love foreign movies that aren’t afraid to go places a lot of American films shy away from, even if it hurts me to watch, and if Diablo Rojo PTY is anything it is unafraid to be in your face with its darkness. If witches and/or folklore are your thing, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Get on the party bus to Diablo Rojo PTY when it releases exclusively through Amazon on May 14th from The Horror Collective.
By Katelyn Nelson
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