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SKULL: THE MASK (2021) Review

Neil reviews SKULL: THE MASK, available to stream now on Shudder, calling it “chaotic but extremely compelling.”

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Skull: The Mask (Shudder)

Written and directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman, who previously co-directed 2016’s Uptake FearSkull: The Mask stars Brazilian wrestling champion Rurik Jr., Wilton Andrade, Natallia Rodrigues, Ivo Müller, Ricardo Gelli Guta Ruiz, Gilda Nomacce and Tristan Aronovich. The film is available to stream now via Shudder.

Synopsis

In this splatter-filled supernatural slasher, a Pre-Columbian artifact contains the spirit of Anhangá, the executioner of the god Tahawantinsupay. Whoever wears the masked is possessed by Anhangá and compelled to commit sacrifices to resurrect his god. It’s up to a museum assistant and a policewoman to stop the slaughter before the ritual is completed. A throwback treat for fans of ‘80s slashers and gory practical effects.

Review

If you’re searching for the kind of horror film which doesn’t hold back when it comes to gore then Skull: The Mask is absolutely the film for you. Written and directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman, the film is a veritable romp through São Paulo at the hands of an evil, Pre-Columbian spirit.

The film is at times bizarrely over-the-top, leaving very few hearts intact and seizing every opportunity to carve open a human thorax. But by committing entirely to its subject matter Skull: The Mask pulls off the impossible and coalesces into a very compelling watch.

Fonseca and Furman’s script is a little haphazard. An opening Nazi-gorefest indicates to the viewer that the film isn’t going to hold back in any way. But also communicates perfectly that Skull: The Mask takes its cues from late-night TV horror and not the more sophisticated movies of today. However in its chaos the film’s story finds a flow that is undeniably appealing.

The opening act cleverly leads us in a number of different directions. The aforementioned Nazi scenes lead us from 1944 to the present day where we meet an archaeologist and her girlfriend. It seems, momentarily like these two may be our window in to the film. The younger, more naive, of the two seems wholly game for some black magic and conjures forth Anhangá to wreak some havoc. Of course she is promptly ripped open and loses her heart. As does her tomb raiding girlfriend.

Nope, no lead characters here.

The crime scene is then inspected by two forensic workers. In one of the film’s best practical effects moments the skull grows tendrils and prompts rips out the heart of the first guy. The second becomes entombed in the mask in what is arguably the darker version of what could have happened to Jim Carrey back in 1994.

Whilst the poor guy in the mask becomes our de facto Anhangá, Skull: The Mask has still yet to give us our lead. Though it doesn’t entirely detract from the narrative flow, it does feel odd to take so long to reach a protagonist. But perhaps arguably we’re having too much fun with the perceived antagonist to require a hero?

Despite this the film moves at an impressive pace. The body count quickly racks up in truly gory style but so too does the ambition of each setup. A costume party massacre is easily the highlight of the film. It’s colourful and features some inspired costume and makeup design. But it’s also kill after kill played with brilliantly tongue-in-cheek campiness. The whole film lands on the right side of preposterous and is all the better for it.

Ultimately with a film like Skull: The Mask it’s the effects which will help make or break it. Thankfully the design-work here is flawless. The mask itself looks authentic and imposing, even when played for kitschy laughs. The level of blood work is equally impressive, especially as each victim is carved open.

Verdict

Skull: The Mask survives its bloodbath as a chaotic but extremely compelling watch.


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