Angel Barrios seems to have it all. Yet being a successful commercial director with a doting daughter and an adventurous wife doesn’t seem to be enough. He’s also a womanizing cheat and works for like-minded misogynistic clients. He treats the barely legal actresses in his shoots as irrelevant sexual playthings to be discarded, and his boss Eduardo doesn’t see the harm in providing alibis to cover Angel’s exploits. That all changes one night when he crosses paths with the Baobhan sith, Scottish blood-sucking fairies who seduce men before slaughtering them in the night. He doesn’t stay dead for long, though, and becomes the undead slave of the Baobhan sith in their quest for matriarchal domination.
Co-writer/director Fabian Forte balances his social commentary on gender imbalance and misogyny with fantastical dark comedy in this battle of the sexes tale. There’s a colorful whimsy about the color palette and screwball humor that invokes a distant sense of vintage Tim Burton in terms of visual style and tone. It’s a lower budget affair, with some minor rough around the edges C.G. and makeup effects, but it’s kept minimal and avoids from being too detracting. Much of the film’s humor works well, with Angel trying to find balance in his life once he’s resurrected as the undead. A dinner scene with fellow undead slaves commiserating is a highlight.
The pacing moves briskly at a scant 83 minutes of run time. On the surface, in terms of Angel’s character arch, the run time runs smoothly. But a larger critique of social commentary, it becomes incoherent and disorganized. While most of the narrative seems to be teaching Angel the error of his ways, and frowning down upon machismo, the final act takes the polar opposite approach. By the time the end credits begin to roll, it’s unclear precisely what the message is, save for the need of gender balance. The entire narrative is built around the concept of misogyny being fundamentally terrible, but as a last-minute wrap up the film haphazardly scolds that misandry is quite possibly worse. It’s a strange bookend to an otherwise fun horror comedy.
For his part, Diego Gentile takes the womanizing jerk that Angel is and makes me likeable. Even when his male gaze is repulsive, his genial charm and his adoration for his family still manages to make you root for his character. It helps that Mariana Anghileri’s take on his semi-patient but eternally loving wife Lucila becomes the backbone of the film. She’s just not utilized enough to earn the bizarre ending that the writers concluded the film with. Seriously, it’s a bit jarring. Also, the short run time means that, along with Lucila, the Baobhan sith are underdeveloped as well. We learn enough to understand where their purpose and goals are, but that’s about it. There’s an interesting depth of mythology waiting to be explored that goes completely ignored. Only the basic of outline of rules are setup in the narrative, and then only some are followed.
Overall, it’s a fun flick with a sense of humor and cool style. It’s also a rare instance where the run time perhaps should have been elongated just a bit to flesh out the narrative, mythology, and character development of important supporting characters. There’s a few really neat scenes and much of the film’s jokes actually stick their landing. But as an attempt to create a subversive social commentary by way of palatable horror comedy, it’s confusing and flawed.
Dead Man Tells His Own Tale screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 27, 2017.