World famous Spanish actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) has suddenly died. On the night of the death, young mortician Pau (Albert Carbó) takes a photo of the dead celebrity and sends it to his friends, Ivan (Cristian Valencia) and Javi (Bernat Saumell), who promptly turn up at Pau’s hospital while on their way to a party. After doing some coke by the hospital’s bins, Pau and Ivan think it a good idea to have a look at the body up close in the morgue; the comparatively mature Javi is disturbed by the idea but tags along anyway. Down in the morgue, Ivan feels an apparent need to touch the beautiful starlet, and also observe her fully nude form. Ivan then also feels an apparent need to defile her body. And then so does Pau. And then, ignoring Javi’s disgusted protests, they proceed to do so.
If you’re still reading this review after that initial plot dump, let it be known that the remainder of this piece will not shy away from spoilers, as The Corpse of Anna Fritz, the feature debut of director Hèctor Hernández Vicens, is difficult to discuss without divulging information beyond, say, the 20-minute mark of the film. It is vital to discuss where this film gets at least a little interesting, as the opening 20 minutes which encompass those cited plot points are, frankly, hideous without the context of what follows (and are still a rough enough ride even with the next developments). Ready? Okay.
So, the actually still alive Anna Fritz wakes up mid-rape by Pau. She has seen him. She can barely move her various body parts beyond her eyes, and the sheer terror in those eyes is devastating. ‘Good guy’ Javi wants to get her out of the morgue and upstairs to proper medical assistance. Squirmy Pau and self-serving alpha male Ivan are less keen on the idea — she’s seen at least one of them rape her and has probably inferred the other’s crime from their initial panic post-resurrection. Anna gradually gains the ability to speak and move her digits (the Bride’s awakening from a coma in Kill Bill will definitely come to mind while viewing), but the monstrous Ivan doesn’t believe she won’t tell people about what happened despite what she says. Javi, meanwhile, has no intention of covering up his friends’ actions, and Ivan is not afraid to stop him. And then it turns out Pau has accidentally locked them all inside.
What begins as a rancid necrophilia… tale (?) develops into a claustrophobic chamber-piece, as the world of the film expands (as much as it can while still relegated to the one lower level of a building) and morphs into a rape retaliation tale that makes one inclined to nickname the film “The Last Hospital on the Left” or “I Spit on Your Slab.” While the film begins following a particularly harrowing perspective of toxic masculinity, things very quickly (and smartly) shift to the viewpoint of the wronged woman, even while the director still follows the calculations of the gruesome twosome.
Anna’s struggle to survive is just as much a part of the film as her abusers’ attempts to save themselves, making it a different beast to the superficially similar 2008 American film Deadgirl. The extra layer of terror for the scenario comes from Anna’s inability to defend herself for most of the movie. Yet whether she’s trapped in a room alone or on a hospital floor, she’s also trapped in a body that doesn’t obey her wishes. Anna has leverage over her abusers, but she’s at a loss to execute much of a plan. Subsequently, when a rush for freedom does seem to go her way (her limbs finally catching up like in Kill Bill), there’s an exhilarating blend of catharsis mixed with the inevitable dread that hope will be snatched away at any moment.
In sequences like the one just hinted at, The Corpse of Anna Fritz is a very good thriller, and the note it ultimately ends on is both stirring and satisfying — you can probably guess what it is considering the proposed alternative titles, but it doesn’t lose much from figuring it out early. Where this slick and sick debut falters is in its leanings towards repetition, with the same arguments played out over and over, and even some of the same set-piece conceits seeing repeat play. It’s wisely been cut to a lean 76 minutes, but, upon post-viewing reflection, it would be hard to deem the storytelling especially economic, considering a good chunk ends up being an endurance test beyond just not wanting to watch a poor woman evade dying a second time.
Still, it’s nice that what, at first, seems a misguided, shallow taboo-pusher actually becomes a smarter horror: a barbed satire of 21st century masculinity and the depraved lengths that its writers think it can reach, where poisonous social conditioning makes a beautiful woman’s corpse a plausible masturbation aid, especially a beautiful woman who’s famous. The scariest part of the film is how that doesn’t feel at all outlandish.
Josh Slater-Williams (@jslaterwilliams) is a freelance writer based in England. Alongside writing for Vague Visages, he is currently a contributing editor at PopOptiq, a writer for VODzilla.co, and a regular contributor to independent British magazine The Skinny.