A Mexican curandero – a kind of spiritual troubleshooter – helps a detective to track down a vicious gang leader who dabbles in black magic.
Unusual but incomprehensible, this horror / action movie scores high on originality but low on execution, marred as it is by a mangled narrative and flat performances. Carlos Gutierrez (Carlos Gallardo) is a curandero, an important figure in Mexican communities. Blessed with the gift of foresight, he acts as a spiritual jack-of-all-trades – part fortune teller, part priest, part psychologist and part exorcist. But Carlos has a serious problem of his own with which no-one can help: he is losing his faith.
Then one day sexy federal agent Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea) walks into his life. She’s looking for Carlos’s father, himself a renowned curandero who had once helped Magdalena when she was a little girl. Now all grown up, she specializes in investigating cases related to black magic and Satanic cults. Her current case involves the Castaneda (Gabriel Pingarron), the leader of a Satanic, drug-trafficking cult responsible for numerous murders and disappearances in Mexico City. Castaneda had recently been captured but has escaped, leaving only an empty police cell and a trail of butchered bodies.
Magdalena wanted to enlist the aid of Carlos’s father to purify the police station where Castaneda was being held – the police officers now believe the building is cursed and refuse to enter it. Carlos tells her his father died some years ago but offers his own skills instead. Reluctantly, Magdalena agrees. Carlos performs the purification, earning the grudging respect of Magdalena’s commander, but she realizes that Carlos is simply going through the motions. Confronting him, he tells her that curses, purification and the like are all merely superstition and should be treated as such; any help he can offer is purely psychological.
Mexico has a long and honourable tradition of horror cinema, going back almost as far as Mexican film history itself. Not surprising really, considering the influence of religion – and the Catholic faith in particular – over much of the population. CURANDERO follows very much in that tradition but brings it bang up to date by melding religious themes with some of the real-life issues currently troubling Mexico, namely drug cartels and a seemingly unstoppable wave of violent crime.
The idea of a curandero is an interesting one and, in my experience at least, unique in horror movies. As an atheist who lives in a mostly secular society (the UK), the extent to which religion still dominates in others parts of the world and the extent to which superstitious beliefs are a part of everyday life is a source of great fascination to me. So in that respect CURANDERO works very well: the central idea is both engaging and intriguing.
Unfortunately that promising idea isn’t supported by any kind of narrative control. I had to watch big chunks of the movie twice because I had no idea what was going on, where the action had shifted to and what had happened to various characters. Similarly, the acting – apart from Pingarron, who overacts like mad as the chief villain – is totally flat and devoid of charm. I should qualify that by saying the dialogue has been dubbed into English, badly, and as with most badly dubbed films it’s very difficult to assess the quality of the original performance. Having said that, Carlos Gallardo is not the most charismatic performer and Galatea is far too glamorous to make a convincing federal agent. There’s no excuse though for the appalling wooden delivery of the dubbed English dialogue; it’s of a standard that would have shamed the video games industry twenty years ago. You can’t help but wonder what Robert Rodriguez – who wrote the original screenplay – would have made out of it all.
Curandero: Dawn of the Demon (2005)