Thanatomorphose [2012] likely got walked out on more than any other film released that year, and while I really want to say that that is a damn shame, I completely understand. It’s a damn shame though. This film is so ruthlessly dedicated to its gruesome premise that it is really quite awe inspiring. The concept is succinct: adrift in love and in life, an unhappy woman decomposes. Stated so plainly, we see an elegant simplicity to a sorrowful tale. On the screen, however, elegance couldn’t possibly be farther from the case, as we learn just how awful decomposition can be.

How awful? Real awful. The film is extraordinarily intimate for so hideous a subject, and one of its great strengths is the absurd detail of the makeup effects. What is essentially 20 minutes of exposition and then 90 minutes of a lone woman rotting wouldn’t work for a second if the special effects left anything to be desired, and with only one or two exceptions the makeup and special effects succeed in carrying this visual horrorshow.

Other reviews have called Kayden Rose particularly brave for taking the lead role, and I have to agree. She spends probably 90% of her screen time nude, the makeup must have taken hours every day to put on, and the whole film is a painful, visual struggle with literal decomposition. There are scenes with live maggots. Her acting is a bright spot among the generally questionable supporting cast. The nature of the film required her to carry, and she does so admirably.

Success in the visual horrorshow regard would be construed as failure to the sensitive viewer, and as usual, I urge gentle readers to venture elsewhere. This film is really about the decomposition of a living human being, and we’re going to see it. In detail. Let us do so.

Thanatomorphose

“Despair”

Returning to her home for the last time.

Returning to her home for the last time.

We meet Laura (Kayden Rose) and Antoine (David Tousignant) recovering from a bout of energetic sex. We don’t see it clearly, but get a violent montage hinting at it. Antoine heads to the kitchen, and swigs some milk, and then spits it into the sink. It is rotten. On the way out, he steps on an exposed nail and bleeds ferociously. Laura bandages him, and we do not have time to ponder these two elements of foreshadowing before Antoine leaves. He isn’t staying with her.

Laura reveals a half-begun clay sculpture, and attempts to work it for a few minutes before giving up in frustration. She lays down in bed and masturbates before falling asleep. The next day, we watch her prepare for a presentation, cook breakfast, notice bruises on her shoulder and chin, and then leave. She reenters her home. We never see the outside world.

Laura hosts a dinner party with a few friends. We learn that Antoine is a crude, dominating man. One of Laura’s friends, Julian (Émile Beaudry) hits on her while they’re in another room, asking her why she stays with someone so crude. Laura’s bruises have grown, and her friends comment on it. The whole thing is awkward. The party is interrupted as her landlord reminds her of the “no parties” rule, and her friends depart. Again, Laura and Antoine make the least loving love possible. Laura confesses “this no longer gives me pleasure, it’s all pointless.” Antoine doesn’t know if she’s referring to her sculpting or to what.

This is where it really begins.

Happens to the best of us.

Happens to the best of us.

The next day, the bruises on her face and now body have gotten worse. She urinates blood into the toilet, and as Antoine seemingly comes to her aid, the film is interrupted by a brief montage of a decaying animal corpse. Cut to Laura in bed. Her skin is pale, but her arms and legs are marked by terrible dark marks. She staggers to the bathroom, but barely able to lift her own weight. She staggers to the kitchen, and drops a glass on the floor before being shocked by a vision of decomposing matter rising through her sink. She collapses backwards, unconscious, into the broken glass. Immobile on the floor, she bleeds.

When she wakens, the blood pooled around her head has dried. The bruises on her arms and legs are much worse, and now her face is growing a similar purple shade. Her back is covered in wet blood. She struggles to her feet and finds a wrapping for her still bleeding head. As she is bandaging herself, Julian arrives. Unable to even walk to the door to let him in, she shouts “come in” to him, and he does. Seeing her condition, he immediately tries to get her to go to a hospital. She’s still naked, her head is wrapped in a huge bandage, and every inch of her exposed skin is either corpse white or necrotic black and blue. She tried to kill him, and when he again mentions the hospital she kneels in front of him and then begins to fellate him. While this is in progress, his hand brushes into the hole in her skull from when she fell. She’s still bleeding. After he finishes, she spits the issue onto the ground, nearly vomiting, and without saying a word leaves the apartment. Again, she falls unconscious on the floor.

Pale

Pale

When she wakes, the bruises have spread. She struggles again to the bathroom, but before she can make it we witness her bladder and bowels voiding themselves on her legs. She collapses again.

We then get to see a strange interlude. Laura is dead on a table, with none of the decomposition seen to this point. An unidentified man in a lab coat begins sawing into her body with a scalpel, causing her to pulse sexually as he pulls out some organs. He walks to a cage wherein we see nude Antoine and Julian, who roar at each other like dogs to feed on the scraps of her meat.

“Another”

She wakens again. Now her limbs are midnight black. And the blotches cover her torso and most of her face. She struggles to the bathroom where she tries to apply makeup futilely, but in frustration she shatters her mirror and cuts her hands terribly. She weeps as she plucks glass shards from her hands. We see closeups of puss oozing from her head wound, before a cut takes us to her lying in bed, writhing in pain. The sheets are soaked with black fluids. She scratches an itch between her legs, and a river of red issues forth. Again, unconsciousness.

Dark

Dark

When she wakes, morning has come. She tapes black plastic bags, sheets, anything to keep out the daylight, She wraps her feet and hands, which are now little more than black lumps of flesh, perpetually oozing. She pours herself an icebath and sits in it. Along the way her pinkie finger snaps. She fills mason jars with alcohol and deposits the pinkie in one.

It is not clear whether the next scene is a fantasy as she masturbates again, or if it actually occurs and she later masturbates to the memory. Anotoine arrives, and is disgusted by the state of Laura and the state of her home. She attacks him with a hammer, and straddles him while shattering his skull with a hammer. Maggots from her body writhe on his new corpse. She deposits broken parts of her body into the mason jars.

“Oneself”

Near the end now.

Near the end now.

Julien arrives saying “I came as fast as I could,” but he is repulsed by the state of the home. Her body at this point is black everywhere, bandages hold her skin on her body, and she lies in the bed and moans at him to fuck her. He begs her to go to the hospital, but she calls him a coward and a fucker. “I thought you loved me you fuck” She stabs him to death with a kitchen knife.

She takes another ice bath, and as she exits it she begins the final crawl across the apartment. Her skin is sluicing off, she leaves a trail of herself behind as she goes past Julian’s dead body. Her body is barely clinging together. Finally, in the hall, her bones release the flesh and with a final inhuman howl her existance ends.

 

 

 

 

Big finish.

Big finish.

This was a struggle. I like to consider myself someone with an iron constitution when it comes to truly brutal films but Thanatomorphose still packs the punch that I remember from the Canadian premiere at Fantasia two years ago. Do I have a soft spot for this thing, it being a Montreal production? Sure.

This was great. Apart from the rotting animal corpse montage which I found somewhat cliche, the film was terrifyingly uncompromising in its approach. This woman has lost meaning in her life, she no longer respects herself, and thus, she is already the walking dead. While high in concept, this is low in execution. The attention to detail is a wonder to behold, and in the director’s Q&A at the end of the premiere he mentioned that they actually researched medical journals on the states of decomosition for a human corpse. See, now, this was educational, too.

All that said, like I mentioned at the start about people walking out on a movie, this wasn’t an easy ride. The film is so gratuitously moist, and so bleak, by the time its 100 minutes are over you’ll feel as if hours have gone by. You’ll be sweaty in uncomfortable places. A little sore from being tense.

On a scale of 0 to AWESOME this movie is like a box jellyfish. A marvel of creation, beautiful when seen in a certain light, but if you’re stung the injury can still pain you months later.

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