Friday, January 18, 2019

Spectrum (Beyond the World's End)

Spectrum (Beyond the World's End) aka Espectro (Más allá del fin del mundo)
Manuel Esteba

Spectrum falls directly into one of my favorite niches, 1970s nihilistic eco-horror (Idaho Transfer (1973), Phase IV (1974). The genre existed as one the many ways for people to expresses their disillusion with hippie movement of the 1960s as it dove into the moral greywaters of the 1970s. It felt like humankind was destined for failure in one fashion or another. These types of films also contain a heavy dose of psychedelia although it is often more turned towards creating an unsettling mood rather than any sense of freedom or enlightenment.

Anton del Valle (Eduardo Fajardo) and his brother Daniel (Daniel Martin) try to put their antagonistic relationship aside to perform a series of experiments in a deep cave over a three month period. A sudden jump in the temperature of the cave causes them to surface looking for answers. What they find is an Earth that has no night thanks to a strange light in the sky and no living people, only husks with strange blanked out eyes. While the Earth begins to freeze around them, the pair battles their fear and each other. Only the arrival of an unexpected visitor offers them any hope, but their own dark relationship threatens to undo everything.

Wario and Waluigi (Beyond the World's End)
Spectrum works best during its scenes of the del Valles exploring their altered world. The mystery is foreboding and strange with no appreciable answers. It is a curious post-apocalypse like nothing I’ve seen before. The way that all the people are intact, just still and lifeless with their strange eyes is an eerie image. There are also small touches that add to the horror, such as the canned food turning into a black liquid. Eventually, we do get a gobbledygook explanation, but it’s so nonsensical as to not resolve the mystery of what has come before.

The second half of the film moves to a single location, the real star here is the gorgeous and surreal looking Brutalist architecture. These are vast spaces that almost swallow up these characters. Spectrum even indulges in some weird body horror at its dour climax. I was surprised at how much more the film leans towards horror over science-fiction.

"Did I sleep with my contacts in again?"
The music of Spectrum might be one of the most unsettling elements of it, filled with atonal synthesizer stabs and ambient washes of sound, it feels like a Boards of Canada album made into a film (or perhaps vice versa).

If the film has one major flaw it is making it’s the leads thoroughly unpleasant. Even if it is the end of the world and these two are brothers, I can’t imagine them wanting to be within a hundred feet of one another. Daniel is ineffectual to a fault, and Anton is aggressive and whiny from the moment you meet him. This might be a way to immerse the viewer in the idea of being stuck with someone when there is literally no one else around, but it makes their constant bickering more irritating than sobering.

Spectrum is a marvelous little post-apocalypse tale from Spain, it doesn’t seem to have garnered much notice, but if you are in the mood from something strange and grim, it is definitely worth seeking out.

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