TRAUMA - "Extreme Horror Grounded in History"

Sometimes I like to start a film review with a joke or two as I riff about something related to the film in question, but not this time. "Trauma" is a tough one, but at least I learned something along the way.

"Trauma" comes from Chilean writer/director Lucio A. Rojas who previously made films about kidnappings carried out by strange backwoods families ("Path") and mysterious epidemics ("Zombie Dawn") – and now he has moved on to something more disturbing and more personal.

The film begins in the early '70s, right in the middle of a military coupe. We see a woman bound and tortured – being forced to answer questions that she seemingly has no answers for. To punish her further, her captors bring in her teenage son who is forced at gunpoint to rape his mother. After a few moments – while this rape continues - the mother is shot in the head and killed while her son is forced to continue. This all happens in the first few minuted of the film, so I'm not spoiling anything. But I mention it in detail because this is how the film progresses, with brutal and lengthy scenes that will make most audience squirm in their seat and that's the point.

From here we move on to present day where we meet our main characters. Four women who are planning to take a trip together. We have Andrea, who is traveling with her younger sister Camila, Camila's girlfriend Julia, and their friend Magdalena to a remote rural area where they are staying at a cottage. But as they pass through town, they stir up the less than hospitable locals. Horror Movie 101 says that we'll be seeing these locals again real soon.

Now at the cottage, the girls talk, drink and relax. As Andrea notices that Julia is getting a little too comfortable with Magdalena, and starts to suspect that she hasn't been entirely faithful to her sister. Andrea is proving herself to be the responsible and caring older sister. The girl scout of the group. But before she can raise any red flags about Julia's conduct, the women are advanced upon by a pair of home invaders. Two men who they encountered back in town – one of which just so happens to Juan, the teenage boy who shared the unpleasantness with his mother.

Since the night with his mother, Juan has been irrecoverably scared. Altered to something less than human. Something that takes those acts for granted, and something that has continued to act out in that way ever since.

Each of the women helplessly watch as the two men proceed to take turns beating, torturing and sodomizing them one by one in graphic detail. Each attempting to escape one way or another.

So that's "Trauma" in a nutshell. You may have been able to tell from my plot description that this film is brutal, but if not, it's worth pointing out again. That this film is brutal! The attacks against these women are violent without the slightest hint of restraint and perverse in a way that is animalistic and humiliating.

"Trauma" has been referred to as “extreme horror”, akin to "A Serbian Film"> or perhaps "Salo". With that picture now painted I say, "Trauma" is NOT for everyone. There are gore hounds out there who like to push their own personal boundaries – to see what they can endure – searching for horror that represents what's unflinchingly real. If you AREN'T one of those people, "Trauma" might be too much for you.

While "Trauma" does represent a certain reality that isn't often seen on film - a reality that holds a place in Chilean history - I can't help but feel like this may be violence over substance. I say this because the story unfolds much like a typical slasher movie. Friends retreat to an isolated location to cut loose and unwind, and while they're there a seemingly unstoppable killer/s warps and twists the lives of the party goers before bringing them to an end ("The Last House on the Left"). But unlike great slasher movies that utilize suspense to build tension to terrify it's audience, Trauma relies on that grim “reality” to unsettle it's audience. But with this reality, there isn't any room for tension, and I think the film is less good for it.

Other than that I don't have any qualms about the technical aspects of the film. It's directed and acted well, and the finished product is beautifully polished – which juxtaposes the gore, torture and rape in a strange way.

I mentioned the film's connection to Chilean history, which may be the strength of "Trauma". Something that I, admittedly, am rather ignorant about. The military coup that takes place at the beginning of the film is something that occurred in the early '70s and was the result of an economic crisis in Chile. It's leader was replaced with Augusto Pinochet who spent the next sixteen years imprisoning, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of his own citizens. As a result, 200,000 people had been affected by "situations of extreme trauma" according to the Latin American Institute on Mental Health and Human Rights (ILAS). That is an incredible amount of human carnage, and has resulted in much of this film's namesake.

Since then, much has changed in Chile. The country has grown in leaps and bounds – becoming a more liberal and free country, but this is just one generation away from the horrors of it's previous totalitarian regime which leave the country in an odd place. Moving forward while not having properly recovered from, or let go of, it's past. This idea is at the heart of "Trauma". Modern Chile is being haunted by the ghosts of it's past.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about "Trauma". It's brutal violence makes the film less enjoyable and less effective as a traditional horror movie. But this also better serves the greater narrative that Lucio Rojas is trying to tell and in an honest way. So, make of that what you will.

"Trauma" has won several awards and been an official selection of some major film festivals, including the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, Mórbido Film Festival, Vancouver Badass Film Festival and HorrorHound Weekend.

"Trauma" has been made available on BLU-RAY, DVD & VOD by Artsploitation Films earlier this past month (October). So, if you think you can stomach "Trauma", check it out. And if you would care to learn a little more about the sorted history of Chile, visit here.


★ ★ ★ ½

"Four friends, partying in a house in the middle of nowhere are brutally attacked by a man and his son, forcing the remaining women to take vengeance upon them."