The most unsettling part of any horror film are those scenes when nothing much is happening onscreen. It’s already been established that terrible things are going to take place; it’s the waiting for them to occur that really sends the cold chill up the spine.
That is why, although not a great movie, Canibal still kept me rapt through every last minute of the inaction. Like all folks who grew up watching horror and suspense films, I kept leaning forward anticipating when the big bloody moment was going to happen. That it never actually occurs only left me feeling tense and tingly for a while afterwards. Once that went away, that’s when I was able to see the flaws in this beautifully presented, but ultimately empty film.
The cannibal of the title is Carlos, a (of course) quiet, reserved, nattily attired gent who, when he’s not hunting fresh game or lovingly preparing his meat in his spotless kitchen, works as a tailor in the Spanish city of Granada. We watch him go through his obviously well-honed routines, whether it’s pulling apart the seams of a suit or waiting patiently by a remote gas station for his next female victim. What we don’t see is the action of him carving up the body. All the gruesome stuff happens off screen.
His routine is interrupted by his sexy upstairs neighbor (Olympia Melinte). Carlos is obviously attracted to her, but doesn’t know what to do with his feelings, even when she is in his apartment outwardly flirting with him in the guise of seeking help after she has a loud argument. He, instead, offers a ride to the police station, a trip that she never returns from.
Into Carlos’ world arrives Nina, the twin sister of his neighbor (also Melinte), a mousier but no less alluring version of the object of his lust. He again offers to help but initially in hopes of just getting rid of her. But as her story and his begin to get more intertwined, Carlos is faced with confronting some unnamed demons that might be the cause of his unusual penchant for human flesh.
Unlike most cinematic cannibals, Carlos (played with nice understatement by Almodovar alum Antonia De La Torre) isn’t outwardly evil. We only actually see him commit a few horrific acts. The nasty side of him stays completely subjugated. But, again, that’s what keeps you on edge through the whole movie. Having been inured to the actions of Hannibal Lecter and his clones, you anticipate he’s going to snap. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that that moment never comes in Canibal.
Despite De La Torre’s efforts to give this character a beating heart, though, I don’t see how anyone could sympathize with him either. In fact, there’s no one in this picture worth rooting for. You may not want to see Nina get hurt, but she offers no personality traits that you’d want to preserve either. Instead, the movie becomes a slow-paced, beautifully-shot waiting game, as you look for the big dramatic moment that will turn everything on its head. And if you’re anything like me, when it does come, you’ll be terribly underwhelmed.
[DVD available from Film Movement]