Issa López made quite an impression in 2017, particularly outside of Mexico, with her film Tigers Are Not Afraid (aka Vuelven), a mixture of social realism and fantasy in the vein of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone: orphans as protagonists, ghosts and a real war -- the Mexican Drug War in this case -- as background.
The now Oscar-winning del Toro himself put Tigers Are Not Afraid on his best of 2017 list and declared that López was the “new voice of Mexican horror”, a surprising remark considering that Tigers Are Not Afraid was her first effort in that genre. In fact, she had a background mainly in the romantic comedy genre, as she wrote movies like Ladies’ Night and A la mala, and directed Efectos secundarios and Casi divas.
With Todo mal, her first feature since Tigers Are Not Afraid, López returns to her comedic roots, and it’s unsurprisingly a step back, even if Tigers Are Not Afraid was nowhere near the powerful del Toro masterpieces The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. But that’s certainly another story, so let’s concentrate on Todo mal.
On paper, the film is notorious for dealing with the world-famous Moctezuma’s headdress controversy and the attempts to bring it back to Mexico from Austria. The main character Fernando (Osvaldo Benavides) works in international affairs and is supervising the forthcoming temporary return of the Aztec emperor’s headdress, however, this artifact is quite simply an interchangeable plot device in a formulaic movie about the typical regular guys in the middle of an extraordinary, and quite dangerous situation.
Todo mal is basically The Hangover with a touch of romantic comedy, once our protagonist has an alcohol-fueled breakdown after his fiancée Viviana (Marcela Guirado) leaves him at the altar. I know, I know, what the hell has this to do with the Aztecs, the Mexicans and the Austrians? Not much, only that the wedding and the arrival of the headdress were coincidentally scheduled for the same day, hence Fernando's collapse includes his thoughtless decision of stealing Moctezuma’s penacho (a strict security system is a concept totally ignored by the script), wearing it, and drink-driving a convertible in Mexico City.
Once this actual scene happens, any possible commentary on the never-ending penacho issue is long gone; like I said, the stolen artifact could have been something else without really affecting the predictable plot, with the characters -- the groom plus his two cousins (played by Alfonso Dosal and Martín Altomaro) -- facing a rough and “action-packed" adventure in the city and dealing with, among other people, a couple of wise guys who are ready to kill for the headdress and the bride herself, who fuels the romantic aspect of Todo mal as we learn why she decided to cancel the wedding.
Unlike something like The Hangover, Todo mal has a cast that confuses kicking and screaming, and constantly saying vulgar phrases, with cool, bonkers acting. Here’s an example of the movie’s type of comedy: Lalo España, a TV personality who is now in almost every Mexican comedy (I’ve seen him three times since late 2017), as a gangster who repeats the same gag over and over again, saying that he will shot someone in the ass until he, surprise, surprise, ends up with a bullet in his own asshole.
On top of that, the cousins have a thin background -- they could have been easily just friends -- and are all unlikable characters. And that’s not a moral thing, because there are many hilarious/lovable assholes in the comedies López is echoing, but that's not the case here. There’s no one to root for and, more importantly, to laugh with in the so-called new voice of Mexican horror’s failed return to comedy.