Wekufe (2016)

Wekufe opens first with a bearded interviewee discussing the corporate exploitation and cultural pauperisation of Chile’s indigenous population. This is followed by text (cited from Alonso de Ovelle, a 17th century Jesuit chronicler of Chile) about ‘wekufe’, or ‘evil’, as a concept introduced to the Mapuche by Spanish Christians. All of which is to say that this feature debut, written, directed, produced, shot and edited by Javier Attridge, foregrounds its political focus as a film concerned with the lasting effects of colonialism. That, however, is only half the story.

Certainly Paula (Paula Figueroa) is trying to expose the cultural clashes and social contradictions created by the European invasion of Chiloé (an island off Southern Chile). In a news report that she is filming as part of her university course, Paula is concentrating on the Trauco – a Priapic goblin of local legend said to rape and impregnate women – and the way in which the myth of this creature has been used to cover up and justify the sex crimes and paedophiliac abuse endemic on Chiloé.

“There is a duality when it comes to the veracity of this legend,” says Paula to camera of the Trauco. After all, this impish creature is a fusion of aboriginal religion and conquistadors’ opportunistic folklore – a convenient allegorical invention used to cover real horrors, but which some still claim to have seen with their own eyes. Yet Paula might as well have been describing Wekufe itself – for even as the film purports to be Paula’s documentary reportage, her boyfriend Matias (Matias Aldeo), a frustrated ex film student, is seizing the opportunity to exploit some local colour for his own purposes and shoot, simultaneously and on the same camera, “the best found footage horror movie in history”.

Accordingly, Wekufe comes with its own duality, as Paula’s news story, colonised by Matias, is made to serve as the palimpsest for an improvised genre flick. This is found footage, but of an unusually self-conscious variety, as Matias, throwing out pertinent references to The Wicker Man and Grizzly Man while sporting a Cannibal Ferox T-shirt and actually, actively shooting a found footage film, finds himself and Paula becoming trapped in their own colonial horror where the rational and the irrational make unnatural bedfellows.

For their final night on Chiloé, the couple gravitates towards Enoteco forest near Quicaví, where the Trauco is said to have been sighted, with Matias fully intending to maximise the horror potential of their accommodation in a clichéd ‘cabin in the woods‘. Yet as things go bump in the night, as Paula’s behaviour becomes increasingly odd, and as terrifying figures appear in the dark, fact and fiction merge in a nocturnal masquerade that reveals unpalatable truths about modern Chile’s foundations – and stays true to the sociopolitical concerns outlined in the film’s beginning.

© Anton Bitel