Anthology films can be a great way to showcase the talents of under-represented filmmakers and provide an avenue for short films to actually be commercially distributed. Typically, they will feature a common theme or wraparound story and in this case, Mexico Barbaro uses Mexican folklore as a unifying factor for the segments. As with any anthology some entries will outshine others, but what’s most important is the overall quality of the collection itself.
There are a total of eight entries, half incorporating supernatural elements into the stories and half focusing on themes of real-world horror. The first segment, Tzompantli, is an example of the latter and tells the story of a journalist who takes a dangerous meeting with a member of the Narcos to get information about the disappearance of a group of youths. This entry has particular real-world resonance as 43 Mexican college students did in fact go missing the same year this film was released. As far as the entry itself, it is not only well done and effectively bloody, but also draws interesting parallels between modern day cartel activity and ancient Aztec sacrifices. My chief complaint would actually be that it ends too abruptly and feels more like the beginning of a feature-length film than a stand-alone short.
On the supernatural side, the segment Jaral de Berrios delivers the most effective paranormal chills with a story of two old west bandits who hide out in a cursed building. This is the one entry that is most likely to instill you with a genuine sense of fear and is helped tremendously by excellent sound design and some very creepy atmosphere. Drain, on the other hand, does provide a decent amount of dread but falls a little short on delivering legitimate fear with it’s story about a teenage girl who’s blackmailed by a demon into doing an unsavory task.
Dolls was the only segment I felt an actual sense of disappointment with. It lacked creativity and originality compared with the other entries and brought up weird questions in the process. For instance, “Why cook a severed arm with a rubber doll? Are you eating the doll too? What the fuck is happening here!?” That being said, the fact that the filmmakers incorporated an incredibly creepy real-world location from Mexico, Island of the Dolls, for the short was very cool to see. On the flip side, the segment That Precious Thing delivers a very well-structured story about a teenage girl who goes to a cabin in the woods with her boyfriend to lose her virginity. It also incorporates some great 80’s style goo effects with some surprisingly dark subject matter.
What’s not surprising was the fact that the stand-out entry was from none other than Lex Ortega, who would unleash his gloriously brutal feature-length debut Atroz the following year. His segment about a little girl who’s scared of a local homeless man titled What’s Important is Inside is not only brilliantly conceived but also definitively plunges the entire collection deep into Extreme Cinema territory. But in addition to brutal gore effects and a storyline that couldn’t possibly be more disturbing, the segment also features some excellent social commentary, the real-world implications of which are far more horrifying than the short itself.
As far interesting concepts go, the segment Seven Times Seven delivers in a big way with it’s story about a man who goes to extreme supernatural lengths to seek his revenge. A truly fascinating entry with a well-crafted story that works perfectly as a stand-alone short. The final segment, Day of the Dead, may not be heavy on subtext but nonetheless closes out the film with a pitch-perfect blood-bath that is immensely cathartic and satisfying.
Despite the fact that Mexico Barbaro delivers a well-crafted anthology that utilizes many different styles of horror, it has been frequently maligned by many viewers and maintains a pretty mediocre overall rating online. I could spend time speculating on theories of inherent cultural bias and the impatience that Western audiences have for subtitles but I think there is a more fundamental reason for the lack of enthusiasm. This is, at times, an incredibly disturbing film and far more extreme than what you generally find browsing through Netflix. This can be a problem for casual genre fans that are unable to handle it when horror movies are truly horrifying. But if you have the cajones, do yourself a favor and strap the fuck in for this twisted pleasure from south of the border.