Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plenilunio (Uruguay, 1993)


Uruguayan shot-on-video horror maestro Ricardo Islas embarked upon his career as a director at the tender age of sixteen, when he convinced the program director at his small local TV station to produce a short film he had scripted titled Posesión. Eight years and five feature-length SOV productions later, Islas had worked his way up to a budget just scraping the underside of one thousand dollars for Plenilunio (translation: Full Moon), a distinctive, DIY take on the werewolf genre.

Plenilunio’s action centers around a group of kids who all hang out together at the local TV station (Channel 3 TV in Colonia del Sacramento, at least in name the same station that backed Isla’s debut). Seeing over them is the station’s news cameraman, Roberto, a soft-spoken and gentle soul (played by Islas himself) who does his best to fill a sort of big brother role for the brood. When a food stall operator is brutally killed in the woods outside of town, and the victim’s family refuses to accept the police’s explanation that a wild dog was the culprit, the gang –- whose imaginations, as we are shown, are fueled by South American horror comics and Spanish translations of Marvel’s Man-Wolf –- become convinced that a werewolf is to blame.



It turns out that the victim’s three children have also come to the same conclusion, as a couple of the kids from the TV station find out when they go into the woods searching for clues. Here they come across the grieving children laying out tainted meat in the hope of poisoning the perhaps not-so-mythical predator. However, they are thwarted in this attempt when they are attacked and chased off by a mysterious albino man. It is later learned that this man has recently purchased a small bungalow in the area where the initial murder occurred. After more killings and a piling up of evidence supporting their suspicions, Roberto and one of the older boys decide to pay the man a visit, on the supposition that he may, in fact, be the werewolf without being aware of it.

On the contrary, upon finding the stranger’s bungalow vacant and making their way inside, they find a series of meticulously dated VHS tapes documenting each of the man’s transformations. It turns out that this fellow is far from the hapless Larry Talbot type, and is instead a deliberate killer who not only revels in the vicious exploits of his lupine alter ego, but is also nearly as savage and deadly in his human form. This is proven when the stranger comes home and discovers the two, setting upon them with such ferocity that they barely escape with their lives.


Roberto and the kids take shelter in the offices of the TV station, which is deserted for the holidays, only to find that the albino stranger has followed them. After cutting off their communications, he stands vigil outside the building, killing anyone who attempts to leave or enter, all the while awaiting the arrival of the night and the full moon, when he will make his transformation and easily break through the feeble barriers that the kids have set up. Throughout this grueling standoff, Roberto –- fully stepping into his role as protector, and drawing upon presumably heretofore unknown reserves of courage to do so –- repeatedly tries to reason with the killer, pleading with him to let the children go. But this isn’t going to happen, for, as the wolf at the door explains, it simply isn’t in his nature to do so. And besides, he’s “hungry”.

Doing for The Three Little Pigs what Matthew Bright’s Freeway would later do for Little Red Riding Hood, Plenilunio is a film that shouldn’t work, but somehow kinda does. This is largely due to the fact that Islas, unlike so many other SOV horror filmmakers, keeps his ambitions firmly reigned within the scope of his means, and sticks with a story and characters that are both suitably ground-level. Furthermore, the naturalness of his young actors and the easy chemistry between them gives their scenes together a casual everyday-ness that both sits comfortably within the homeliness of the format and provides contrast to the surprisingly violent and gory kill scenes. It also has to be said that Plenilunio’s script is simply very well written, to the extent that the ideas themselves are unsettling enough to keep you invested regardless of how explicitly or seamlessly they’re rendered.

And to that point, Islas also makes the wise choice of never showing us too much… at least, not until the end of the film. I have to tell you that my urge to show you a screen cap of Plenilunio’s monster -- which Islas’ own site self mockingly boasts was “hand-made out of sponge and cotton” -- is almost too overwhelming to resist. But, since the director himself chose not to reveal it until the film’s final minutes, I feel to do so would be in defiance of the whole spirit of the endeavor. More importantly, I think that, while we all might get a lot of cheap mileage out of mocking such a shabby creation -- this is the internet, after all, and we’re all well practiced at it -- I fear that to get caught up in doing so might come at the expense of registering the many real charms that Plenilunio has to offer. In other words, this is one that’s well worth seeing for yourself.

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