Trauma (2017)

Trauma first published by SciFiNow

‘Too Much Films’ is the first production company listed at the beginning of Lucio A. Rojas’ Trauma – and this promised excess comes front-loaded. For the opening sequence shows a bound, bloody woman in a compound for the torture and execution of political prisoners. Her teenaged son Juan is brought in by her estranged husband (a military top brass), drugged, slashed in the face, and forced to rape her – an act which continues long after she has been shot in the head.

  That brutality took place in 1978, during Pinochet’s military dictatorship – but the rest of the film’s events (besides the odd flashback) unfold in 2011, as four young women travel from the metrosexual modernity of Santiago to Chile’s rural outlands not so far away, where the most horrific kind of patriarchy has left a devastating legacy. There they will be confronted with a much older, deeply scarred Juan (Daniel Antivilo), who maintains an attitude towards women, family, torture and extra-judicial killing rooted in his own perverse upbringing, and who, with his own adult son (Eduardo Paxeco), continues waging a never-ending junta.

The word trauma refers not just to actual wounds, but to the physical and psychological scars left by them – and so Rojas’ deeply, deliberately unpleasant film traffics in the anguish of Chile’s unresolved sociopolitical and cultural memory through an onslaught of shocking extremity, as it tries to induce in the viewer a semblance of the trauma experienced or inherited by its different characters.

An early dream sequence shows the irrational links between all these people, past and present, marking the titular trauma as something lodged in the Chilean unconscious. The rest of the film is a waking nightmare that plays out these themes. As such, Trauma falls into a tradition of Spanish-language films – Paco Cabezas’ The Appeared (2007), Adrián García Bogliano’s Cold Sweat (2010), Juan Carlos Medina’s Painless (2012) – that use genre to show a present haunted by the persistence of historic horror. 

Strap: Perhaps exploitative, certainly extreme, Trauma revisits the horrific history of the Chilean junta.

© Anton Bitel