{Movie Review} Skull: The Mask (2020)

About ten years ago my mother and I rented The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo without realizing it was filmed in Swedish with English subtitles. A few seconds after hitting play, my mother ended movie night when she popped up from the couch and said, “Nope, I don’t read movies.” Now, in her defense, subtitles were nearly impossible to read on her 27 inch Zenith television. In fact, once she finally saw the movie on a larger screen, she crushed all three movies in a weekend. As for me, I don’t love subtitles, but I’ve never stormed from the room because of them either. So unless you plan to watch Skull: The Mask on a tiny mid-nineties television, you will love reading this movie.

Watching Skull: The Mask, subtitles and all, made me feel like I was witnessing the birth of the lovechild of Quentin Tarantino, Clive Barker, and Robert Rodriguez after they secretly collaborated to create one of the most epic low-budget demon slasher movies of all time.

This movie has everything you would expect from a Tarantino/Barker/Rodriguez test-tube-baby: hand-to-hand combat, a massive body count, psychedelic realms, campy gore, choppy transitions, grindhouse cinematography, a strong female lead, and a priest versus demon sword fight. When added up, this will make the world premier of the Brazilian slasher film Skull: The Mask a huge fan favorite at the Chattanooga Film Festival. 

Written and directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman, Skull is a well done slasher film with a demonic twist. Typically, the slasher genre expects its viewers to disregard logical reasoning. Viewers are never given any explanation for the killer’s superhuman strength, ability to catch Olympic sprinters while walking, or take fifteen rounds to the face with nothing more than a slight pause. In Skull, all these issues are explained by the mask of Anhangá, the executioner for the mythological demon, T’Uxlu. T’Uxlu is the guardian of the Underworld Tahawantinsupay—The Entrance Collector of the Four Worlds. Despite looking like One-Eyed Willie wearing a cinder block crown while sitting on a throne that is floating through a Grateful Dead version of outer space, he’s still a powerful entity that needs blood to regain power. So it all makes sense when the person wearing the mask of Anhangá is repeatedly stabbed, or shot, or lit on fire and manages to survive. 

Another shift from the classic slasher films of the past, is the absence of the dainty final girl. Instead, Skull gives us the conflicted but tough detective, Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues). She’s driven, clever, strong, and seeking redemption, but still rough enough around the edges to fight a demon outside the scope of police protocols. We learn right away that she is also in charge of the search for three missing children, and that she was accused of murdering a child back in 2005, but was later acquitted. Will her actions be enough to clear her conscience or are some mistakes too grave to be absolved? It is Rodrigues’ complexity that really helps ground the film. Without having a strong character to believe in, Skull would have run itself too wild. 

Make no mistake about it, from the opening chokeslam and decapitation, Skull proudly owns its slasher label. The film kicks off with some grainy, grindhouse style footage from the 1944 military experiment of soldiers trying to summon the ancient demon. As is often the case when summoning demons, things go terribly wrong. The grainy shots are replaced with beautiful HD quality as the film jumps to modern day, when a team discovers the ancient mask of Anhangá with plans to bring it to a museum in São Paulo. Once the mask arrives, an amateur ritual is performed and all hell breaks loose. The mask starts killing everyone in sight until it finds the perfect host, which comes in the form of a man in charge of cleaning up the first crime scene. However, once the mask gets a hold of him, he immediately begins to shed blood rather than clean it up. 

This is where the film finds its stride as an action thriller with a lot of gore. Instead of jump scares, Skull gives us escalating kills and just enough backstory to keep us interested. We are quickly introduced to a shady museum curator and his hired mercenaries, a secret group of defenders who’ve anticipated T’Uxlu’s return, and the truth of detective Obdias’ past. All this takes place while people from every corner of São Paulo are being butchered. Obdias’ primary suspect becomes Munco Ramirez (Wilton Andrade) who is the son of one of the defenders who was killed in the opening scene. Ramirez is guided by his father’s severed hand, which he wears as a necklace, on his quest to fulfill his father’s destiny. With no time to explain himself, he has no choice but to avoid being detained by police while simultaneously trying to track down and kill the demon. 

While Skull certainly has its flaws and leaves many questions unanswered, its tension, carnage, and plot twists create one hell of a gore-filled good-time that will have the late-night movie watchers cheering from their couches as they stream this year’s festival online. 

Courtesy of Raven Banner

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