Disappear Completely


The truly impressive slice of nightmare fuel, “Disappear Completely,” premiering on Netflix today after a successful fest circuit run that included Fantastic Fest, almost feels like John Carpenter or Wes Craven’s “Nightcrawler.” Yeah, horror fans out there have probably already stopped reading this review and set about watching it. You’re welcome.

Luis Javier Henaine’s film reminded me of classic works by Craven and Carpenter wherein deeply flawed men who think they know everything about the world discovered there are things well outside of their control in films like “Serpent and the Rainbow” and “In the Mouth of Madness.” Also like those films, “Disappear Completely” has the feel of a slow-motion car crash. While it’s gorgeously shot, Henaine doesn’t allow for a lot of hope. His protagonist thinks he can find a way out of his downward spiral. We know that’s unlikely to happen.

Our doomed hero this time is a photographer named Santiago (Harold Torres), an insensitive guy who’s always looking for the best shot, no matter how many moral boundaries he has to cross to get it. He’s not exactly loathsome, but he skirts lines of right and wrong, and one gets the sense that his struggles in his life and career are likely his own fault, even if he can’t see that. When he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, he handles it in a way that isn’t exactly compassionate. It would probably mess with his career. Before the film even gets to its story of sensory numbness, she tells Santiago, “I see the exact opposite of what you see.” It feels like his perception has always been a little skewed. That’s about to become his reality.

His pursuit of the next grisly photo to sell to magazines leads him into a home where a body looks to have been eaten by rats. Lit by flashlight from an officer, he takes a photo and slaps a gruesome headline on it (“Say Cheese!) After that very creepy encounter, unexplainable things start happening to Santiago. It turns out that he’s been cursed, and this manifests itself by the loss of his senses … one by one. While conveying lack of smell or taste isn’t exactly cinematic, Henaine and his team have a blast with the last act, when, let’s just say, things get even weirder and the sound design gets award worthy. They’re able to use the power of film—it’s sight and sound, after all—to put us right in Santiago’s diminishing physical and mental state.

The cinematography by Glauco Bermudez is strong from the beginning, establishing a sharp visual language for the film that’s then dismantled as Santiago’s life unravels. As he realizes he’s about to live up to the title of the film, Santiago’s panic rises, leading to more and more questionable choices. The script goes to some unnecessary places in the final act that try to explain what’s happening to Santiago a bit, but that’s not really essential to this story. If anything, there’s a superior version of this film that’s even more surreal and daring in its narrative choices.

The reason the film works as well as it does is because of how completely Henaine and his team immerse us in Santiago’s journey. I think the excellent Torres is in every scene—if not, it’s close—and that locked POV is an absolutely brilliant choice that amplifies the tension of this journey. Like those Carpenter and Craven tales, this is a story of a man who’s taking a deserved trip to Hell, and we’re going with him.

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