Anya heads out for a night of partying with her friends, Rick and Mariana. She stalls when things get too hot and heavy between her and Rick so then he makes a move on Mariana. So Anya storms out of the party and grabs a taxi. She passes out on the ride home and wakes up in a locked room. She has been kidnapped by Emilio who will psychologically torment and physically assault her. Anya’s only hope is that she can overcome her captor and escape.
Within the first 15 minutes of the debut feature horror film Erik Zavala we have a central character get rejected for not putting out, get kidnapped and then almost immediately raped by her captor. Indeed, the first thing Emilio does when Anya wakes up is enter the room and rape her. Sure Anya attempts to make a plea for release, bribe him with money, instead Emilio grabs her and rapes her. We get no explanation as to why he has kidnapped her or what he wants. Instead he bends her over the table and savagely fucks her.
This is Zavala setting the mood. This is his debut feature horror film. This is how he chose to introduce himself to the horror community. Almost immediately he alienates half of his potential viewing audience.
Making what is essentially a combination of the chamber and torture films should be logistically easier. You need only one location (save for the bookend scenes which set up and conclude the story) and your story only involves the hostage woman and her captor. It is a format that works best with a limited amount of resources. What it does not allow is for Zavala to give us anything more than an okay character film with a limited amount of mise-en-scene.
Within the genre you ask a lot from your lead actress, a lot more commitment physically with a broader emotional scope and to that end Maria Fernanda Tovar does her best. Veteran Mexican actor Gustavo Sanchez Parra is pretty much one-note here, just be an asshole.
The film builds up to its inevitable moment where Anya gets her revenge, mutilates her captor and escapes. We are not giving away anything here. This is what you expect to happen in this kind of film. If she does not escape we the audience, if engaged by the film, are still bound to her pain and suffering. After near ninety minutes of torture and abuse, her escape is our escape. It justifies sitting through what came before it.
We would rather not give up the twist that Zavala throws at us at the end of his film. But having sat through Anya’s mental and physical torture it is hard to say if this reveal at the end is some form of recovery Zavala attempts to make up for sitting us through over an hour of physical and psychological abuse. To make a new statement in the last minutes of your story and change up the perspective a bit, it is almost insulting that he thinks he can turn it around with this little dipsy doodle at the end. We believe we understand what Zavala is trying to say here, about the psyche, about the responses to deep hurt, but the conclusion to Zavala’s film is that it insists that something is still horribly wrong with Anya.
It also begs the question, how much longer is the global genre audience willing to sit through a film where a woman is held hostage, belittled, tortured, and raped? The locked woman in a basement trope is tired and old. It is sad to think that it may never run out of steam, but as long as there are men who love watching women be dominated, ridiculed and assaulted?
When will have we reached the point where portraying locked up, mentally abused and physically assaulted women is no longer considered entertainment? We’d rather been done with the whole subgenre all together but If someone insists on making more of these films then we need to turn the tables and have more tortured men in basement films.