What is ARREBATO? Well, it’s a Spanish horror film, written and directed by Iván Zulueta. He only made three films. He designed posters too. I’ve asked myself this question many times while trying to make my thoughts about the film coalesce. In short, It’s a horror film where the horror is in the ideas, the atmosphere, and one camera with a clicking timer.
ARREBATO is a remarkable film that also does so much with so little. With the advent of visual effects and CGI, the tendency of filmmakers is to put so many things that could only previously be imagined on the screen. Why not shove these images into the audience’s eyeballs and wow them with sensory overload? ARREBATO takes the opposite approach. Most of what is frightening in the film is suggested until the film’s final frame. It is a film of seduction, what the film’s strangest character, Pedro, called “enrapturing”. The film’s main characters, Jose and Pedro, are seduced by the high of the creative urge, inspiration, and the act of creation. It’s this high that they chase, forgetting everything else in life. Nothing compares to it. It would be one thing if the film was simply a clunky and earthbound metaphor for obsessed creatives as junkies, but the film reaches for more than that.
Okay, a synopsis then: Jose, a self-hating director of horror films who has contempt for everything, especially his own work, comes home to find his on-again/off-again actress girlfriend asleep in his apartment. In his disgust, he finds a package sent to him by a strange acquaintance. When he opens it, seeking to escape from his situation, he hears a haunted Pedro reminding him of their story and his attempts to transcend to a new level of creativity, one that will provide him with the rapture that his habit demands. Jose remembers the story as the tape plays and Pedro seems more and more desperate for his cinematic “fix”. Timelines blur as Jose becomes obsessed with Pedro’s journey until he reaches the end of the tape.
The film itself is front-loaded with foreshadowing. It’s one of the earliest films that I’ve seen that openly gives you clues about what is going to happen to the characters from the opening moments. It is a cult film for creatives as well. I’m pretty sure that one of the crucial music cues in ARREBATO may have recently been recycled by a director this year. There is a thread of vampirism as a metaphor of cinematic obsession in it too. Jose and Pedro are those kinds of obsessed cinephiles and creators. Nothing that they create is ever good enough for them. It speaks to the obsessive nature of cinematic creativity when your ideas far outstrip your ability to create them. It teases the characters with the rapture that you feel when you create something that is finally good enough.
Part of the magic of creativity is flirting with the danger of destroying your life and yourself in that obsessive pursuit of perfection and the creative high. When people think of films, TV, books, food, art, dance, and music, they think of them on a very basic level. Do I enjoy it or not? Does it give me pleasure, and pleasure is a huge component of the audience’s enjoyment of art or a creative craft, or not? What the audience doesn’t think of is how much the artist or craftsperson puts into that art or craft to gift the audience with that pleasure, and yes, awe. The greatest pieces of art and fine craftsmanship can inspire awe in the recipient. It can give you the greatest pleasure that can be had, yes, better than sex or drugs.
Artists and fine craftspeople will work themselves to the bone trying to give you a glimpse of that pleasure, that rapture. Art and fine crafts speak to us on different levels, but one of those levels is emotional. That’s why we become so engaged with the most meaningful arts and crafts. They engage our emotions and our intellect. They speak to our souls. Artists and creators, the finest ones, put large amounts of themselves into their work. Not just their life stories, but who they are. It’s not just a job for them. It means everything to them. They can become angry and sometimes violent when they can’t realize their visions or create their next masterpiece. It means that much to them. Creation is made of alchemy that we don’t understand and can’t always summon up on demand. It is a form of magic for which the practitioners don’t have a spellbook. It’s one of the most frustrating things about art. No one knows where the inspiration comes from and one of the most frightening things for an artist is the fear of not being able to reproduce the magic again. It’s the worst kind of disappointment and failure for the artist. One so scary that artists don’t even like to think about it, lest that specter comes calling.
