Review: Thanatomorphose / Cert: 18 / Director: Eric Felardeau / Screenplay: Eric Felardeau / Starring: Kayden Rose, Davyd Tousignant, Emile Beaudry / Release Date: November 25th
Rotting never felt this good! So says the publicity for this jaw-dropping (literally) body horror feature debut from French-Canadian director Eric Felardeau. Reminiscent of New French Extremity films like Inside and In My Skin, Thanatomorphose takes its title from the French term for the visible signs of an organism's decomposition caused by death. That pretty much sums up the plot: alienated young sculptress, Laura (Rose) moves into a Montreal apartment where she spends her time suffering in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Antoine (Tousignant), and feeling equally rejected by the artistic establishment who refuse her an arts grant. She is dying inside (literally). One morning she wakes up to find her body slowly and inexorably starting to decay.
Inspired by a mix of Cronenberg, Jorg Buttgereit and Kierkegaard, Felardeau has crafted a slow but extremely powerful and deeply disturbing vision of a woman’s inner hell that eventually rots her body as well as her soul and sends her plummeting into the abyss. What begins as a few bruises gradually deteriorates into a severe case of necrotising fasciitis, and Laura locks herself in her apartment in an attempt to control and finally come to terms with what is happening to her. All this is presented in bravura manner by special make up effects artist David Scherer, who, like Felardeau and DP Benoit Lemire, pulls off extraordinary things (literally) on a tiny budget.
Thanatomorphose is tight, claustrophobic and starkly realised. Taking place entirely within the confines of Laura’s apartment, it owes more than a little to Polanski’s Repulsion, and like that film wears its sexual politics admirably on its sleeve. “I thought you loved me! I’m just a cheap fuck!” the blackened, rotted Laura screams at Antoine as he deigns to come visit her during the advanced stages of her illness. But if Laura’s frenzied attacks on Antoine and other intruders veer into the more predictable territory of Repulsion’s murder sequences, Thanatomorphose remains true to its own thesis throughout: unlike the Catherine Deneuve character in Polanski’s film, Laura directs her disgust not so much at the men around her as at herself. “It is a film about the body as an object”, Felardeau has observed, “a commodity”. Laura’s plight is horrific, repulsive and ultimately tragic as her flesh increasingly betrays her and provides none of the comfort she desperately craves.
With its minimalist narrative, abstract video sequences and funereal score, Thanatomorphose may be a little too avant-garde for some tastes (essentially it’s an underground movie – in the best sense – with all the trappings that experimental ‘psychodrama’ entails), and hypochondriacs are well-advised to avoid this one. But if you’re into existential body horror you will be impressed. This may be the most cerebral low budget feature debut since Christopher Nolan’s Following.
Extras: Two short films by the director / Behind-the-scenes feature / Trailer