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Sangre Eterna (2002)
Director: Jorge Olguin

review by Paul Higson

The trick to attention grabbing in film today is to go the postmodern route. It is not important whether a film is good or bad, a successful game or a failed experiment, the willingness to examine the medium or genre and reconfigure it with a nascent knowingness will give a young filmmaker an advantage with the critics come publicity time. Let us not underestimate the role that critics have played in this. Critics are attributed little true power these days but it is not all about producing copy out there. Scream took flagship credit for the current tail-chewing phase but there was nothing new in the playfulness. It can be traced back to silent era, asides from Bob Hope, Hellzapoppin', Monty Python and The Stunt Man. Reversals on genre standards led to films that do not directly address film but depend on sub-category knowingness, as in Cherry Falls. Expectations are the starting point. Scream was not the work of magnitude it was talked up to be. Scream's success had as much to do with its relationship with pseudo-intellectual critics as it did with the sub-intellectual teen audience that wanted to reward itself with a pat on the back for following the most basic subgenre rules, and only then with the assistance of Matthew Lilliard's on-screen prompts.

Shelves of new film magazines and an influx of young film critics looking to make a quick name for themselves with coinage came up with post-modernism. It was their potential nouvelle vague. Scream was not intelligent, it was the work of a writer who had spent ten years trying to avoid upsetting anyone in Hollywood who might eventually employ him in the film business. For Scream it was not so much a screenplay Kevin Williamson had written but a drab item for a hack magazine. I saw it in a cinema, heard the kids whoop, but for myself only saw a complete lack of imagination excusing itself with a self-knowing. Scream was not elaborate and ingenious; it was a non-committal Fangoria article transposed to screen. It was the only thing Kevin Williamson was able to write and his subsequent work as evinced as much. Michael Haneke recently took his best notices ever for a film, Caché (aka: Hidden), though it was far from his post-millennial best (The Piano Teacher and Code Unknown are far superior). Caché, however, was Haneke's most blatant exploration of the medium in years, of film disappearing up its own arse.

Chilean director Jorge Olguin's Sangre Eterna (trans: 'eternal blood') doesn't directly address the nature of film, though it does cleverly side-step into another immersive storytelling medium, the role-playing game, in which participants can becoming too embroiled. There have been cases since the early 1980s' in which players have been unable to separate the fantasy role-playing realm from the real, though one would have thought the roll of the dice might have been enough of a demarcation line. I am, in bringing this aspect of the film to your attention, spoiling an early twist, but as the film is ultimately a confused mess, I don't think anyone finally catching up with this film will be unduly upset by this plot spoiling. It needs to be brought in to discuss the film at all. Sangre Eterna opens with a high school goth chick showing off her new piercing. There is some amiable interaction with her friends. A trio of goths catch her attention, particularly the leader, M (Juan Pablo Ogalde), who is all sunglasses after dark. The film has been running several quiet minutes before we enter a lecture theatre and the teacher goes into an OP slideshow... and what do you know, we suddenly realise we have yet to have the credits. What great credits too! - Full of promise, with a fantastic musical score. They end and the lights go up. The titles have illogically supplanted the slide presentation. It was an original but bad idea that clearly amused the director enough for him to act upon it, but it makes no sense and amuses no other.

The high school drama continues and the goth trinity are in the streets of Santiago, the girl questioning the wisdom of traipsing the pavement so close to the deadly midday sun, perhaps her leader has a double morbido, a vampire with a suicide streak. Before you know it the streets are heavy with black and red attired, gun toting nuns and priests and a battle is on. The make-up, action and technique are exciting and fun while it lasts, and if it feels that we are suddenly in a very different movie, then in a sense we are. As the vampires are cornered by the holy gunslingers, we move out of the game and into a small apartment where the three are pausing when it appears the dice have outnumbered them and they seem likely to lose a character. The goth chick at school (Blanca Lewin, a marvellous actress, seen also in the films Sabado, una pelicula en tiempo real and En la Cama, also screened during the 13th Viva Spanish Film Festival in Manchester, where Sangre Eterna was also caught) is on the leader's mind and he proposes they invite her in to the game, as Camilla, where she might develop the talent (in this case, velocity) in order to rescue them without sacrificing Elizabeth's (Patricia Lopez) character.

Their ordinary clubbing life takes an extraordinary turn when M witnesses an attack while hiding in a toilet cubicle. A lanky ponce, Martin (Claudio Espinoza) and his John Robb look-alike terrier of a sidekick, Chupacabras (Yerko Farias), attack someone and transform into vampires identical in style to those seen in the fantasy gaming episode. Warning bells to the viewer should already be ringing. The film becomes mired in their interminable party rituals and his paranoia, taking the film into territory closer to Hollywood Vampyr's murky social dramatics. Though he can turn his attention to action with some bravado and success when it comes to the slower atmospherics and dread the director's finger clearly cannot find the pulse.

M believes that his friends are falling under the spell of some very unpleasant vampires, drugging and hypnotising those in his close circle. It is brave of the director to introduce his protagonist with an air of great cool and power, only to gradually nick away at that cool reducing him to an insane nerd by the end of the film. Sangre Eterna throws so many options at the viewer on what might actually be happening that they back off, shut down and frankly come not to care. The characters are never going to be interesting enough. You are just as likely to remove the fantasy, step back and accept it as a soap opera (unfortunately evoking Hollywood Vampyr again), which is not healthy for a film that really does want to be identified as a horror film.

Sangre Eterna tries to lead the viewer on a merry dance but we simply want to resume our seats on the side of the dance floor and hope a more attractive prospect invites us to lambada. The filmmaker spends so much time twiddling with the frequency that we are given every opportunity to anticipate where the story is going and when our hero finally faces off with the vampire brood we know what is coming next, that replay of events with what actually occurred. But can the director leave it at that. No, of course he can't. Yet another neat gag has occurred to him and he must use it, a flat-line coupled with an awakening, a great idea and image, but he should have saved it for another movie. Olguin has the technical proficiency and know-how, his vampires are exciting, and Chris Cunningham's Come To Daddy promo seems to be a major influence, but he needs to work with a tidier scriptwriter towards something lean and digestible next time, preferably a simple action-horror film. I was going to suggest an imaginative action-horror but I would hate for a repeat of Sangre Eterna.
Sangre Eterna poster

Sangre Eterna goth chick

Sangre Eterna video

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