Sitges 2021 Review: BIENVENIDOS AL INFIERNO
Lucia lives with her mute grandmother, her abuela, at their remote home in the forest. Lucia has left a dangerous relationship with Monk, the lead singer of a satanic death metal band. Further to this toxic relationship is that she is pregnant with his child and he wants it back, before time runs out. Before time runs out for what?
From the onset director and co-writer, Jimena Monteoliva, states her motivation for Bienvenidos al infierno, and it is a characteristic that has been a constant with her since we saw her 2017 film, Clementina. After an opening glimpse at the danger that lies ahead for Lucia there is a scene where she is at a local shop. A radio broadcast reports on the latest murder of a women, a murder that looks like it was done like a satanic ritual. The reporter goes on that a woman is murdered in Argentina every day. Fighting for women's rights and standing against femicide is at her core so we were excited about a project that sounded more intentionally genre focused than her previous films. She has always worked within the genre context, the premise of this film just lent itself to be more than what we’ve seen from the director in the past.
The story of Lucia jumps back and forth through time, from the time Lucia falls for Monk and stays with him, to the time she spends at her abuela’s remote cabin. To her chagrin at first, her abuela communicates to her through scribbled notes, parables and philosophical musings. As the story progresses the pieces of her life before living with her abuela begin to come together. Connections to earlier scenes begin to expose the threat to her and her unborn child. Miss the connections and you may not feel the dread that the story is supposed to build. Things dramatically escalate in the final act when Monk and his bandmates find out where Lucia is hiding.
Before the climax the bulk of the story is largely about Lucia’s relationships, that between her and her abuela and the one between her and Monk. While the one between her and her abuela may have its frustrations it is that one which grows stronger. Abuela, the tough old bitty who is tougher than she lets on. We also see the slow degradation of the relationship with Monk. The first sign of trouble should be that it looks like she is basically squatting with the band. That the lead in to sex between them is them slapping each other and her holding a knife to his throat could be percieved as another warning sign.
It’s about the midway point where the threat that the band is to Lucia becomes more evident and the relationship with her abuela starts to strengthen. It starts not so much as a threat as it is as callousness and allusions to worse things. The relationship with Monk slowly turns sadistic before it becomes outright hostile and controlling. Still, Monteoliva sees no need to give this any sensationalized approach, thus pushing it out of the realm of the possibility. She keeps it real enough so that more people can relate to Lucia’s situation. Perhaps that will be perceived as detrimental to her underlying message and purpose. Sometimes you have to scream at the top of your lungs in order to be heard.
There is not much of a sense of threat from Monk and his bandmates, how badass is it to be holed up in a derelict basement, hiding from the police? Perhaps it's the thought that they’re a death metal band so of course they must be dinks, why do we need to show it? They’re really doing nothing more than hiding out in this basement. There’s mention of nerves about the police closing in on them and Monk performs a ritual that’s little more than showmanship at that point. Only until the end is there anything to be really scared of from these guys. They simply come across as a bunch of goons who talk tough.
The shame of it all is that during the climax when things pick up there is a visual effect that takes us right out of the moment. If the film were not as grounded (as a movie about the lead singer of a satanic death metal band looking for the mother of his unborn child could be) during the bulk of its run it is an effect that would work in a movie that was somewhat sillier. It doesn’t work here.
Unfortunately the climax does go over the top and a staggering misstep on creature design just ruins everything. It’s mind bogglingly bad. We had accepted everything up until this point: the tempered pacing, the feeling that there is no need to rush things, even the lack of menace from Monk and the band, of nothing really heinous happening up until the end. The band arrives at the cabin and everything goes belly up. The violence and gore up to then is welcome and well… executed… but when the inevitable sacrifice is about to happen it literally goes to hell.
This moment, this thing, it almost feels like an apology for everything before, like the film had to make amends for asking for our patience to the end. We promised you a Satanic band coming after the unborn child of the lead singer’s lover so we have to involve Satan at some point, might as well be now. It’s offensively bad creature work. If there is a strength to this film until this moment it is that Monteoliva has shirked expectations by focusing on these two branches of relationships and for not giving abusive and toxic relationships any sort of sensationalized play.
We think that there are discoveries happening here towards the end that are pretty cool and if you’re paying attention earlier it's a pretty neat payoff. We find it was right before us all the time. It’s overshadowed by the gaff but it's very much worth noting that there is subtler and cooler stuff happening here.
We really wish Bienvenidos al infierno could be that crossover hit for Montioleva. From its premise we thought that it would be something that would take her from the arthouse genre style and further into the conventional horror scene. We were already familiar with her work so we understood why she took on this script from co-writer Camilo De Cabo and imbued in it her personal mission to bring any attention to women’s rights and femicide in Argentina.
The result is a mixed bag, specifically due to some questionable decisions about an effect during the climax. It goes beyond the pace and tone of the movie which is very unfortunate. It stands in stark contrast to everything that Montioleva was working towards from the start of Lucia’s story. It doesn't completely jeopardize the experience but comes real close. Everything to that point had been kept between the lines of possibility. Had the production cut down that effect by even half it could have had a totally different effect on the audience than it does right now. Too bad.