Most extreme horror of the foreign variety, for the past several years, has come with a heavy dose of political allegory. Western viewers, however, might be excused if they don't get the allegorical subtlety of movies like A Serbian Film, for instance. But Trauma writer-director Lucio Rojas won't let viewers off quite as easily, in this true endurance test of a movie. The extreme violence and subjugation on display delivers absolutely what the most prurient viewer wants, while the political subtext, blunt as it is for those unfamiliar with recent Chilean history, makes one think twice.
The introductory sequence takes some of the themes and horrors from the aforementioned Serbian Film, quickly and angrily tying them off with a bow that cuts into the skin. But the movie otherwise lays out a plot straight out of Horror 101: a group of young women head into the country to enjoy a weekend of debauchery, unfortunately arousing the suspicions and desires of a particularly nasty local hick. Their mistake, asking for directions in a bar populated only by angry men, in which the entertainment is a guitarist literally playing horror music. (Why the ladies didn't turn away immediately is a question best left to horror rhetoricians the world over.)
Once ensconced in their weekend hideaway, our heroines launch into plenty of uncomfortable, psycho-sexual, booze-fueled fun, before being trapped by the hicks. At this point, the movie once again veers into truly terrible territory, an almost unbearable vision of hell.
Rojas smartly gives viewers breathing room. Though the violence, gore and general brutality takes its place with the most horrific movies out there, at least it isn't a never-ending parade of atrocity. Further, characters that start their cinematic journeys as cliches, deepen over time into real, relatable people, worth worrying about. Beautiful, artful cinematography from DP Sebastian Ballek lifts Trauma further out of exploitation territory, as the movie switches back and forth from present day to Chile in the late '70s and early '80s.
In the end, we must ask ourselves if it was worth it? Rojas' anger over dictator Augusto Pinochet's rule in the '70s and '80s boils over into viewers' faces, and this extremely difficult to stomach movie certainly marks him as a horror director to watch. Yet it is hard, once again, to be put in that place of looking for entertainment amidst atrocity. Rojas doesn't seem to indict viewers as complicit spectators to state-sponsored cruelty, but maybe it's not a bad lesson to distance ourselves from an 'at least it's not me' attitude that often comes from horror as escapism, while real horrors both large and small occur daily while those without power simply try to survive. Trauma is very hard to watch, and harder still to process. Nonetheless, it's Recommended.