Everyone Will Burn (Y todos arderán) had its UK première at FrightFest 2022
Like David Hebrero’s debut feature Dulcinea (2019), his follow-up Everyone Will Burn (Y todos arderán), co-written with Javier Kiran, concerns a would-be suicide, and uses genre to explore the ramifications of this damning desire. A brief text introduces us to the small town of Rozas del Monte, which had long lived under the shadow of an apocalyptic legend until, in 1980, locals performed a collective act of child sacrifice which they believed would lift their curse forever. Now, 40 years later, with the event barely remembered – or wilfully forgotten – and the legend reduced to a children’s nursery rhyme, the film begins with María José standing on the edge of a bridge, high above a rocky creek below, contemplating her own, if perhaps not the world’s, end. 13 years earlier, her son Lolo was bullied by schoolmates into suicide “for being different”, and in the intervening years María José has lost everything: not just her beloved Lolo, and her husband David (Rodolfo Sancho) long since relocated and remarried to the now pregnant Ari (Ella Kweku), but also her faith in a community that could allow her son’s persecutors – including the mayor’s son Antonio (Guillermo Estrella) – to go unpunished, and even her very grip on sanity.
So as María José stands on the bridge and looks into the abyss, two things become apparent. The first is that this location – a bridge over a creek with a life hanging in the balance – will immediately recall, at least to the genre savvy, the similar opening of Ambrose Bierce’s extremely influential short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890), raising from early on the question of whether any of the film’s subsequent, often surreal events actually take place, or are merely the last rush of fantasies and anxieties in María José’s mind as she plunges to her unholy death. The second is that María José is played by Macarena Gómez, star of Miguel Marti’s Sexy Killer (2008), Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s Shrew’s Nest (2014) and Lawrie Brewster’s The Black Gloves (2017), which guarantees shrill melodrama to come, as the actress will carefully modulate every unhinged nuance of a woman falling (apart).
María José is pulled back from the brink by the arrival of a mysterious, mud-spattered little girl (Sofía García) whose dwarfism makes her age somewhat indeterminate and who, when some aggressive police officers stop the two women on their drive back to town, will immediately demonstrate her unnatural, destructive powers. Pitched by García somewhere between Isabelle Fuhrman’s Esther from Orphan (2009) and Christina Ricci’s Wednesday from The Addams Family (1991), the uncanny Lucía – as María José chooses to call her – has come on a mission, and in offering to serve all at once as María José’s child and avenger, easily recruits the vulnerable, vindictive woman to her cause. As the town is plagued with the inexplicable deaths of both cattle and people, and the whole world seems in the grip of something cataclysmic, the local priest Abelino (Germán Torres) and the mayor’s wife Teresa (Ana Milán) quickly grow certain that Lucía and María José are together reembodying the prophecies of old, and will, unless stopped, bring down the end times. Others in the town, like the mayor Honorio (Fernando Cayo) and the trainee priest Juan (Rubén Ochandiano), remain more grounded and sceptical, even as their rationalism is constantly undone by Lucía’s overtly irrational abilities and unworldly conduct.
The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from an Ancient Greek term that mean literally ‘uncovering’ or ‘revelation’ – and while we may be witnessing the prelude to a Biblical, indeed eschatological, brand of Apocalypse, we are also seeing a community’s small-town foibles, moral compromises and hidden sins exposed to view (and to the viewer’s Final Judgment). Here the Devil, like the Lord, moves in mysterious ways, and even the most puritanical and god-fearing of townsfolk have played their part in the complicated causal chain leading to Rozas del Monte’s ever deferred rack and ruin. If, at the beginning of Everyone Will Burn, María José is an ex-mother seeking death, by the end she will – following a descent that is as much mental and moral as physical – become a mother again, resurrected by the idea of birth. Between these two poles of birth and death is life itself, full of petty power plays, errant appetites, cruelty, grievance and despair – and always coming with the strong sense of an ending.
strap: David Hebrero’s melodramatic mystery shows a grieving, vindictive ex-mother in moral freefall towards small-town apocalypse
© Anton Bitel