Brutal in its execution, but fantasmical enough to keep things from being too serious, SKULL: THE MASK, produced by Infravermelho Filmes, co-produced by Fantaspoa Produções and Boccato Productions, is brought together by its directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman to create a new kind of slasher experience. While not all of its story elements make sense, it is a fun ride as we watch this incarnation of a serial killer defender slice and dice its way through the streets of São Paulo.
The film starts in 1944. The military seeks an artifact to use in a military experiment and they will do anything to ensure that they acquire the object. This object is the “Mask of Anhangá”, the executioner of Tahawantinsupay, a pre-Columbian god. While the experiment itself fails in glorious head splatter fashion, not much is known about the Mask until it resurfaces again during an archeological dig in the present-day. Curiosity gets the better of a young individual when they accidentally wake up the Mask and its not long before the entity finds a proper host to unleash its unholy murder agenda upon Brazil.
While this is all happening, we encounter two individuals who will do anything possible to ensure that the Masked entity doesn’t win. Detective Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) initially starts off pursuing missing children cases, but soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of the Mask when she barges into the first crime scene left behind by the entity. Throughout the course of the film, she’ll find herself questioning everything about her morals. More anti-hero than damsel-in-distress, she is a compelling character for audiences as we watch the film unfold.
On the flip side and more apt to embrace the role of hero, we have Manco Ramirez (Wilton Andrade). In charge of watching over the Mask, his path forces him to pursue artifacts that are connected with the entity – a femur and a shriveled hand. Both serve as a lure as the Mask is drawn to these items instinctually. While there’s no apparent motivation, it becomes clear that the murderous path it cuts will lead it to them. Manco must find a way to stop the Mask from fulling embracing its transformation into its godlike incarnation or risk the world coming to an end in the process.
Right off the bat, the first thing to comment on is the practical gore effects featured in this film. Directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman have no problem going there in terms of getting that blood factor in there. Whether it’s watching people’s faces getting slice off by a machete, the ripping open of a ribcage to showcase a beating heart, or spider-like legs ala The Thing coming out of the Skull’s cranium, there is so much to love for fans of practical effects. The real centerpiece of the bloody, murder effects really comes into play when the Skull just for funsies engages in a bloodbath in an underground nightclub. Hot with wrestle moves and loads of viscera, it is a clear showcase for all things gore and splatter.
SKULL: THE MASK is a hybrid film, blending noir, splatter gore, and – dare I say – some fantasy into the mix. This blending of genres is both a blessing and a curse. While the blend creates something fun and keeps viewers on their toes, some story-elements feel a bit odd, distracting, or underdeveloped. There is a suspension of belief required by the viewer for the less splattertastic moments, especially for those with no real understanding of pre-Columbian folklore. This all combines together to also create a bit of a pacing problem for the first half of the film as it takes a fair amount of time to get to know the characters before shit really starts to hit the fan. However, despite the elements not necessarily fitting, it doesn’t take away from the investment we’ll make in the characters or story onscreen. As I mentioned before, it just requires a smidge bit of suspension of disbelief.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the character design featured in SKULL: THE MASK. Designed by Kapel Furman, the mask itself is enough to make any sane person go, “I’m not fucking with that.” However, this is a horror slasher film. Of course, sanity gets tossed outside the window, especially in the case of a mask that could potentially allow for world domination. When the mask possesses its host (Rurik Jr.), the scare factor decreases slightly as there is a sense of mortality presented. It presents a false sense of security. However, with each kill the host makes, it becomes apparent that the entity is leveling up. As the tentacles move about the host’s body and the viscera layers upon the suit, the underworld quality that the mask possessed by itself is reflected now on its latest incarnation. And that’s enough to make the danger zone signals flash up for the viewer.
SKULL: THE MASK mixes noir sensibilities with glorious amounts of practical gore and splatter. While the pacing could have used a bit more fine-tuning, there’s a lot to love in this latest Brazilian contribution to horror. Whenever things get safer and the health of all of us won’t be compromised being crammed together in a festival viewing room, I’d love to see the audience reaction while watching the film on a screen together. Because this film will give plenty to react to and will become a film that audiences adore. Interested in checking out the film? You can still buy a pass and check it out as part of the virtual Chattanooga Film Festival HERE.