Panic Fest 2024: Spanish Shorts APOTEMNOFILIA and FACIES Wow With Extreme Violence and Exciting Ideas

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
Panic Fest 2024: Spanish Shorts APOTEMNOFILIA and FACIES Wow With Extreme Violence and Exciting Ideas

Panic Fest offers up another fantastic selection of shorts this year, but two in particular have stuck with me. Facies and Apotemnofilia both deliver shocking, stomach-churning moments of extreme violence that are memorable enough for the bodily reactions they elicit. But it’s their equal interest in the visceral and conceptual that makes them feel special, and like great candidates for future development into features.

Facies, co-written and co-directed by Raúl Cerezo, one half of the directing duo behind The Elderly and The Passenger, along with Javier Trigales and Carlos Moriana, pulls viewers into a devastating story of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1692, more than 200 years into the Inquisition’s crusade on all perceived enemies of Catholicism, an inquisitor (Carlos Santos) forces an inventor (Daniel Ortiz) to create evermore elaborate torture devices in the name of God. The inventor feels beholden to the inquisitor who has not prosecuted him or his daughter (Lucía Díez) despite his wife being found guilty of witchcraft.

His newest invention, which the inquisitor hopes will show the true face of pain in an effort to create an example, holds the victim in place on a chair while an operator twists a crank that forces a spear-like spiral rod further and further into the victim's body without killing them. It’s a disturbing device that’s also incredibly phallic. When the inventor gives the inquisitor a demonstration with a puppet, the inquisitor looks as if he’s having an almost ecstatic sexual experience; albeit an inquisitor simply being horny for pain isn’t out of the question.

As exciting and troubling as this set up is, it’s the short’s central scene between the inventor and his daughter that makes it great. She challenges him about his collaborating with the inquisitor, and as he justifies his horrific creations for a cruel man as the only way to keep them safe, she silences him with a powerful indictment that “you are the danger.” It’s a scene that interrogates and condemns complicity in an intelligent and emotionally resonant way within three minutes bringing Facies into the same class as witch hunter classics like Mark of the Devil.

Apotemnofilia, from first time writer/director Jano Pita, isn’t as interested in the way systems compromise human beings, as it is in human’s relationships to their bodies. Theater actor Clara (Lucía Azcoítia) considers her face and her body in dressing room mirrors while her handler urges her to open the door and get on stage. Clara complains that she feels fat and ugly in her costume, and she says she hears a buzzing again, something the handler says is normal after giving birth (whether or not the baby survived is a mystery).

As a stage manager and then director come to gather their star, Clara burns a hole in her leg with a cigarette, then pushes a finger into the wound, and that’s before she notices something moving under her skin. Without spoiling the short’s astounding climax, suffice to say that things only escalate and viewers are treated to a sequence that would make David Cronenberg and Marina de Van proud.

During Clara’s assault on her bodily integrity, all three of the characters outside begin banging on her door and one of them accuses her of being “useless.” When they finally break down her door after Clara has completed her endeavor, she tells them “I feel beautiful” with a joyous smile in a moment that’s simultaneously sweet and deeply unsettling.

Apotemnofilia gestures at a lot of big ideas centered on the relationship between fame and the body that could be more significantly explored in a feature (and I hope one day we get to see that). But it’s a fierce and potent short that deserves attention from horror fans who like to think about bodies as much as they like to watch them come apart.

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