Luciana Garraza and Eric Fleitas’ Scavenger opens with the scene that will come to define most of its characters. A family’s staticky home video shows little Laura (Laura Villafañe) and her older sister (Moira Lis Segura) playing together on Laura’s birthday as their mother (Vanessa Alba) carves open a chicken for their dinner, and their father (Norberto Cesar Bernuez) looks concerned at news reports of a collapsed government and a city turned into a “wild west of shots and vandalism”. As the family sings Happy Birthday to Laura, a man violently bursts in and, amid audible screams, the video comes to an abrupt end.
The rest of the film is set some years later, in a dusty post-apocalyptic world of anarchy and atrocity that is familiar from the Mad Max films and their many imitators. Indeed, the main character Tisha (Nayla Churruarin) is a ‘road warrior’, decked out in leathers and racing her own beefed-up black car through the desert. Yet that prologue had already introduced the two themes that the rest of the film will explore – family and meat – and meat itself comes in more than one variety here. As we watch a man waiting for his food to be cooked at a kiosk marked “100% meat”, and complaining about the “wasted whores in here – not even one pretty girl”, it is unclear, when he says, “some fresh meat is never bad”, whether he is referring to women or food. Yet the dog-eat-dog food chain here is complicated, and this man will soon become an unwilling part of it, as Tisha stabs him from behind and gathers his innards, leaving the rest of his flesh for the kiosk’s cook to serve to the next customer.
Tisha is a ‘gut hunter’, harvesting organs for the Merchant (Fleitas) and occasionally serving as a hired assassin. Offered a contract from old, mutilated Angelica (Rosa Isabel Cuenya Macedo), she agrees to take it without fee once she has heard who the target is, and heads off to bar-cum-brothel Paradise to ‘fuck up’ her target – but once there, the tables are turned, and she finds herself bound to a bed for the clients’ use. “Now she is cunt or corpse,” comments Luna (Sofia Lanaro), the club’s seductive dancer who, with the vicious, dickless owner Roger (Gonzalo Tolosa), his One-Eyed lieutenant (Tisso Solis Vargas), an army of Mutant guards and a stable of drugged-up working women, forms a family very unlike the loving one seen in the opening of Scavenger.
‘Cunt or corpse’ – it is that same dichotomy again, in a scenario where everything is for sale, and everyone is either fucked or food (or both). For Scavenger comes with deeply carnal preoccupations, setting up a marketplace where humanity is up for consumption, commodification and cannibalisation – and as such, the film presents a cynically dystopian reduction of our own society to its basest parts.
The original title used in Argentina for Scavenger is Carroña. It is the Spanish for ‘carrion’, in a film where ultimately everyone is mere meat in a Darwinian black market of desire – but carroña is also used as a slang term for ‘scum’ or ‘lowlife’. This second meaning advertises Scavenger‘s low themes, while allying it to Ryan Prows’ Lowlife (2017), another feature that confounds sex trafficking, organ extraction and an expendable underclass. For here, every human transaction seems tied to abuse, assault or murder, and while we might regard Tisha as a feminist heroine who avenges exploitation and sticks it to the man, she too is guilty of casually killing strangers for cash. Where exactly we sit in this dispiriting hierarchy of perverts, rapists and cutthroats is open to question – but here the breakdown of society begins with the (violent) breakup of the family.
strap: Luciana Garraza and Eric Fleitas’ Scavenger (Carroña) exploits post-apocalyptic tropes to show the meat market of unregulated capitalism
© Anton Bitel