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WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND (2018)

aka LOS OLVIDADOS
Directed by Luciano Onetti, Nicolás Onetti
Written by Luciano Onetti, Nicolás Onetti, Carlos Goitia
Starring Agustín Pardella, Damián Dreizik, Victoria Maurette, Victorio D’Alessandro, Paula Brasca, Paula Sartor, Gustavo Garzón, Chucho Fernandez, Germán Baudino, Mirta Busnelli, Evan Leed, Tamara Garzón, Nicolás Onetti, Luciano Onetti, Pablo Guisa Koestinger
Find out more about this film here!

Luciano and Nicolas Onetti, the filmmaking brothers behind the Giallo homage FRANCESCA, return with another homage to a film many horror fans will find familiar. I had difficulty with FRANCESCA as I feel it was able to mimic the fundamentals of the Italian Gialli films, but lacked any of the depth those films possessed. Sadly, I feel the same thing is true for WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND, a film that is undeniably and seemingly proudly ripping off THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and some of its sequels.

A filmmaking crew plan on making a documentary in the city of Epecuén, which was devastated by a flood in 1985 and never recovered, leaving a ghost town made of ruins, salt-stained trees, and flooded terrain. Carla (Victoria Maurette) is one of the survivors of the flood, who has never returned to the village since the devastation. She is being followed by the film crew as she recollects the horror of the flood and the destruction it left in its wake. But as soon as the crew arrive in the wasteland, they find out that the city is not as abandoned as they thought.

This Argentinian film in Spanish recreates TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE almost beat for beat, right down to a dinner scene and a final shot with one of the killers standing in the middle of the road (that is exactly like the final shot of LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE III). Now, I actually love films that use TCM as inspiration. The WRONG TURN series, THE HILLS HAVE EYES films, CHARLIE’S FARM, KILLBILLIES, INBRED, INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND, TRAUMA, FRONTIERES—all of these films in one way or another owe a lot to the Tobe Hooper classic, but they also add a little extra to make themselves look and feel original despite the similarities. Unfortunately, none of that is present in WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND. It’s an ugly film that lacks any of the creativity, nuance, and passion that made TCM the classic that it is.

The problem is that there’s no meter on the amount of excess the Onetti brothers dole out. Leatherface hooks one gal on a meat hook while he takes care of another victim in TCM. So of course, to be more extreme, the killers strap one gal to a table and rape her (in a scene that goes on way too long) while they deal with another victim in the same room. How about a dinner scene with the victims tied to a table to participate, but in this one, to be more extreme, we will have one of the gals eat meat prepared from her own foot to up the ante. The filmmaking crew really don’t have much character apart from being sexy and flirty with one another, and the killers aren’t that distinguishable from each other either. They try to give each killer his own quirk—one is a sex maniac, one is a giggling cook who likes to play tunes with bottles hanging from strings, and one is a grunting man-animal with a spiked club instead of a chainsaw. None of them feel like anything but rip offs of characters we’ve seen in TCM and its sequels. It’s almost as if this film were a sizzle-reel made by the Onetti brothers in hopes to actually make a TCM sequel someday. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Even the worst TCM is better than this soulless copy.

I liked WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND up to a point. There is a bawdiness to the first half that I felt was really brave and stylized as we get two scenes of seduction (one between two gals and one between a guy and a gal) set to over the top raunchy music. I couldn’t help but laugh at how cartoonish the whole thing was and I hope they were not trying to make them with anything but a wink to the camera.

The opening moments gave me hope for some potential too as the setting is really atmospheric. The city of Epecuén is real and the tragedy that happened there is the stuff of surreal nightmares. The shots of mud spattered buildings that have collapsed and sunken into the dried earth and stone streets lined with salt-soaked dead trees that look more like dry bones jutting up through the ground are terrifying and a wonderous look at how the sea took over a city utterly and completely. The drone shots of the demolished city really make you prep yourself for something horrifying to happen and gave me hope I was about to see one.

The Onettis are not without skill. They definitely have an eye for vivid framework and tantalizing imagery. But aside from the atmospheric setting of real life decimation and what boils down to two sultry music video style vignettes, WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND feels like the product of a copy machine just about to run out of its ink.

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