Chile 1978 – A father, and agent of Pinochet’s regime, forces his son to participate in the interrogation and torture of a political prisoner.
Chile 2011 – Four women, sisters Andrea (Catalina Martin) and Camila (Macarena Carrere), their cousin Magdalena (Dominga Bofill) and Camila’s girlfriend Julia (Ximena del Solar) head into the country to a family cabin for a couple days of drinks and sun. On their way they stop by a local drinking hole for directions. Eyes linger a little too long and some of the locals get too close when Juan (Daniel Antivilo), the local tyrant, intercedes. The women clear out and head up to the cottage.
The drinks start flowing and Camila and Julia start fooling around with Magdalena when they discover that Juan is looking in on the party from the outside. He and his son, Mario (Felipe Rios), force their way into the cottage, then viciously terrorize and assault the women in a savage and deadly attack, raping and beating them to near death. The terror continues into the next day when the local constabulary get involved and Juan kidnaps a local child and takes her back to his trap ladened fortress.
If you make it past the prologue (Chile 1978) then you may stand a chance of making it all the way through Julio Rojas’ brutal and shattering horror film, Trauma. It fires an opening volley so fierce you’re left soul searching only minutes into the picture.
The connection is made fairly early on that Juan is the boy in the prologue, and that Juan’s father was no better to him than he was to his victims of the oppressive regime. Indoctrinated, brainwashed, forced to do heinous things, Juan carries on his father’s brutal legacy decades after the Pinochet regime has collapsed and has been terrorizing the locals in the area. We can see that he has been doing to same to his son, Mario, who looks to be following in ‘his’ father’s footsteps now.
The quickest comparison we can make to give you an idea of the brutal violence and explicit content that awaits viewers of Trauma is to say that it is on the same level as A Serbian Film. That film was also incredibly violent and graphic and tried to speak on a social level about Serbian culture. To what effect that the intended message came across is purely subjective to the viewer, if they could find it through all the brutal and sexual violence.
Unlike ASF the condemnation message in Trauma is more overt. You know that Rojas is speaking of the history and effects of the military coup in Chile. He has it plastered on the walls along with the blood and brains. There is no denying that Rojas does not think much of the dictatorship that terrorized his country over those years. Juan’s link to his father and those time is presented many times throughout the film, news clippings in his fortress, flashbacks to Juan’s indoctrination during the first years of the dictatorship, and goes as far as Juan singing an old military song in the climax as the survivors of his vicious assault attempt to rescue the local girl.
Thematically we believe there are two things that viewers will pick up on. If you are familiar enough with the military dictatorship era in Chile and know of the Human Rights violations and atrocities that occurred over just longer than a quarter of a century you will relate to that. For the rest of us, boy oh boy, does it have something to say about the sins of the fathers to their sons. Then to their sons. Then to their sons.
Trauma is easily one of the most brutal, graphic and disturbing horror films to have been made in recent memory. The physical and sexual assaults by Juan and Mario in the early goings are savage; Rojas does not hold back in his depiction of its brutality. During the Q&A following the screening the cast and Rojas revealed that the four leads insisted that Rojas go all in or not at all, lest the message in the film not get across. They filmed the assault/rape scene over three days. One of the actresses cried for the following two days. When the film is not near sexually explicit it is shockingly gory. Sometimes it is both at the same time. Yes, Trauma goes there.
Martin leads the four actresses portraying strength and resilience. Carrere emulates her sister’s strength by insisting they go after Juan, after being victimized and assaulted, and rescue the girl. Bohill is naive and fragile, giving us our the saddest and most heart breaking victim in many ways. Del Solar taps into her alt model career to provide enticement and an alluring target for Juan and Mario, the unintended spark to this raging inferno.
Then there is Daniel Antivilo who perfectly portrays Juan, raised to be a vicious bastard and thinks that he does no wrong. A character who still believes that the principles of the regime must live on with his efforts. He must believe that he is truly untouchable. Antivilio was asked to play the devil and even the devil must tip his hat to this gentleman for giving us one of the most terrible villains of the year.
I will admit that there is a point in the story, nearing the final act, when the let’s-give-guns-to-everyone approach to detaining of, and retaliation against Juan comes across a bit silly. The first time this happens is just savage and brutal. I also understand that Rojas has to keep his primary quartet involved in the story and the action but you just sense that he is sending in his lambs to the slaughter. However, Rojas and Trauma may also be suggesting that everyone, no matter what state of readiness they find themselves, broken by or having lost someone to the brutality of the regime, they must still stand up to its legacy of tyranny.
Trauma is without a doubt one of the most savage and brutal horror films to debut in the recent era. Complete with violence that is physical and sexual in nature in can hardly be dismissed as exploitative as director Lucio Rojas takes shot after shot at a military regime that devastated his homeland for more than a quarter of a century. I cannot say, due to the nature of the violence, that this is required viewing. I was quite surprised at the resilience of the audience during its world premiere as I only saw one walk out.
Filmmakers before us have given us an idea what an oppressive regime is capable of committing against its own people. Few, like Rojas, have given us reason to fight back against them.