★★★★ If you have a stomach for extreme violence
★★1/2 If you can’t handle it
Nati Morti will kick your ass, rip out your guts, and rub them all over your face. It is not, however, a non-stop gore festival. It has a big story to tell, and it has some moments of real poignancy. But, yes, you will need to be able to handle getting your guts ripped out.
Directed by Alex Visani
If you are a fan of European horror extremism, remember the name Alex Visani. He may very well become one of your favorite directors. If you have a weak stomach for strong and emotionally wrenching violence, his name on the poster may serve as a warning sign to stay away.
Luna (Ingrid Monacelli) is a reclusive taxidermist who is obsessed with the process of death, dying, and preservation. She is the heir to a lovely villa in Umbria, Italy, where she lovingly restores dead creatures to frozen memory. One fateful day, she travels out to scavenge for creature carcasses, and she discovers two bodies lying in ta field: one, a corpse of a young woman, and the other a badly wounded man, Tony (Lorenzo Lepori), who is barely alive.
Rather than reporting her discoveries to the local authorities, she packs the two back to her studio. Her morbid curiosity has taken over, unleashing a treasure trove of possibilities and a descent into wicked schemes and horrific violence.
Nati Morti (English translation: Born Dead) is a beautifully constructed and thematically powerful film. It uses its horror sparingly, retaining its power for maximum impact. Like a corpse, the color has been drained from this film. Not completely, but it is desaturated to the point of being largely grey. I, for one, was grateful for the desaturation, as the gore in the movie has the potential to be overwhelming.
This film will be highly satisfying to a pretty select audience. You will need patience, as this is first and foremost a character study of Luna. You will also need a very strong stomach for visceral violence. More than just gory, it is mean, explicit, and painful to watch in ways that most gory moments are not. Even the violence to corpses, long dead, is highly disturbing.
There are some plot holes, or perhaps rather character blunders, in the story. Most of these are relative to the consideration that the crimes that occur in this movie are not done carefully enough not to be discovered. However, this could be attributed to the relatively short timeframe in which this movie takes place. Or, perhaps the Umbria Polizia are just slow on the uptake.
It is unusual that there are not more horror movies that highlight taxidermy as a central theme. If you do bring it out as a trope, you had better be willing to capitalize on it, though. The opening credits of Nati Morti feature a loving and beautiful reconstruction of a bird and all the craft and care that needs to go into it. It would be fair to say, without spoiling anything, that the movie comes full circle in a very satisfying way.
Alex Visani had previously directed the gruesome body horror of Stomach. With this addition to his legacy, I think you need to include him with the other young European directors producing extreme horror. He belongs alongside Julia Ducournau and Can Evrenol as bringing the next wave of boundary-pushing horror.
In Visani’s filmed introduction to the movie, he attributed the influence of Joe D’Amato’s 1979 Giallo film Buio Omega (Beyond the Darkness), and you can definitely draw some strong parallels with the disturbed taxidermist theme of that movie. Here’s hoping he sticks in the genre to continue the great Italian horror tradition of D’Amato, Bava, Argento, Deodato, and Fulci. It’s a legacy worth extending.
I applaud The Portland Horror Film Festival for scheduling movies like this for its festival. There is a chance that a movie like this might not get a streaming release in the US, or at least for a while. It also signals to horror fans coming to the event that they are not messing around, there will be capital H horror. As much as I love the horror-comedies, thought-provoking psychological thrillers, and spooky ghost stories, a grip your armrests and get nasty gory feature really puts the stamp of horror credibility on the proceedings.
Nati Morti will almost certainly need to remain unrated, though there is an outside chance it could get an R-Rating.