Disappear Completely


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Disappear Completely
"Part investigative thriller, part chilling horror film, Disappear Completely is brilliantly directed."

Every now and again, as if influenced by some intangible thing in the collective consciousness, the film industry produces a whole lot of works on the same subject. This year it’s witches. As usual, the films vary enormously in style and quality. Disappear Completely, which screened at Fantastic Fest, is one of the best, a classy piece of work which would stand out in any context.

Set in Mexico, it follows Santiago (Harold Torres), a photojournalist who specialises in capturing front page pictures of grisly crimes – when people ask him “Do you have any enemies?” it’s a difficult question to answer, but he is determined to keep working at it until he gets his big break, until he can build a real career. Things come to a head when Marcela (Tete Espinoza), his girlfriend of 14 years, discovers that she's pregnant. Whilst initially he argues that it would be better not to keep it, it nonetheless prompts him to start thinking about the future, beyond his comfortable happy-go-lucky life in a small flat with dog Zombie and no other responsibilities.

Copy picture

Everything changes when, visiting the scene of a murder, Santiago catches sight of something he wasn’t meant to see. This is followed by a violent incident which he takes in his stride, because he sees such things as a hazard of the job. Unbeknown to him, however, he has attracted the attention of a witch, and has been cursed. This first manifests at another scene when he realises that he can’t detect an odour which is making police officers nauseous. Next to go is his sense of taste and, well, you can see where this is going.

One of the things which makes this story so effective is the realism with which director Luis Javier Henaine presents each symptom. Santiago doesn’t suddenly wake up and find another of his senses missing; instead he experiences the slow distortions and disintegrations which usually accompany such losses when they are caused by illness or gradually worsening injury. On the second day, a cup of coffee disappoints him; later, he starts piling salt onto his food. There is the denial, the slowly rising panic which such experiences inevitably inspire. Other symptoms occur alongside this: hallucinations, seizures, perhaps a deliberate product of malice or perhaps a side-effect of something neurological. Because Marcela is a medic, Santiago doesn’t have to wait to get checked out, but nobody can pinpoint the source of the problem.

To ensure that viewers will have an inkling of what’s happening from the start – even if they haven’t read any of the promotional material – Henaine treats us to a beautifully composed early montage which intercuts clips of Santiago developing his photos with images of hands constructing a wax effigy. This also invites viewers to see parallels between the two arts, both of which, as practised here, involve creativity, manipulation and a certain ruthlessness; both of which are only viable means of making a living because of the misdeeds of unseen others.

In Mexico, belief in the supernatural still runs fairly close to the surface, so the fact that witchcraft is suggest as a possibility fairly on, and that Santiago takes it seriously, is not particularly surprising. Here Henaine also draws on the relationship between indigenous and colonial cultures, and on the old traditions surviving just out of sight. Under pressure, the initially sceptical photographer is willing to take whatever help her can get, but there’s a wariness on both sides about his interactions with indigenous people, a sense of it being all too easy for this to become exploitative.

Santiago is an innately selfish person, not lacking in empathy but not inclined to set too much store by it either, and yet Torres makes him interesting enough to root for, shows us just enough of the emotion which he hides under the surface. As he strives frantically to escape the curse, terrified of being cut off completely from the world, the new experiences which he has as a result gradually reshape him, so that in other ways he comes to seem more connected.

Part investigative thriller, part chilling horror film, Disappear Completely is brilliantly directed and benefits from superb cinematography by Glauco Bermudez. It’s full of little hints and hidden details which will allow you to explore its mysteries at your own pace. With an appeal which will reach far beyond genre fans, it’s an accomplished piece of work.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2022
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Disappear Completely packshot
A crime scene photographer becomes the target of a gruesome witch’s curse which strips away his senses one after another.

Director: Luis Javier Henaine

Writer: Ricardo Aguado-Fentanes

Starring: Harold Torres, Tete Espinoza, Fermín Martínez, Vicky Araico, Norma Reyna

Year: 2022

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Mexico


Fantastic 2022

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