Morbido 2021 Review: APPS
Five mobile apps are the starting point for five tales of terror. A dark web app promises a get rich quick scheme at the cost of someone’s physical agency. An app that lets you eavesdrop on your neighbours may stop something horrible from happening next door. A travel app leads a group of friends down the wrong path, a very wrong path. A father’s obsession with his dating app leaves his son no choice to lash out and a dating app results in a match made in hell.
The Chilean and Argentine horror anthology APPS has been playing just about everywhere since its premiere at the end of the Summer. With it playing at Morbido this weekend and executive produced by Lucio A Rojas, whom I met at Morbido when his extreme horror flick Trauma devastated the festival, now seemed as good a time as ever to sit down and see what he and the other directors came up with.
With other friends from the Chilean horror scene contributing, Sandra Arriagada as a co-producer and director of the segment On Fire, and Trauma actress Ximena Del Solar’s role in Rojas’ chapter Eden, it was time to find out what has made APPS so popular on the circuit, even taking home some awards while on tour. It did not disappoint.
APPS opens with Eye Wolf by Jose Miguel Zuniga. Something of a #MeToo horror, the story is about a small party at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere that goes horrifically wrong when the reason someone is invited to the party is revealed. We think that the question that Zuniga raises is, when do you decide to fight back? Eye Wolf is the more socially woke of the four main chapters with it’s aim to tackle the issue of sexual assault, using horror as its context. There may also be some commentary on what desperation makes a person do to get back on their feet, but that’s so far behind what Zuniga is doing here, watching sickos get what they deserve with the launch of two words: Not again. Eye Wolf is an excellent start to the anthology.
Frequencia by Camilo Leon is sort of a techno horror version of Rear Window. A guy downloads an app that lets you listen in on your neighbours. When he thinks that something is happening next door he goes out to take a look. This is probably where APPS is going to miss for most people. The hangup with Frequencia is that it meanders, waiting too long for the end effect that is both jump scary but ambivalent as well. Leon is hinting at other things here, at others affected by... something, but that’s never sought after in this chapter. Is this app causing all that other stuff as well? We never find out. To his credit there is some mainstream visual appeal in the way that Leon shot his chapter and it is driven proportionally by image and sound, not dialogue.
Rojas’ chapter Eden is definitely on brand and picks up the pace after the previous chapter. A group of friends heading out to a music festival follow a travel app directing them to a rented cabin. They arrive at their destination, according to the app, but find themselves at a seemingly abandoned work yard. Of course it is not. Chaos ensues and acts of violence abound.
Our first sight of Del Solar was perfect. It’s been something that we have wished for the actress for a while now, a role something akin to Shareefa Daanish’s character Dara in the Mo Brothers’ Macabre, that of the horror film matriarch. This isn’t quite that but Del Solar’s beauty, of gothic persuasion, with cheekbones that could start wars, is something that has always reminded us of that role. Her reappearance later in the chapter is… understandable, her bruja costume highlighting her… physicality. But for once, we were finally happy to see a hint of what she could be in a horror matriarch role.
Apart from our gushing about Del Solar, Eden is violent backwoods cult horror with more gore in its run time than some horror films have at feature length. Violence ranges from blugeoning, explosions a plenty, sword, eye and face trauma and a startling piece of head trauma that still haunts us afterwards. It is a definite pick me up heading into the final chapter, On Fire, directed by Sandra Arriagada.
Arriagada’s On Fire appears to take aim at negligent fathers. Tono’s father Rueben spends way too much time on a dating app and not enough time with his son. Using his son primarily as chickbait, Tono begins to lash out and discovers that he has Firestarter-like powers.
There’s a cheekiness and quirkiness to this chapter, taking us by surprise with its horror comedy approach. Arriagada also takes shots at leadership in organized religion (Father, right?) and using cosmetic surgery as a horror gag near the end of her story is a wonderful cherry on top. Two cherries to be accurate.
Arriagada cast her son in the role of Tono and he has this wonderful innocence about him. He is just happy to be helping his mom make her little movie. He has these little flashes, these moments of OH-NO-SOMEONE-DIED-OH-WELL-C’EST-LA-VIE pantomime that he does in these split seconds that made us laugh out loud. It is that innocence and animated child drawings standing in for narrative that adds to the quirkiness of Arrigada’s piece and makes it as entertaining as it is.
APPS concludes with the wrap up of the wrap-around segment Freak Date by Argentine director Samot Marquez. Together with the star of his thriller Jazmin, Clare Kovacic, there really isn’t much to it other than just wrapping up her segues between each chapter. In between the four chapters she’s scrolling on her phone, coming across stories in her feed that end up being what the next chapter is about. At the end we find out what app she’s been using and the less we say the better, so as to not ruin the surprise. Kovacic is a striking figure, sitting on her couch, bathed in neon pink light; there is a spit and polish to it that is admirable. There’s simply not much to it is all, not enough to call it a chapter in its own right.
The story with a lot of anthologies is that not everything hits its mark. We find that this is mostly subjective, another person’s treasure if you will. We felt that APPS started strong with a socially relevant chapter boosted by some terrific gore, coasted for the next chapter then picked up and ran with it for the final two chapters. That still makes it a successful anthology in our books with plenty of entertainment, gore and some thoughtful provocation added in.
Sure, there are some computer aided effects that didn’t work and showed limitations of budget at an effects level. But they did not take away from the entertainment value of the stronger pieces, maybe even aiding them in that regard. All in all, some bits are good while others are great.