The film has a lot to say about artists, specifically film artists, and their obsessive natures. To be a film artist of the highest caliber, you often leave people that you genuinely care about and love on the side of the road. That obsession with perfection and creation can ruin your life. It’s not a coincidence that the film’s symbolic use of the vampire, a monster that drains the living of their blood and makes them into monsters themselves or betrays them to their deaths, is used by Iván Zuleta in this film. If you pay close attention to the first scene, you can see all the allusions to vampirism. The scene in the film, the plastic vampire teeth, the splotch of red on Jose’s neck. I’ve read some interpretations of the movie that call Pedro a vampire, and in a way, I think that’s true, but the film implies that the master vampire is the creative urge itself and that it turns the creators that it touches into vampires too.
Iván Zuleta has created a bewildering and obsessive film that obsesses its audience. I know I’m obsessed with it and I recognize some of my own behavior and scenes from my life in it. It’s fantastical and realistic at the same time. His casting of the actors in the film is magnificent.
Eusebio Poncela (Matador, Law Of Desire) is perfect as the cynical and snide José Sirgado, both leads have an offbeat and gorgeous quality, but Poncela has a delicate vulnerability that underneath that is touching and maddening. Poncela has one of the most perfect expressions of genuine annoyance that I’ve seen on an actor’s face in the film. Will More (The Hit, Dark Habits) as Pedro has a thrilling otherworldly quality. He takes the contempt of a film snob to a level that is sinister and at the same time, acts like a petulant child. All of these qualities are present in film creators who we most admire and those who have self-destructed. Cecilia Roth (All About My Mother) as Ana Turner is beautiful and careless but you can see why Sirgado was attracted to her. Marta Fernández Muro (Law Of Desire, Labyrinth Of Passion) as Marta is hyper upbeat and full of wonder. All of the leads give distinctive and unforgettable performances.
Zuleta’s use of music is so distinctive as well. There’s a band, Negativo, that has a punk edge that is listed as a composer, most notably the song in the elevator scene, and has a credit for himself. I don’t know if Negativo is just a name that the director gave to himself and other musicians that created the songs or if it’s a local band. Zuleta uses a few music cues repeatedly and they gain power as they are reused, but their meaning isn’t shoved in your face. It’s not a soundtrack as we understand it. Zuleta innovated the use of soundtrack music to suit his creative purposes.
I will, of course, answer the question that you are all here for. Is there Art Dong ™ in this film. I am happy to inform you that there are liberal amounts of Art Dong ™ in ARREBATO and the Art Dong ™ is aesthetically pleasing and used as part of the art. I should also tell you that ARREBATO is quite funny.
I would love to discuss what happens in the film, but I think experiencing it for yourself and letting the layers of meaning come to you through your own consciousness will be more enjoyable for you. But I will say, that Zuleta’s use of a camera as an object of terror is ironic and incredibly effective. He does so much with suggestion and is so inventive in his construction of a horror story. I think that this film is a cult film certainly, but it is a cult film that is daring in its approach to filmmaking and storytelling and deserves a much bigger audience. Zuleta made something that is a basic story into a mind-bending cipher of the artistic condition. I think it’s a must-see for anyone who makes films. I am convinced that at least two major directors lifted scenes or ideas from the film and I don’t know if anyone realizes that. Zack Snyder and Tony Scott, if you are wondering who they are.
ARREBATO is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement that attempts to reckon with the obsessive nature of creativity, specifically in filmmaking. The wonder and the horror of the creative act and the creative drive and its mysterious and possibly malign source. It feels like an early shift in the cosmic horror subgenre as well. The filmmakers are being touched and manipulated by forces that are so much more powerful than they are in this dangerous game. They think they’re in charge, in the arrogance of their hubris, but they’re like and literally are drug addicts looking for their next fix. It’s just at some point that the drug stops being heroin and becomes the rapture of the creative act. When Pedro refers to art as rapture, he is correct. Honestly, watching this movie kind of made me feel like I was on drugs and made me want to immediately create some art. It’s that influential. ARREBATO is one of a kind and the sooner you surrender to its wild charms and haunting soul, the better.
If you ever wanted to understand why people create art, ARREBATO can help you. If you ever wanted to see the world’s most sinister camera timer, ARREBATO is for you.
ARREBATO will be available on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Vimeo on December 21. Pre-orders are available now for Vinegar Syndrome’s limited-edition Blu-ray slipcover of ARREBATO, with an expected street date of December 28th. The regular Blu-ray & DVD for ARREBATO will be available on January 25, 2022.