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RUNNING TIME 92 Minutes
• Commentary by Director and Director of Photography
After being shelved for eight years, a lost Robert Rodríguez project comes to DVD. It’s not pretty.
Carlos Gallardo, Gizeht Galatea, Robert Rodríguez, Eduardo Rodríguez (no relation)
Written by Robert Rodríguez, Curandero is an action-packed horror flick that takes a couple on a horrifying journey through the deepest bowels of the Mexican underworld. When beautiful federal agent Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea) calls upon curandero Don Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) for his services to purify a police station, the two of them suddenly find themselves immersed in the battleground of a satanic cult.
I remember reading about Curandero in an issue of Fangoria back in ’04 or ’05. As a Robert Rodriguez fan/apologist and a lover of foreign language horror films, I was eager to see what would become of this Weinstein-produced Mexican demon thriller. Shortly thereafter, the film vanished from the public eye, and was promptly forgotten when Miramax split from Disney.
Eight years later, this lost film has finally seen the light of day. Unceremoniously dumped by Lionsgate onto DVD, does the film deserve a shot at developing a following? Sure. But after watching the film, it’s pretty obvious why it got lost in the shuffle back in 2005. It is a sluggish, lifeless film. The film is really a supernatural cop thriller, spiced with traditional superstition and mysticism. The basic concept has promise, but was more effectively explored Francis Lawrence’s Constantine.
Speaking of Constantine, I find that comparing the films is nearly unavoidable. They’re too alike in structure to overlook the similarities: a female cop contacts a spiritual consultant to help solve a crime with demonic connections. The cop ends up getting possessed in third act. There is a feeble attempt at romance between our two leads. But unlike Constantine, Curandero lacks attitude, scares, and effective action.
The film is also marred by uncharismatic acting, poorly written characters, humorless dialogue, an ugly aesthetic, and truly abysmal editing. The film is stylishly shot, but these well-composed shots mean nothing if they’re edited together so carelessly. Dialogue scenes are too loose, stripping the verbal exchanges of rhythm, making the characters seem bored with their own interactions.
The slack editing also pulls all the tension out of the film, depriving us of suspense and fright. There are a few loud jolts of demonic imagery, randomly stabbing us in the eyes and ears, but they’re miserable excuses for scares. They come off like a last ditch effort at making the film scary.
There is some decent gore and make-up in the film, with some interesting creature designs from Patrick Tatapoulos, so it’s a shame this film was so sloppily thrown on to a DVD. It feels like a half-baked film. I’d watch more work from director Eduardo Rodríguez, because Curandero shows promise for him. Most of the film’s shortcomings aren’t his fault. With another editing pass, another sound mix, and some extensive ADR the film might have been much more engaging. It still would’ve been poorly written and acted, but it would have been much more watchable.
The package is fairly disappointing, with only a commentary to soften the blow. Luckily, the commentary is pretty decent. Director Eduardo Rodríguez and DP Jaime Reynoso are fairly candid about the troubles encountered during production, and the errors of first time filmmakers. They had a very condensed shooting schedule and a low budget, and their honesty about working with those limitations is refreshing.
The transfer is fairly vibrant and sharp. Colors are brilliantly saturated. The black levels are quite good, and the bright spots don’t show any haloing. On the downside, the filmmakers went with a heavily contrasted look, taking the digital HD source footage and cranking the contrast through the roof, crushing the blacks and blowing out the highlights. It works for films like Sin City, because the dynamic range and lighting of the background is entirely artificial, and can be perfected through visual effects. In Curandero, it feels oppressive, and looks like a beginner’s mistake.
There are two audio tracks on the disc: an english dub and the original spanish. Both tracks are 5.1 Dolby, and they’re AWFUL. The english dialogue sounds crisp, but the dub is hilariously bad. Flip back to the original spanish dialogue, and you’ll find that most of it sounds like it was recorded on wax. It’s one of the most uneven 5.1 mixes I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing. The music sounds okay, and some of the sound effects are punchy, but the dialogue is soft and mushy, and many of the effects sound like they were pulled from a cheap SFX library.
If any of you were waiting for Curandero, be advised that the film is just not worth the wait.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars