At it’s best the horror genre can explore complex ideas about what it means to be human, the nature of fear, and the inbuilt need for human beings to experience terror in order to understand their true nature. Skull: The Mask instead opts to explore how long you can last in a film that makes no sense.
The film feels like two films thrown together, one is a B-movie Grindhouse throwback about an ancient Columbian skull mask that posses the wearer into becoming a murderous monster. The other is a so-so cop thriller in which a young woman detective attempts to get to the bottom of some grisly murders.
It’s not that this cop-thriller-meets-horror style can’t be done – you could argue Seven or The Silence of the Lambs fit that criteria. Even the Saw franchise mixes police procedural with torture porn, but all those films feature two things – thrills and horror. Sadly, Skull: The Mask is a film as boring as it’s title suggests.
It starts out promisingly, a 40s set prologue in which directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman rip off Raiders of the Lost Ark. We see people’s heads exploding, and it’s trashy fun. Promising to be the natural successor to Tarantino / Rodriguez’ Grindhouse project. But there’s a difference between trashy and trash. The film isn’t half as good a throwback as it thinks it is, at times losing the satirical and post-modern joy that most throwback films have.
It’s desire to look like a cheap exploitation film at times just looks cheap. And in an age where micro-budget horror films can look better than big studio movies, there’s zero excuse for this sort of poor shot composition.
Most performances are pitched at overacting. People being murdered by the mask monster gurn for the screen like it’s a student movie. But Natallia Rodrigues as our hero detective Beatriz looks as if she’s struggling to stay awake through most of the film. You half expect her to start snoring as she delivers semi-hard boiled dialogue as a hard-nosed cop.
That’s not to say there aren’t things to enjoy – the sight of a man’s head exploding is always fun, and there’s a loving joy to the Lucio Faulci-style splatter. Skull: The Mask doesn’t forget to go for broke, the requisite couple having sex in a car (fully clothed but breasts out) ends in suitably blood soaked fashion, but these murder set-pieces are punctuations to long overblown scenes of uninspired dialogue.
What could have been a fun throwback movie in the mould of The House of the Devil, is instead a turgid slog through the archives of a style of film that went out of fashion because studios started actually funding movies. Less Grindhouse and more just grind.
Skull: The Mask is released on May 27th.