Spanish Horror Arrebato Seduces its Characters and Audience Alike | DIFF 2023
A director and his editor argue over the ending of a vampire movie. ‘We can’t use this take’ the editor pleads, ‘she’s looking directly into the camera’. The director refuses to watch another take. He argues that looking into the camera tells the audience the woman on film is happy with her choice of everlasting life as a vampire. Is this newly turned vampire truly happy? The director doesn’t seem to care.
When the dispirited director, José (Eusebio Poncela), returns home an unwanted visitor awaits. José is haunted by his ex-partner and actress Ana (Cecilia Roth). Unable to wake her, José accepts his fate and spiritlessly shoots up instead in Arrebato’s most disturbing and graphic scene. Another ghost from José’s past appears, that of Pedro (Will More), who has sent him a homemade film. As the squirrelly José struggles to get his house in order and watch the film, his face and body deflating more and more with each humiliating effort, we venture back in time to the first meeting of these two men.
José is introduced to Pedro, a small-town budding filmmaker, by another former lover and addict. At first Pedro seems standoffish, both men willing to watch one another from afar, observers not actors. Later that night Pedro suddenly appears behind José and shocks him but this fear quickly turns to intrigue as an open-mouthed José watches Pedro’s reflection on a television screen. The lines between hunting and seduction are blurred as a score that blends nursery rhymes and animal sounds swells, but soon Pedro captures and beds his prey. The two men recognise each other as ‘static creatures’ addicted to drugs, addicted to sex, and addicted to cinema. This is what drew José to Ana as well, she later pleads with him to either make a movie with her, make a baby with her, or take acid with her, the characters constantly turning back to eachother in a circle of static ecstasy.
When asked what type of films he makes, José cannot answer, but he takes a budding interest in Pedro’s amteur but deeply emotional work. Pedro is inspired as well and leaves his small town to journey to Madrid. Pedro is so seduced by the almost alien city and all its carnal and hallucinatory delights, that he neglects his first vice, cinema. But the vampiric camera refuses to loosen its grip on Pedro’s neck. Every four nights, Pedro is ‘raptured’ on film and suddenly both he and José are inspired again. While José is snorting blow off the ground and making cheap vampire movies in the hope of getting his career off the ground, Pedro believes that he is on the verge of capturing real footage of one.
The second half of the film is when Arrebato truly comes to life, as Pedro’s final days play out on film for his captive audience. José struggled to watch his early work but now he can’t look away, even as Ana does her best Betty Boop impression to beguile him. To see the final rapture, José travels to Pedro’s apartment where he is once again seduced into bed. This time, however, he is alone, the only remnants of Pedro playing out on film. José is shortly raptured too. The static creatures, José and Pedro were drawn together because they could both spend years looking at movies and not regret it and they are trapped together within the frame forever. Unlike the vampire in José’s film, his eyes are covered conveying no expression. He has followed his artistic influence down a rabbit hole, but has his rapture provided him ecstasy in everlasting art or is he doomed to remain in cinema purgatorio forever.
Early in the film, Pedro states that cinema allows for a mirror to open its doors so the audience can see the other and this film plays as a funhouse mirror image of director Iván Zulueta, a rural cinephile that moved to Madrid to pursue filmmaking. Sadly this is the final feature film for both the on-screen character and the director, as Zulueta’s addiction issues derailed his directorial career. But Zulueta’s legacy lives on celluloid, as Arrebato has scary and sexy imagery that will seduce new victims and viewers forever.