Shudder’s latest will satisfy gorehounds, but not much else.
In theory, Kapel Furman and Armando Fonseca’s second feature, Skull: The Mask, should satisfy the fans of the traditional horror and slasher genre. After all, it’s a movie drenched in lots of blood, filled with guts and body parts, and shot in a manner that evokes the phantasmagoric insanity found in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. But its convoluted narrative and sloppy execution, unfortunately, take away all the gory fun, resulting in the movie ending up playing itself too safely instead of embracing the gonzo nature of the genre.
Opened with a prologue that’s far more interesting than the rest of the movie, Skull: The Mask tells the story of an ancient artifact known as the Mask of Anhangá, the executioner of pre-Columbian god Tahawantinsupay, whose sole purpose is to commit bloody sacrifices for his god. When the Nazis have their hands on the mask in 1944, as seen in the opening scene, they try to conduct an experiment to summon the god. Much to no one’s surprise, things do not go well. The experiment fails miserably, ending with someone’s head exploding.
Decades later, the mask finds itself in modern-day São Paulo, where an evil businessman named Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller) has the intention to profit off of the artifact by showcasing it in his museum. The mask, however, wants what it wants, and what it wants isn’t to be displayed in some museum, but to find a host so that it can fulfill its purpose to summon his god by killing people. The not-so-lucky person chosen to be the mask’s host? Just some random guy who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In its first 15 minutes or so, the movie follows the mask and its host as it goes on a killing spree all across São Paulo. Its first victim is a couple having sex inside a car before moving on to three drug dealers and some other strangers the mask finds at a costume party. Yes, there is no pattern when it comes to choosing the victim, whoever the mask encounters on the street or whoever gets in his way is guaranteed to be its next victim. But it doesn’t make the murders any less exciting. In fact, the movie is at its most fun when it puts its entire focus on these random killings.
The mask has these eel-like tentacles that can rip bodies apart. It’s an inventive method of killing. And the gruesome practical effects, along with the disturbing sound design, make the murder sequences at the beginning of the movie even more unsettling. Without a doubt, it’ll keep the audience on their toes for a little while — it’s an absolute blast. But sadly, the fun doesn’t last very long, as the movie abruptly shifts its focus to a more mainstream noir procedural narrative, with a detective named Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) at the center of the bloody mystery.
Its convoluted narrative and sloppy execution take away all the gory fun, resulting in the movie ending up playing itself too safely.
Rodrigues does an okay job at playing the fiery but morally conflicted Beatriz, but staring at documents and a laptop while looking puzzled and running around São Paulo holding firearms isn’t exactly as exciting as the insanity that has happened earlier in the movie. And to make things even more unnecessarily complicated, a subplot revolving around a murder and a kidnapping of Bolivian children is thrown into the movie without any clear context. It’s almost as though directors Furman and Fonseca have run out of all their creative juices before even reaching the second half of the movie.
Skull: The Mask has a huge potential to be an entertaining bloody slasher, but in the end, the movie fails to embrace all the fun it has and instead tries to complicate its story by needlessly adding more subplots. It’s gory, yes, but it could’ve been a lot more wild.
Skull: the Mask premieres May 27th on Shudder.