Sendero (Path) (2015) [Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2016]

senderoAna and her friends head on the road for a weekend in the countryside.  After breaking down and getting help from a delivery driver who warns them to not stay in the area, they keep going and come across a bloody, hurt, and scared woman on the side of the road.  As Ana insists on helping the woman, things go very, very wrong. Writer/director Lucio A. Rojas creates a horror story that starts off more than a little reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, then as the group of friends are taken to a big country house, it turns into something more reminiscent of “Frontière(s)” with a crazy with crazy family, humans turning into prey if they do not meet a certain series of criteria with many suffering gruesome injuries and deaths.

However, as opposed to these two brutal horror films, Sendero loses steam fast in its development and execution.  The first half is well executed, brutal, enthralling while the second half is less interesting with a good performances getting lost in a mess of blood and ultra-violence.  This leads to a film that feels disjointed, a film that sets up crazy brutality only to become almost clown-ish in its over-the-top gore and execution.  The story has some mystery but once it is explained or dispelled, the interest in the characters weans and it becomes carnage for the sake of carnage.  The style in which this is shot does work for the material, but something feels like it’s missing or incomplete in the second half.

Leading the cast through all of this is Andrea Garcia-Huidobro as Ana who gives a commendable performance never giving in to the insanity, showing strength and that a horror movie heroine can and should be charismatic.  On the other side of the character coin is Arielli Gutiérrez as Carmen, the one in charge on the evil side of things.  Her character is also strong but very evil at the same time.  She gives a gutsy performance never showing one moment of weakness with her cohorts and victims.  Giving a complex performance along with these ladies is Daniel Antivilo as Juan, a man who is good deep down but clearly has mixed himself up with the wrong people.  He gets a couple of scenes that make him shine and one in particular that makes the audience wince if not get fully grossed out.

The scene in question had fantastic and absolutely skin-crawling special effects by Matias Hagemann and Javier Juarez.  The effects in this film go well beyond what would be expected from the film’s budget.  The scene involving the character of Juan is just one of many in a film filled to brim with blood and gore.  This scene in particular is extremely well executed.  Other scenes and effect gags also work great throughout the film.  However, in the last part of the film, it becomes so much that it becomes almost cartoonish which is unfortunate as the effects are well done and gushy but their set-up in the second half and closer to the end leads into an exaggerated place that had that been avoided, the brutality of the film would have been relentless.

The locations, especially the house, where this all take place at are great.  The house is a great find as it looks iconic and almost serene, hiding the horrors it contains well.  The way the cinematography by Javiera Farfan showcases it creates almost a separate character showing the house as a threatening place in some scenes and almost peaceful in others.  The choices of angles and framing add a lot to this, in turn adding to the impact of the house and the film.

Sendero has a great, brutal first half with a saddening drop in this for the second, more exaggerated half.  Its brutality is in your face with violence and gore but this is not always effective.  The performances are good, the music a little schlocky but not tension-breaking.  The sub-titles on the version seen had typos which are unfortunate and lead to wonder if anything was lost in translation.  The film should appeal to fans of brutal, gory, even torture-porn-y (which is not always a bad expression to this reviewer).  The lead bad “guy”, or lead bad girl, is fascinating to watch.  The film is good with great intentions, it just gets lost in itself in the second half and loses its effectiveness.