“Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina 2101 AD”, reads the caption that opens I Am Toxic (Soy tóxico) as we witness a sea of corpses in an arid landscape, and hear the sound of buzzing, feeding flies. A middle-aged, bearded man (Esteban Prol) wakes in their midst, and if we are disoriented by all that we see, so is he. For he has amnesia, unable to remember how he got there, or even his own name, the only clue to his identity being a distinctive tattoo on his wrist.
As giant US military planes pass overhead dumping more bodies, and desiccated, blind zombies (who we subsequently learn are known as ‘dries’, and are a product of bacteriological war in the North) feed on the flesh of the cadavers, our lost protagonist is rescued by a grizzled old man (Horacio Fontova) and taken to his hideout, where he lives with two other men (Sergio Podeley, Gastón Cocchiarale), a mute younger woman (Fini Bocchino), and a pig for livestock. The old man’s status as patriarch of this makeshift clan is suggested by the way he refers to our hero as ‘son’. The other two men, rather unkindly, dub the main character ‘Perro’ (literally ‘Dog’), and treat him as worse than one. All know that Perro’s amnesia is because he is contaminated, and it is only a matter of time before he too becomes a ‘dry’. Only the girl, Iris, appears to harbour any sympathy for the captive Perro.
Daniel de la Vega and Pablo Parés’ film is a vision of hell. With all its colours bleached out to a near monochrome, I Am Toxic shows a man named for an animal, and trapped between the ravenous infected, his torture-happy human persecutors, and the onset of irreversible disease. As Perro, occasionally assisted by Iris, fights and flees and rediscovers his own past and home, it gradually becomes clear that this is a tale of two families and two fathers. The mysterious Iris, whose conduct – now harming, now helping Perro – at first seems bizarrely contradictory, will gradually come into focus as the film’s true hero and true avenger, even if the ability to speak for herself or articulate her own backstory has been forever taken away from her by overbearing, entitled, arrogant men. For Perro is toxic not just because of his worsening condition, but because of an errant masculinity, shared with all the other male characters in the film, that chains him to a dog-eat-dog world of appetitive urges and ever-circling (self-)destruction.
Like most good post-apocalyptic films, I Am Toxic is concerned as much with the ills of the present day as of the future, and though it is for the most part incessantly bleak and brutal, its ending offers a smile (and a possibility of escape and hope) that many viewers may find infectious.
© Anton Bitel