We all know a folklore story of a woman transformed by grief, especially when committing a cardinal sin. Usually, that sin involves pre-marital sex and the murder or abandonment of her child. It’s a tale of caution that is interwoven throughout global society in various ways. For us here in Southern California, the most prevalent version of this particular type of folklore tale is of La Llorona. However, in the rugged landscape of Panama, there is a variation of the tale called La Tulivieja. And it is this particular tale, a warning to those everywhere about the true dangers of a grieving and vengeful mother, that we get our first Panamanian horror film, DIABLO ROJO PTY.
The film follows a group of men who are trying to navigate the dark, foreboding landscape of Chiriqui. Miguel (Carlos Carrasco), the driver of a much-hated “Diablo Rojo” bus, is the primary target for the nefarious forces at play. Unfortunately for his assistant (Julian Urriola), two policemen just trying to do their job, and an older priest (Leo Wiznitzer) who offered sanctuary, they are all targets of the bruja that have cast their spell to enact vengeance. Part of this vengeance involves the invoking of Miguel’s former lover, Josefina Becerra (Alejandra Araúz), who has been transformed into La Tulivieja. The only things that can keep them safe are the bus itself, some holy water, and – quite honestly – dumb luck.
While the film itself is short in length for a feature, writer J. Oskura Nájera manages to pack a lot into the script. However, this has mixed results. At times, the story elements that are added onto the journey these characters take detract from the overall plot. An example would be the side quest where they encounter another threat in the jungle completely separate from the threat of the brujas and the La Tulivieja after them. Whether its main purpose was to remind the audience of the dangers of the Chiriqui jungles or to simply eliminate one of the less impactful characters, I’m not certain. However, for a plot already packed with tension, adding that story element seemed unnecessary and a distraction.
While the plot strayed from the beaten path, writer J. Oskura Nájera’s and director Sol Moreno’s interpretation of the La Tulivieja tale built upon the folklore while providing extra tension to the story. In the tale, the child of La Tulivieja is usually murdered or left to die. In a fun twist, we learn that the child was abducted and trained by brujas to be filled with hate and vengeance. This ultimately leads to why all of the events in DIABLO ROJO PTY have been instigated. In a rite of passage for the brujas, the daughter (Natalia Beluche) must commit an extreme act of violence once she turns thirty-three. And, as we discover in the film, apparently consuming a newborn child does not count as this act. No, she is to wreak immeasurable vengeance upon her father and will use La Tulivieja as a vessel to commit this act.
Speaking of La Tulivieja, the creature design that they came up with DIABLO ROJO PTY is stunningly gruesome in its practicality. While many have come to expect a brutally fast, CGI monster in creature films as of late, the slowly approaching, mourning figure is a sight to behold. However, this is not the only practical approach found in the film. In fact, a lot of the effects in this film are done practically. From the burning, melty impacts of holy water on a bruja’s skin to exploding buildings to a self-driving car, all of these things appear to have been achieved practically, which makes this nerd way too happy. While sometimes the effects can be a bit cheesy, like a machete cutting a body almost all the way in half, the decision to go practical is a smart one.
If you think you might not want to watch the film because it’s a first-time horror film from Panama, I’ll smack you and tell you that you are wrong. Watching DIABLO ROJO PTY, you could see the influences director Sol Moreno was drawing from. The score used in the film felt reminiscent of the sound I recall from late Hammer films. There were also elements in the plot that will take you back to films like Carrie, the original Suspiria, and more. To say that this film was a bit of a great nostalgic trip would be an understatement. These things combined with the practical effects mentioned above makes me implore you horror fans to take a gander at the film.
DIABLO ROJO PTY is a must-see. Yeah, there are side quest plot points that are out of place. And there are moments that are kind of cheesy. But the creature effects, a cast that clearly loves what they are doing, and the ever-present danger of the brujas make this short feature a must-watch. For a first-time horror film from Panama, I’d say the film ticks off all the boxes, tackling the violence in the film with an aplomb that feels so refreshing. There will be much for horror fans to love.
DIABLO ROJO PTY is now available for streaming exclusively on Amazon.