36 pasos is a 2006 Argentine horror film directed and written by Adrián García Bogliano
36 Pasos (aka 36 Steps, or according to the subtitles in the movie itself, The Thirty-Six Trap, either translation working as well as the other) is the kind of movie that you watch and then try and pinpoint what it reminds you of. It’s the kind of movie you want to call a friend and talk about, but knowing they haven’t seen it you instead just get mad at them. It’s the kind of movie that makes you angry with yourself that you hadn’t already seen it before now. 36 Pasos, in my not so humble opinion, really is that good.
Adrian Garcia Bogliano (director of I’ll Never Die Alone, Penumbra, and most recently the “B is for Bigfoot” section of The ABCs of Death) wrote and directed 36 Pasos, and most of the actors played additional roles on the crew as well, which is probably how this movie was able to be created for the reported budget of $5,000. But don’t let that dollar amount sway you into low expectations, because this movie will hit you upside the head like a giant bearded guy with a sledgehammer if you let your guard down.
The movie starts innocently enough with two male friends driving down a dark road, making jokes about each others’ mothers and searching for some legendary house of ill repute that only truckers know about. As they speed along down the road, they aren’t paying attention, and accidentally plow into a woman who had wandered onto the roadway. They get out of the car to check on her and see there is blood everywhere, she is missing a leg, and she’s coughing up blood with the last of her breaths. They panic and get back in the car, leaving her for dead. As their tail-lights fade into the distance, we are left with an ominous feeling as another figure walks onto the screen and drags the dead woman into the woods.
Just as the Wrong Turn/monsters in the woods vibe is becoming established, we suddenly find ourselves watching a house full of young girls in bikinis. They are spraying each other with a hose, hopping up and down, blowing bubbles, all to the tune of “Ten Little Indians” (this may or may not be symbolic). They’re making a cake, blowing up balloons for a party, and bickering over chores and stolen personal items, and we start thinking this is what it would be like if Larry Clark directed The Real World. An angry girl runs outside, and all of the others run to the window to see if she is really going to leave, making us wonder if there may be more to this “party” than it seems. When she comes back in, she goes to her room to cry and finds a package under her pillow. It inexplicably contains the chain blade to a chainsaw (which is only the beginning when it comes to surprises that the girls are given). And just as we begin to contemplate this mystery gift, we cut to the girls doing a choreographed MTV style dance in the living room. When the music starts to skip, the angry girl from earlier flips out and breaks the cd, demanding that the others join her in her escape, saying that they outnumber “them.” And then… something happens. I’m not going to spoil it, but I promise it took me by surprise and pushes the movie in a whole other direction.
As we move forward, we see that these girls are, indeed, being held against their will, but why and by whom is very much up in the air. We are also presented with a bit of a back story on each girl, sometimes in flashbacks, once in complete reverse action (very Irreversible-like in its brutality and emotion). While we are learning the back stories, including that of a girl who did try and leave, we are also presented with the six rules of the house that the girls must follow. In full disclosure, this gets a little confusing, as we cut from present to flashback to side story to flashback to present in rapid fire edits. It looks great, but it definitely takes your full attention to soak in the entire story (of course, this is what the “Rewind” button is for).
This movie is at times Saw meet America’s Next Top Model, at other times a wholly original take on the “trapped in a house” sub-genre. It is equal parts Funny Games and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but at no point a rehashing of either. It seems to take as much influence from reality television shows and MTV as it does from thriller and horror movies, and I think that is what makes it really stand out. It is different from what you expect at the start, it is different from anything I’ve seen, yet it nods its sick and depraved head in the direction of everything I could ever want from a horror movie. The style is great, the look is good, the music is well-chosen, both the soundtrack and the score. There is plenty of blood and gore, but the story does not rely on that in the least. And the mystery remains, throughout the movie, but with little clues dropped here and there (at one point, there is a Battle Royale poster on the wall caught at the edge of the frame, and after finishing the movie, that part stuck in my head as far more important than it first seemed).
Bogliano is a director that now has my full attention. And seeing how this is but one of seventeen films that he has directed (including a handful of early short films), I have plenty of movies to work through. He knows how to put together just enough gore and dark humor, without over-doing either one, and combine with it a great story that keeps the viewers’ eyes wide open and imaginations running wild. 36 Pasos is further proof that other countries (in this case, Spain) seem to have their finger directly on the pulse of all that is good in horror.
36 Pasos (2006)