Nacho Cerda’s short film, Aftermath, is definitely one of the most controversial films of the last couple of decades. Its ruthless and realistic depiction of grisly autopsies and a sinister surgeon with an inclination towards violent necrophilia has some of the hardest scenes to stomach in any horror movie, period. Unearthed Films has recently released this underground classic with its two siblings, The Awakening – a black and white student film from Cerda’s days at USC, and Genesis – the third installment which rounds out the director’s self-proclaimed trilogy of death.
While the other two films are excellent in their own right, it is Aftermath which has sponged all the attention and garnered Cerda all the notorious acclaim. The paradox with Aftermath is how beautiful the film actually is – in that, while it is very striking, it is really hard to draw any artistic merit out of it based on its content alone. It was the first short film to be shot on digital in Spain (on 35mm), giving the movie a haunting and raw appearance. The director did some hands-on research, visiting some autopsy labs and going through some full-on, grisly dissections with real forensic experts and this truly shines through in the final product. Coupled with some extremely realistic corpses and shooting it in an authentic morgue makes for an exceptionally nauseating experience. I mean this in the best possible sense, of course! It is merciless in it’s every graphic, stomach-churning aspect, and highlights the depths of depravity which humanity can, and will, go.
Let’s quickly address the first film in the trilogy, The Awakening. It is a very short, dreamy film about a student who has an out-of-body experience after staring at the pyramid on the American dollar bill. While it’s obviously an amateur project, you can begin to see some of Cerda’s themes unfold, like his focus on the afterlife and religious iconography which show up in his later work. I won’t give it a rating here, as it’s not really fair, and is essentially added as an extra to Unearthed’s DVD.
The second is, of course, Aftermath. It stars an astonishingly menacing Pep Tosar (a Spanish stage actor), as the lead surgeon with a decidedly unhealthy necrophilia fetish. At least he is in the right line of work (insert nervous laugh here)! The film begins with Tosar and another forensic surgeon giving a couple of routine, yet gruesome, autopsies. Once our lead is left alone, however, the fun really begins as he pulls out a recently deceased female and acts out some seriously bizarre fantasies!
Genesis, the final film of the pack, is quite frankly the best of the three. It involves a sculptor whose wife has recently died tragically. In order to preserve her memory, he sculpts a likeness of her in stone. As he nears completion of the statue, strange things being to happen to him. His body changes dramatically and the closer he gets to finishing, the more drastic the changes become.
There are some intriguing and incredibly fascinating aspects to both of Cerda’s shorts. In neither is there any dialogue. Not a word! It’s remarkable, actually. Although both involve solitary males in confined spaces, this tactic really makes you focus on the nuances of the actors and their interaction with their surroundings. You can draw so much more with your imagination as a player in the game, and it really does give credence to the old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’
The photography is simplistic, and the color palate is pale and drab. In Aftermath, boring and sterile blues meld in with the metallic equipment and pallid walls. You will be astonished at how much more you experience the bright crimson blood set against this, and how much more horrifying it suddenly becomes. Also, the sterility and confinement of the awful rape scenes make it seem that much more claustrophobic and disturbingly convincing. In Genesis, the sculptor’s stone grays mimic the gloomy emotion of his loss, and change to the colors of flesh and blood to emulate his ongoing transformation.
The acting is flawless in both accounts, and because there is no dialogue this aspect is the most crucial. Most notable is the aforementioned Pep Tosar, who literally defines sinister. Acting with only his eyes, set above his surgeon’s mask, he runs the gamut of emotions, and when the last scenes are playing out it he is exceptionally frightening. There are very few other examples of acting more terrifying that I can think of in the entire horror genre. He is that good, trust me!
Finally, I must dote on Genesis for a second. This is a truly breathtaking film, and much easier to define and enjoy than its evil twin brother, Aftermath. I will be honest in saying it is the closest thing to visual poetry that I have ever witnessed, and is absolutely one of the finest short films I have ever seen. I was not expecting this after the other two films, and I must say it left a great impression on me. It is a complete emotional and visual work of genius.
To end, a word of warning: this DVD is not for everyone. Aftermath is often intensely shocking due to its uncomfortable closeness to reality and the ruthless themes which are presented. On the whole, and in my opinion, the two shorts are near-masterpieces of filmmaking. I understand that this is a tough sentiment to justify due to the content, and I won’t blame you if you are entirely repulsed. It is powerful and graphic and unless you have a strong stomach, please avoid! Anyone of you disturbed enough to take a chance, however, will not be disappointed and I strongly encourage you to seek this out. It’s undeniably the crème of the macabre crop!