[Salem Horror Fest Review] 'Papi Ramirez vs. Giant Scorpions' Uses Creative Ingenuity & Heart to Enormously Positive Results
Some of the best pieces of art and entertainment are those created under the confines of technical and financial limitations...
...It forces the artist to use a finite amount of colors and paintbrushes, which requires a special kind of resourceful creativity that can really challenge the artist. Videographer and filmmaker Leslie Rivera takes this minimalist approach to a whole new level. Playing at the 2020 Salem Horror Fest, Papi Ramirez vs Giant Scorpions is, more or less, a one-man band kind of production. Filmed entirely in Rivera’s storage unit with a green screen, and a host of props, this constrained but robust film is truly a sight to behold.
Papi begins his hero’s journey at home cradling his wife and lovingly nestling his head on her pregnant stomach. Both are ecstatic about the birth of their daughter and are clearly very much in love with each other. Papi starts his day like any other, driving across the flat, barren desert to reach his next stuntman gig. After a long, hot, strenuous day, Papi wants nothing more than to embrace his wife and leave work in the rearview mirror, but that’s not in the cards for him. While pulling over to relieve himself, a large black figure approaches him on the long, lone road. To his amazement, the figure is a giant scorpion! While trying to outrun the abomination, Papi ends up falling into a deep, dark pit in the ground. Now trapped by the giant scorpion, he meets two smaller scorpions, who identify themselves as the spawn of the larger one. Equipped only with his wits and paternal motivation to see his daughter born, Papi must use the scarce resources around him to fight his way out.
Scorpions achieves something not often seen in film anymore, which is caring for its technical proficiency just as much as it appreciates its emotional resonance. It understands the importance of this very vital balance and I actually feel that Rivera cares for the story he’s telling. It took a little while for me to spot the heart amongst the eccentric and stimulating aesthetic, but once I found it, it all kind of came together for me. At first glance, I was nearing an eye-rolling session due to its sometimes-obnoxious theatrical qualities. It comes off like an extended episode of Robot Chicken that you might catch at 2 A.M. on Adult Swim, but the joke was on me, because my shallow initial judgements were proven wrong. Once Papi is in the dark pit, he reflects on his situation and finds his center by focusing on what means most to him: his wife and unborn daughter. His own paternal instincts are mirrored by the scorpion and her two children. Don’t get me wrong, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds and the scorpion children provide some of the film’s biggest laughs, but beneath the goofy exterior is a story about two parents who would die for their children. It’s heartfelt stuff and, unless you’re completely devoid of feeling and have no soul, it’s impossible not to appreciate the film’s earnest themes.
Scorpions is one of the greatest technical achievements I’ve seen this year. Not because of a massive scale backed by millions, but because of its limitations and small-scale creativity. This isn’t a bottle film taking place in one location, either. The amount of dynamic filmmaking achieved by using so little is incredible. Rivera manages to take us to several locations by way of green screen, forced perspective, and digital matte paintings. The film could have easily rubbed me the wrong way if it were an overly self-satisfying vanity project, and I’m happy to report the opposite. Because the film is filled with so much heart, none of the filmmaking trickery ever comes off as showy. The length of the film also speaks volumes about what’s necessary and what is just visual fluff. Clocking in at just under 50 minutes, Scorpions knows its sweet spot and never outstays its welcome. The film never lingers on anything unimportant to the story and it honors its titular character by doing so. Not allowing the story to meander ensures the visuals never lose their charm for viewers and helps the film stay centered on its heartfelt focus.
Rivera has clearly proven he is a filmmaking renaissance man. Putting this production together required more than just a good idea and dedication. This was accomplished by way creative ingenuity, a painstaking post-production, and thinking far outside the box. I would recommend this to any parent, or anyone who has someone in their life they would fight tooth and nail to protect and care for. Funnily enough, I would also recommend this to the pot-smoking college student who regularly enjoys binging old episodes of Robot Chicken and Squidbillies. Many times, when heartwarming intent is cooked with comical absurdity the result feels insincere, but Rivera has crafted a delightfully balanced recipe. Papi Ramirez vs Giant Scorpions is not to be missed.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth