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Film Review: La Raiz del Mal (2008)

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SYNOPSIS:

Men are brutally murdered, while the women are kidnapped and taken to the depths of the forest where they take part in a bloody ritual

REVIEW:

One of the best parts of reviewing these crazy, nasty, gory horror movies is being able to “discover” a film or filmmaker I’ve not been familiar with previously. There is so much good horror coming out right now from all around the world, I would imagine I’m only familiar with a very small sample. But today I can add a new one to my ever-expanding list: La Raiz del Mal (translated to The Root of Evil), written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Adrian Cardona (you may be familiar with his work on the anthology film Zombieworld, which features his short film, Fist of Jesus). This movie fits somewhere between Sam Raimi/Evil Dead and Troma, which in my opinion is a pretty great place to be.

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The actual storyline of La Raiz del Mal is somewhat confusing, but that is easily forgiven. We open with the story of a peaceful kingdom, and a magic tree that grows at the scene of a bloody battle. The king and his men go to the scene and find fruit growing from the tree. They eat the fruit, and they promptly become violent, killing each other. Cut to the future, where a village is tormented by creatures from the forest, and two more flashbacks attempt to bring us up to speed only to end up making things even stranger, but by then we’re just reveling in the practical effects and the bloody gore anyway. By the climax, not everything makes sense, but I’m not sure that we care, because what a wild ride we’ve been on.

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There are characters involved here, though. After a young girl and her grandfather are seemingly murdered by the forest itself, we meet our protagonist Ara (Eva Puerta) and her girlfriend Elean (Maria Castillo). After doing chores with her mother (Victoria Roldan), Ara meets Elean down by the river for some secretive alone time. Meanwhile, people start dying, including a search party sent into the forest to look for a missing girl. Ara and Elean are attacked but escape, then make their way to the town, where there is a bloody battle going on between villagers and walking tree creatures. Ara is thrown down a well, Elean and Ara’s mother are captured, and everyone else is killed. For real, EVERYONE. Ara then sets out on a rescue mission that brings with it chaos, gore, and plenty of smiles from the audience.

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I absolutely loved the “creatures” in this movie. At first we have tree roots and vines grabbing people and tearing them apart, along with a bit of camerawork that makes it obvious that director Cardona is a Sam Raimi fan. Later, we get the actual cloaked things, vicious monsters that seem to be made out of tree parts(?). And then there is Hum (Adrian Baslino), who at first seems like a normal, albeit weird, bald dude who lives in the forest, until we realize that he is actually a servant of the forest with monster parts of his own (see Tromeo and Juliet for a hint). Spoiler-ish warning: these creatures want to reproduce, which is where Hum comes in, but he doesn’t seem to be compatible, and the results are crazy disastrous.

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La Raiz del Mal is far from a perfect film. Lots of loose ends, unbelievable leaps, and silliness abound. But it is clever and fun, and that should count for something. Cardona and company do a really good job of making the best of a low budget, and they do so in a fairly unique way. There are a couple spots, mostly in the realm of flashbacks or other time-advancing scenes, where they use shadow imagery in place of elaborate set changes or additional characters. Think of the scene from 1981’s Clash of the Titans where Ray Harryhausen used shadows to show the transformation of Calibos from human to beast, but on a much smaller and less game-changing scale. This is also a very brutal and gory film, with plenty of blood and torn apart bodies and other assorted weird stuff for all the sickos out there. La Raiz del Mal is a hidden gem, and it will appeal to fans of creature features and low budget horror, as well as the previously mentioned Raimi and Troma fanbases. Personally, I loved it and hope to see lots more from this director.

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