DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY - THEATRICAL POSTER

Disappear Completely (2022) Review

“Photography converts the whole world into a cemetery. Photographers, connoisseurs of beauty, are also – wittingly or unwittingly – the recording-angels of death.”

Susan Sontag

Those words appear at the beginning of Disappear Completely, (Desaparecer Por Completo), and seem perfectly appropriate as we see Santiago (Harold Torres, México Bárbaro, Silent Night) sitting in his car listening to the police radio. He’s a photographer, and he’s waiting to hear what he’ll be covering next. He doesn’t have long to wait before he’s busy shooting pictures of a cuffed suspect, sobbing victims in an ambulance, and, with the help of a bribe, a woman’s corpse.

Santiago works for a Mexican tabloid, one that very firmly believes the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads”. And he’s excellent at capturing that bleeding on film, regardless of the cost. But unlike the photographers in Nightcrawler or The Ghouls, Santiago isn’t entirely one dimensional, he sees this as something to do until his more artistic photos start to catch on. And his apparent lack of empathy for anyone besides himself and, perhaps, his long time girlfriend Marcela (Tete Espinoza, Where the Tracks End, Tijuana).

Marcela

Things become more complicated when Marcela informs him she’s pregnant, not something he wants to hear. He cuts the conversation short to take an assignment, one that involves a bit of breaking and entering to get photos of a dead politician. It’s not long after that he notices his sense of smell has stopped working.

Director Luis Javier Henaine (Tiempos Felices, Ready To Mingle) and co-writer Ricardo Aguado-Fentanes (Indigenous Identity and Democracy in Mexico, American Curious) have delivered a low-key story of witchcraft and curses. Something that’s foreshadowed by the images under the opening credits. That’s not to say Disappear Completely is without effects or jump scares, it does, but not a lot.

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Instead, Disappear Completely concentrates on building atmosphere and a sense of dread as, day by day, his senses start to fail, and he realizes he’s been cursed. But when you’ve offended as many people as he has with his pictures, finding out who isn’t going to be easy and his reaction to the situation doesn’t make it any easier. It also doesn’t make it any easier for the viewer to care about a character who was already less than likeable when the film started.

Despite that, between the solid script by Henaine and Aguado-Fentanes as well as Torres’ performance that we actually do care at least somewhat about his fate as his situation becomes more desperate, and he’s forced to go from placing his hope on doctors and medicine to the local Bruja (Norma Reyna, Huesera: The Bone Woman, The Load). That however does lead to a scene around the hour mark, that severely diminished how much I cared, and I suspect may have a similar effect on more than a few other viewers.

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As the film moves into its final acts, Henaine makes a bold choice, as Santiago’s hearing and eyesight starts to fail the film’s sounds become muffled and distorted and the picture blurred so we see and hear things as he does until he can’t hear. That leaves parts of it playing in complete silence and, unless you can lip-read Spanish, incomprehensible. That takes quite a bit of impact out of Disappear Completely’s climax.

Despite that rather severe misstep, Disappear Completely still manages to be an unnerving film and like Evil Eye deserves recognition as another solid tale of witchcraft in modern day Mexico. It also has something to say about the way exposure to the more sensational media outlets, tabloid newspapers, social media, etc, can desensitize people, which is unnerving in its own right.

Disappear Completely will be available on Netflix on April 12th.

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