May 2, 2013

Curandero (2005)

"A journey that takes one man into the bowels of black magic in Mexico City."

While I was out taking my thousands of empty Monster cans to the recycling bin, I decided to have a quick look at the new releases in Target and came across this little gem. By "gem", however, I do actually mean "an obscure 8 year old former Miramax/Dimension title which has finally been released by Lionsgate".

Fearing the worst of any DVD with the words "Robert Rodriguez presents" on its artwork, I didn't buy a copy of it but waited until I got home again to watch it online. It's not directed by Robert Rodriguez (nor is its real director Eduardo Rodriguez any relation to him) so I figured it would be worth a "rental".

Set in a similar grainy-looking, washed-out world as "Borderland" (2007) but played like a gorier mixture of "Constantine" (2005) and "Night Watch/Day Watch" (2004/2006), "Curandero" is very much a product of that time and tries hard to be another cult action-horror. If it hadn't been for those other movies and all the financial shenanigans at Miramax, it may have succeeded back then too.

The characters are actually quite good although very similar to the heroes and villains of Timur Bekmambetov's adaptations of Sergei Lukyanenko's "Dozor" tetralogy. Carlos the charismatic curandero isn't a million miles away from being Anton Gorodetsky from "Night Watch" complete with hallucinations, and his enemy Castaneda (Gabriel PingarrĂ³n) is really only a far more spiteful version of Zavulon. Castaneda is almost as nasty a piece of work as any of the narcosatanicos in "Borderland" but without the good looks of Santillian.

Carlos Gallardo and Gizeht Galatea

Even the plot is quite similar to "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" with a "chosen one", lots of magic in a modern day urban setting, and some scenes which look almost identical. A certain chase through a market only needs "The Gloom" for it to be lifted straight from "Day Watch". It's a chicken and the egg conundrum as to which really came first given the date of this movie.

With hardly anything explained as you go along, nothing is handed to you on a plate immediately. Everything is explained eventually so just bear with it. I like this way of storytelling, but it was a major criticism of "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" from the hard of understanding crowd who tried to cover their ignorance by using words like "foreign mythology" in their reviews when that wasn't really the problem. Suffice it to say that none of these movies have any traditional mythology except that which has been invented for the story itself. Huge exposition scenes may be lacking, but since nobody does exposition properly anymore, that's another good thing.

There's lots of gore, a very Mexican colour palette which you will either love or hate, and a very beautiful heroine in the form of Gizeht Galatea as federal agent Magdalena. The partnership between Magdalena and Carlos is so like that of Olivia (Anna Torv) and Peter (Joshua Jackson) from "Fringe" that I wouldn't put it past J.J. Abrams and his team not to have taken some inspiration from this movie. Oh, yes, there are subtitles too so thickies need not apply.

My only problem with "Curandero" is that the pacing is a little bit quick over the ground. It's no worse than "Constantine", but I could quite happily have watched another hour of the same characters doing their thing. The effects are great, but the characters would certainly have benefited from some more fleshing out (no pun intended).

I highly recommend "Curandero" if you are looking for something slightly formulaic but a bit different. It's not really worth the new release price, but you can watch it online for $3.99 and probably find it in a Redbox kiosk.

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