Review by BRYAN YENTZ
WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND
Starring German Baudino, Paual Brasca, Mirta Busnelli
Written and directed by Luciano and Nicolas Onetti
Back in 1985, an Argentinean village called Villa Epecuen was drowned after its dam gave way to a brackish torrent. Since then, the flood has gradually receded, revealing the ruins of the formerly populated hamlet. The dilapidated city is a visual mystery of submerged streets, crumbled buildings and skeletal trees. It’s a ravaged terrain rife with narrative potential, one that begs to have a capable storyteller weave a yarn that makes the most of it’s a doom-laden history.
Unfortunately, WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND (formerly titled “LOS OLVIDADOS”) is what we got. A horror film bereft of originality or reason; developed by filmmakers who had no idea how to reap the benefit of such a superbly gloomy locale (other than occasionally attractive cinematography). Honestly, the history lesson and stock footage used during the closing credits are far more compelling than anything this dismal effort conveys (seriously, look up some of the recent photography of the place—eerie stuff, I tells ya).
The plot is as vacant as the forgotten burg and involves a dimwitted group of MTV spring breakers *cough* sorry, I meant “filmmakers” who drive to Epecuen in order to make a documentary. Of course, things go sideways when they’re hunted by a blithering clan of anthropophagists and poorly attempt to kinda fight back? Sorta? Okay, they really just scream and die.
For a movie regarding ravenous cannibals, WTWLB wastes a great deal of time on. . . well, nothing in particular. Upon our coterie’s arrival, a hefty dose of the first 45 minutes is spent on misguided characterization (or what the filmmakers attempt to pass for it) and scenic shots of the derelict terrain. As if utilizing a bland checklist of stereotypical character quirks, each male/female protagonist walks about like a vapid noisemaker until the inevitable threat finally lumbers into frame and turns them into vapid pincushions. In a dire attempt to make each somewhat relatable, you have the goof who helps to open the film with a long-winded joke capped with a terribly unfunny punchline; the quiet loner who commits his unspoken emotion to paper in the form of drawings; the girl-next-door, who shares a disheartened past with the once-sunken city. . . And that’s really it. Beyond the barest of establishments for each victim, we’re given nothing to latch onto; nothing to care about. As they walk, dance, document and screw—we’re left wondering when the threat will actually arrive to kickstart the plot into some sort of action beyond their wily antics.
Once the animal-skulled inbreds make their debut (and whose abattoir is actually located in Epecuen’s decayed slaughterhouse “Matadero”), WTWLB limps to the finish from one tensionless scene of carnage to another. This is also about the point that the movie introduces a new character in the form of a crotchety old man seeking his missing daughter. He’s positioned to be a bad-ass, but ultimately comes off like a question mark. He does nearly nothing but look constipated while poorly aiming a rifle, and just when the climax sets him up for some good ol’ table-turnin’, hick-huntin’—he still does next to nothing and then seemingly disappears from the movie.
Because WTWLD lacks a central subject, there’s no proper hero to root for. The only character that finally attempts to stand his ground might just be one of the worst male protagonists I’ve ever seen in horror, let alone cinema as a whole. He’s a coward that not once—but twice(!)—abandons his friends as they’re being butchered. And yes, in case you were wondering, he performs such flights while crying. After becoming an emotional wreck, he decides to take up the mantle of retribution—all the while still behaving like a bawling baby. If it wasn’t obvious, his attempt(s) at bravery are laughable and filled with failure. . . And yes, he even cries during the anti-climactic finale when he should be doing anything else like, I don’t know, trying to survive?
The last act devolves into a torture-porn bid of endurance that succeeds in being mean-spirited but offers nothing in the way of suspense or story. Man and woman alike meet mercilessly unfortunate ends and are hardly given even a mere second of screen time to attempt resistance. There’s not so much structure as there is one sequence after the other of characters being butchered until only one remains—and that’s when WTWLD goes full worthless and drops an insipid “twist” that’s as eye-rolling, illogical and unnecessary as the malice that preceded it. Nothing about the killer clan is remotely interesting and all of their traits either derive from the horror of yore (TCM, HILLS HAVE EYES) or are patch-worked with little method other than “wouldn’t this look totally weird!?” Let’s have these guys wear the ivory craniums of creatures. Why? ‘Cuz it looks scary! Let’s have this guy wrap half his face in packaging tape while he removes someone’s leg. Why? ‘Cuz it’s so weird and creepy, right!? Seriously, the extent of WTWLD’s villainous creativity doesn’t extend beyond a spastic “chef” wrapping his face in tape.
Somehow, as bereft of content as WTWLD is, it’s still too long. Certain shots are held for a gratuitous length of time, sometimes even missing the musical beat to cease. One particular moment has an aerial shot slowly, SLOWLY zoom downward as, from above, we watch two characters trudge from one side of the screen to the other. You’d think something—anything—would happen to justify this particular shot-choice and scope, but no. It’s literally just to watch them gradually get from one point to the other. A similar bit after this has us watching the same people (now silhouetted) steadily making their way while the sun sets. The need for proper editing also extends to the violence and features an ugly scene involving a sexual assault that goes on for an indefensible amount of time. It’s a scene seemingly crafted in service to the evil act and not at all for the all too brief comeuppance (if you can even call it that) that somewhat follows. And don’t even get me started on the terribly unfitting pop-rock music that fills out the majority of the soundtrack. . .
There was (and might still be) a wealth of potential in such a historically cryptic chronicle, but WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND squanders it on a conventional “plot” that wads in the shallows, fearful of what ambitions the depth might contain, if they were only capable of taking the plunge.