Inspiration is found everywhere. Even the best filmmakers have inspirations that they imbue into their own work, using the work that made them into the filmmakers they are today in smart, reverential ways. Sure, occasionally things can get heavy-handed and even veer into “copying” territory, but everyone picks and takes from the best, in the way that the people they’re taking inspiration from took inspiration from those they considered the best, ad infinitum. It’s not a foreign experience to think while watching a film “Wow, this reminds me of *insert film title*,” because it’s probably intentional. But less often when watching something, particularly rather obscure, you begin to think that, and then realize that what you’re watching is older than what you’re comparing it to. These are the moments when you realize that, despite little knowledge of a certain title, it might actually be the blueprint for so much of what you’ve come to respect in certain styles of filmmaking. Iván Zuleta’s 1979 film Arrebato is one of those blueprints, and Altered Innocence’s remastered Blu-ray release makes it available to the public to feast upon.
José (Eusebio Poncela) is a low-budget horror filmmaker living in Madrid after the transition to democracy in Spain in 1975. He and his live-in girlfriend, Ana (Cecilia Roth), both enable each other’s violent heroin addictions as they live in hedonistic squalor. When José receives a film reel and a tape from his eccentric, also heroin addicted filmmaker acquaintance Pedro (Will More), detailing a strange descent into madness, José recounts his interactions with Pedro, and begins to struggle to differentiate dreams from reality as he investigates Pedro’s disconnect from society.
There are so many strands of Arrebato’s DNA strewn across all genres, all nations, to so many different types of filmmakers. I see the influence it had on the future films of David Lynch, Ben Wheatley, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Lars Von Trier, and Pedro Almódovar, with the latter not only being friends with Zuleta at the time, but also lending his voice to dub over a character who needed a different speaking cadence. This is weird, freaky stuff, but it’s something that, even in the moments where I really thought it wasn’t for me, I still appreciated it for the doors it seemingly opened for other films like it to come along.
Arrebato, like pretty much every other film made about hardcore heroin abuse, is pretty horrifying in its own right, before taking any of the major psychological or arguably supernatural elements into consideration. I found myself squirming the most at the effects that heroin has taken on these people’s lives, sometimes more than the slow horror actually being presented. It creates an unsafe environment for the viewer from the get go, one that doesn’t allow a viewer to ever once feel comfortable even in the setup of the film’s plot. Off the bat, I already did not want to be here, and it helps build this air of paranoia and disconnect from any sense of reality that Arrebato might have tried to establish in a more conventional world with more conventional characters.
Films about filmmakers are far from scarce, but a big difference with something like Arrebato is that film is viewed as a device of torture, not necessarily as a gateway for true artistic expression. No one in the film is transformed by the art of cinema, but rather, they use the new freedoms given to them to create for the sake of creation. It’s a hedonistic view of art that pairs wonderfully with its disturbing portrayal of substance abuse. In a universe where no one is doing anything but looking out for themselves and only seeking their own pleasure, nothing is real.
Altered Innocence’s impressive Blu-ray transfer of Arrebato doesn’t make it a pretty film by any stretch of the imagination (as it shouldn’t), but rather enhances the gritty, nasty elements of the film’s visual and sound design for optimal effect. It has a rich texture to the image, and when it calls for it, vibrant color reminiscent of Dario Argento’s body of work. Sound design is rather limited in its LPCM 2.0 track, but sticks to decompressing its original, low-budget track, rather than trying to open up an admittedly limited soundstage to fill a 5.1 soundscape. It wouldn’t work, and I appreciate the authenticity.
Arrebato is not for everyone…hell, I’m not even sure it’s entirely for me. It’s a strange, dense, and incredibly disturbing look at the effects of drug abuse among a small circle of acquaintances. It’s not necessarily high horror by any stretch, but uses real life horrors to bring forth an uncomfortable, genuinely unsettling vibe that I just wanted to escape. But as I continued thinking about it, the more I realized that that is exactly what good horror should do, and what I find most horrifying about Arrebato might be completely different from what another viewer might find frightening. That’s horror. It’s not perfect horror, nor flashy horror, nor straightforward horror, but it’s horror goddamnit, and the way it influenced the generation of filmmakers going forward speaks for itself.
Arrebato Blu-ray Special Features:
- Commentary Track w/ Mike White of The Projection Booth
- Documentary: Ivan Z by Andrés Duque (51 min.)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Other Trailers
- Reversible Art
- English subtitles
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.