HEADLESS WOMAN: Inside-out horrors

The title of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s film HEADLESS WOMAN brings to mind a kind of over the top creepy B movie. Completing its run at the Film Forum this week, it turns out to exist far far… on the other end of the spectrum. The care taken with every frame, the subtle, almost maddeningly opaqueness to its characters, and the simplicity of its plot all add up to something else. But still there is horror and blood lurking in this film’s unconscious, though it never is shown explicitly on screen. It grows in the imagination of the main character and it seeps out of every frame through suggestion and detail… like a horror film turned inside-out.

First of all I admit that Martel’s film is not for everyone. Some will find it slow and subtle to the point of frustration. However for those who like to submerge themselves in the visual details of films and are fans of Antonioni or for that matter Martel’s recent film HOLY GIRL, and who don’t always need a big engine plot to hold their attention, this is a disturbing and fascinating film experience. The story follows a wealthy Argentine woman Vero who in a moment of distraction, accidentally (probably – though it’s never completely confirmed) hits a boy and his dog while driving on a deserted road. In a semi-concussive state, she walks away without telling anyone. The rest of the film follows Vero as she tries to cope with what she may have done and as the people around her close ranks to take care of and protect her. The film stays close to her, suffocatingly so, often showing her in close up or showing her point of view, as we the audience submerge into her cloudy mind.

Martel shows little explicitly but she suggests much through her impeccable use of mise en scene and sharply chosen camera frame. Despite Vero’s attempt to escape her action, death haunts her at every turn. For example in this image we can see a child’s handprints on the car window as Vero drives away, moments after the accident. It doesn’t matter that these could be the handprints of a different child who sat in her car earlier. The effect is still ghostly.

In this image Vero and members of her family loiter during a shopping stop at a gardening center. As Vero’s niece runs off into the greenery, we imagine a dead body is about to be found.

Another example as a servant’s boy stands in the background and seems to “haunt” Vero as a stand in for the dead.

For an inverted horror film that makes your imagination work… start by checking out this trailer. I couldn’t find one with subtitles but it doesn’t lessen the effect.