Hékate (2021)

Hékate UK première at Sohome Horror Pride Virtual Film Festival

Hecate is an ancient Greek goddess typically depicted – sometimes in triple form – with dogs, keys and torches, and associated with crossroads, witchcraft, poisons, night and the moon. Although this feminine deity is never mentioned in Nadia Benedicto’s Hékate beyond its title, her presence haunts this film, making the actions of its characters in modern Argentina resonate with ancient myth and ritual. 

Intercut with abstract images of a fire torch surrounded by six hands, Hékate opens with professional dog-walker – and ‘dyke’ – Kira (Rosario Varela) surrounded by hounds. Later she will hold, and occasionally hand on, the keys to the vehicle that will drive the narrative of this road movie. And she also, thanks to her nurse mother, knows her way around the use of medicinal poisons. These are all characteristics that make Kira seem the living embodiment of Hecate. Bitten on the hand by the last dog that she has to return on her round, she is invited in by its owner Juan (Federico Liss) – “to heal it, I mean”, he reassures her insistently. Juan then manipulates and intimidates Kira into joining him and his girlfriend Helena (Sabrina Macchi) first for a drink, and then for dinner – and finally attempts to force himself upon both her and Helena. 

Blustering and bullying, macho and menacing, aggressive and abusive, vicious and violent, Juan represents all the very worst aspects of errant masculinity – but before he can rape both women, Kira manages to escape her bonds and knock him out. Helena and Kira head off in Kira’s car into the night, with Juan bound, and soon drugged, on the back seat. Ever so gradually, a plan will take shape that sets these two women – and a third significantly named Destiny (Julieta Brito), whom they meet along the way – on a path towards what Destiny recognises as both “revenge” and “sacrifice”. This mission will unite all three in an improvised coven, and in a timeless feminine rite of cleansing. 

Though featuring stories of three different but equally unconscionable men, Hékate is by no means a misandrist film. For it also casually shows two male strangers – a passing motorcyclist (Gastón Arienti) and a country man (Leandro Arienti) – selflessly helping the women in their journey. Rather, this second film from writer/director Benedicto (Interlude, 2016) is focused on women purging themselves of the trauma caused by bad men – brutal fathers, bestial partners – and on the catharsis that comes with acts of female solidarity. 

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Cecilia Tasso and languidly scored by Lucy Patané (in compositions full of female voices), Hékate is a self-consciously queer renewal of myth, merging women’s bodies in spaces – roadways, motels, ruins and lakesides – as liminal in nature as the goddess of the title. It also ends with grace and a kind of mercy, as Helena, in a way, purifies Juan along with herself, before yielding him to nature. This mystic catharsis allows the trio to transcend the grubby realities of rape revenge not only by taking up their place in a long history of female suffering and female empowerment, but also by collectively conjuring both the primordial and the divine.

strap: Nadia Benedicto’s Argentine road movie converts the tropes of rape revenge into ancient feminine mystic ritual

© Anton Bitel