disappear completely (film, 2024) ↑

disappear completely (film, 2024)

Luis Javier Henaine’s Disappear Completely (Desaparecer por completo) is a remarkable achievement in Mexican horror cinema that transcends conventional tropes to deliver a haunting, synesthetic experience. From its unsettling premise to its meticulous execution, the film commands attention and lingers long after the credits roll.

The film opens with a chilling quote from Susan Sontag: “Photography turns the whole world into a cemetery. Photographers are, whether they know it or not, angels of death.” This quote sets the tone for the bleak philosophical underpinnings that pervade the narrative, foreshadowing the protagonist’s grim fate.

Warning: Spoilers

The story follows Santiago (Harold Torres in a career-defining performance), an ambitious yet emotionally detached Nightcrawler-esque crime scene photographer afflicted by a mysterious curse that robs him of his senses one by one.

disappear completely (film, 2024)

What begins as a disorienting loss of smell and taste rapidly escalates into a full-bodied onslaught, stripping away sight, sound, and his grip on reality itself. Torres’ gradual physical and psychological unraveling is nothing short of mesmerizing, a masterclass conveying vulnerability amid unfathomable torment.

From the outset, Henaine establishes an atmosphere of dread that permeates every frame. The opening sequence, a bravura single-take that trails Santiago as he ghoulishly documents a gruesome crime scene, sets the tone for the unrelenting tension to follow. Glauco Bermudez’s stark cinematography employs an ingenious aspect ratio reminiscent of newspaper photography, further entrenching the viewers in Santiago’s morally compromised world.

As Santiago’s predicament intensifies, the film’s technical prowess shines, with the sublime sound design and judicious use of point-of-view camerawork plunging us into his increasingly fractured psyche. We experience his disorientation firsthand, the disquieting silence echoing the existential void that consumes him. This immersive approach is both discomfiting and exhilarating, a triumph of sensory storytelling that elevates the movie above mere genre fare.

The film’s greatest strength lies in its deft blending of traditional horror elements with poignant social commentary. Santiago’s descent is inextricably linked to his callous disregard for the victims he photographs, a scathing indictment of society’s morbid fascination with violence and suffering.

disappear completely (film, 2024)

The script, co-written by Henaine and Ricardo Aguado-Fentanes, deftly weaves in elements of Mexican folklore and occultism, imbuing the narrative with a rich cultural tapestry that grounds the supernatural horror in a tangible, deeply unsettling reality.

In this regard, ‘Disappear Completely’ bears kinship with recent and classic folk horror gems, albeit with a distinctly Mexican flair. The film’s exploration of brujería (witchcraft) and its intricate rituals is both mesmerizing and chilling, a potent reminder of the enduring power of ancient beliefs and their capacity to transcend the rational world.

disappear completely (film, 2024)

Throughout, Henaine demonstrates a masterful command of tone and pacing, allowing the dread to simmer before reaching a fever pitch in the film’s final act. The climactic sequence, a hallucinatory descent into a realm of primordial terror, is a tour de force of visceral horror that ranks among the most haunting scenes in recent memory. However, despite the carnage, Henaine maintains a thoughtful, philosophical undercurrent, prompting profound contemplation on the nature of perception and the inescapable truth of mortality.

In many ways, the movie evokes the existential horror of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona,’ with its unflinching examination of identity and the fragility of the human psyche.

persona (film, 1966)

Photo: Persona (1966)

Like that seminal work, Henaine’s film defies easy categorization, transcending genre boundaries to offer a searing commentary on the human condition.

If a critique is to be leveled, the film’s relentless bleakness may prove overwhelming for some viewers. Henaine’s uncompromising vision offers little catharsis or redemption, a brutal and unforgiving journey into the abyss. But, in the annals of Mexican cinema, ‘Desaparecer por completo’ stands as a towering achievement. This film honors the country’s rich folkloric traditions and elevates them to new heights of existential terror. It is a triumph of style, substance, and searing social commentary.