by Benjamín Harguindey
Subtitled “The Book of Hell” for dun dun dun effect, this Argentine attempt at homaging the mythos of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft is so misguided and tone-deaf in its execution that it makes for one embarrassing experience just waiting to be turned into a so-bad-it’s-good cult classic.
Directed by Marcelo Schapces, Necronomicón (2018) isn’t an adaptation of any one of Lovecraft’s works but rather has its genesis in the urban myth that Jorge Luis Borges, then President of the National Library, created an entry for the infamous Necronomicon – this an evil grimoire that features prominently in Lovecraft’s work, attributed to “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.
The protagonist is Luis (Diego Velázquez), an amalgamation of Lovecraft’s hapless scholars who slowly makes his way through a labyrinthine plot of nonsense that is only superficially like anything from the Cthulhu Mythos. Tasked with finding the fabled Necronomicon, he soon becomes entangled in a cosmic conspiracy that keeps throwing in new characters and subplots in an effort to seem important, none of which add up or make much sense. In fact it’s often hard to recall the cause for a scene or its consequences thereof; Necronomicón plays like a fever dream in which scenes could easily be reordered or altogether removed to no effect whatsoever.
Set in a broody Buenos Aires overcast with fake clouds and overlaid with a cheap rainy texture, the special effects undermine the movie’s atmosphere right off the bat, long before the appearence of lame CGI demons that would look at home in a 90s shooter. In fact the whole movie has the distinct look of a point-and-click adventure game made up with full motion video clips, right to the cheesy visuals, awkward dialogue, stilted delivery, constant cycling of a few handful of sets and its scavenger hunt-like plot.
The movie is otherwise populated by a rogues’ gallery of characters who have something of that seedy B-movie charm because they’re so gratuitously written. Best among them is Daniel Fanego as a fellow librarian with a vested interest in the Necronomicon. But you’d be hard-pressed to make much sense of Luis’ sister (María Laura Cali): lone, demented and bound to a wheelchair, she bargains with demonic voices in exchange to rip off gratuitously scenes from The Exorcist. How about Victoria Maturette as a femme fatale ready to take her clothes off in the name of arcane rituals that she seems to make up on the spot? Or those two homicide detectives that come out of the blue to give Luis the good cop, bad cop routine while wearing sunglasses and Reyn Spooners?
The weirdest part of the movie may be the role played by legendary Argentine actor Federico Luppi (last seen in Black Snow). Given top billing and a prominent chunk of promotional material, Luppi appears to have died mid-production and replaced via digital sorcery most slapdash. He (or his body double) appears in a handful of scenes, usually framed in a such way as to veil his identity; when his face is actually shown it’s not Luppi’s at all but an uncanny CGI death mask. It’s the kind of thing that takes you out of the movie even if you’re unaware of the backstage drama, so appalling is the execution. Why no just cut the whole part out of the movie? How badly do you want to bank on Luppi’s name?
Velázquez was very good in The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis and is serviceable here as the movie’s makeshift noir detective, perpetually perplexed and out of his depth. The art direction occasionally stands out when not mucked by cheap effects and provides a decent sense of ambience – many of the settings convey that derelict, rundown feel to the Lovecraft narrative. Directed by Marcelo Schapces, Necronomicón is clearly a work of love (it never gets more endearing than a cameo by Argentina’s resident literary fanboy, Juan Sasturain) that is all too incompetent to pull off an actually good movie.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).