★1/2 out of ★★★★★ A giant pile of poorly executed clichés makes a crappy movie in any language.
Directed by Luciano Onetti and Nicolás Onetti.
Argentina. 1985. Villa Epecuén.
Some of our Scariest Readers might know about this place — especially our Argentinian contingent — but this was a new discovery for me. Sitting on the picturesque shores of the salt water lake that shares its name, Villa Epecuén sprung up in the early 1920s and enjoyed a bustling tourist trade as a lakeside resort town for decades.
Bustling, that is, until November 6, 1985 when a freakish weather event ruptured a dam and broke the dyke protecting the town. The townspeople were forced to flee and Villa Epecuén was buried under 10m of salt water. Bodies in the cemetery floated out of their graves, buildings collapsed, and all plant life died. About 25 years later, the waters finally receded leaving behind lifeless salt-encrusted ruins.
What The Waters Left Behind was written and directed by Argentine brothers Luciano Onetti and Nicolás Onetti (originally the movie came out as Los Olvidados or “The Forgotten”). When making this movie, the brothers said that they were inspired by one of their favorite horror classics, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). And who can blame them? That movie is one of the genre’s gold standards and has inspired hundreds of movies that came after it.
The key word being “inspired“.
Inspired means “motivated”. Inspired means “influenced”. Inspired doesn’t mean “straight up copy everything you can without getting sued by Tobe Hooper’s estate”. Slaughterhouse? Check. Dubious meat snacks at a creepy gas station? Check. Family of cannibals? Check. The list goes on. And on. And on.
There are very few original elements in What The Waters Left Behind and the ones that are there should have been left out. For example, when the first two victims get taken by the cannibals we’re briefly given these odd, red tinted, still-frame images of each protagonist. Only those two characters get that treatment. Other people get captured, but nobody else gets the “red snapshot”. So…. why?
It’s stuff like that which made the whole movie feel like it was a film school project. A film school project made by students who didn’t get along so they went off on their own to film different parts. In the last few minutes before it was due, they tried to stick them all together to make a movie. Is it a music video? Is it a showcase for aerial drone footage? Is it a revenge movie? C’mon, guys, pick a style and stick with it.
Technically speaking, What The Waters Left Behind is a cinematic train wreck. There are scene transitions that make no sense and leave the audience scratching its collective head. Wasn’t she just looking for her dog? What’s she running away from? Did I just pass out for a second? What’s happening?
The music selection goes from traditional horror movie score to extended segments of seemingly random pop music that often feels forced and out of place. It’s as if the filmmakers had an obligation to play certain songs so they stretched out the scenes to fit the songs. I swear that walk to the cemetery went on forever…
The dialog — or lack thereof — ensures that there isn’t a single character the audience feels like rooting for. They’re either inhumanly two dimensional, complete a-holes, or just plain confusing.
Initially, What The Waters Left Behind revolves around a young film crew heading to Epecuén (in an old van because “inspired” by Chainsaw) to make a documentary. Once there, they cross paths with a random guy who rarely speaks, has no name, and seems completely out of place. He’s apparently looking for a missing relative, but it’s like he wandered in from a different movie.
In the spirit of positivity, I do have to give kudos to the special effects team. There wasn’t a ton of it, but the things they did get to show off were very well done. Gory and painful looking. And with a budget over $1 million that’s what you’d hope for. So good job, guys! Sorry you didn’t get to do more.
I saw a number of reviews for this film giving it pretty good marks. For the most part, it sounded like those reviewers were saying What The Waters Left Behind is an “homage” to Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I guess because of that connection they were more forgiving. And strictly speaking, sure, I suppose it could be considered an homage to the 1974 classic.
But there’s nothing that says an homage can’t be crap.