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HISTORY OF THE OCCULT (aka HISORIA DE LO OCULTO, 2020)
Directed and written by Cristian Ponce.
Starring Germán Baudino, Nadia Lozano, Héctor Ostrofsky, Agustín Recondo, Lucia Arreche, Ivan Ezquerré, Casper Uncal, Luciano Guglielmino, Hernan Altamirano, Raúl Omar García, Mario Lombard, Victoria Reyes, Cristian Salgueiro, Victor Díaz, Lucia Cano, Hernán Bengoa, Federico Aimetta, René Mantiñan, Pedro Saieg, Gabriela Lage, Alex Abdeneve, Juanjo Suker
A group of producers attempt to uncover a conspiracy leading all the way up to the Argentinian presidency that leads back to a coven of witches and warlocks. They try to expose this truth on live television on a show called 60 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, but many forces human and otherwise are working hard to keep the truth unknown by the masses.
HISTORY OF THE OCCULT is supposed to be one of the most successful Latin horrors of all time, ranking as the highest-rated horror movie of 2021 on Letterboxd’s Year in Review roundup, as rated by Letterboxd users. All of that is fine and dandy, but how is the film? It’s…interesting. I’ll give you that. One of the things that I think is a huge detriment to HISTORY OF THE OCCULT is that it requires its viewer to understand the politics of Argentina, specifically what they were like in the 1980’s when this film is set. That’s a pretty specific requirement that a lot of US viewers are not going to know, so a lot of the details involving specific points in Argentinian history are going to fall on deaf ears if you aren’t from there. Now, I do understand conspiracy and distrust in the government is pretty much a universal notion, so though I wasn’t up to date on the state of the Argentinian union in 1985, I still got the gist of what was going on. So my recommendation is not to get caught up in the details laid out in HISTORY OF THE OCCULT and simply follow the human emotions and feelings presented along the way and you might have an ok time with this film.
That said, HISTORY OF THE OCCULT does a really good job of bringing a talk show in the 80’s to life with natural acting from the host as well as the guests, an overreliance on advertising so the show takes breaks with its very own commercials (which also seem to be tied to the conspiracy), and a tendency to go on and off the air, seemingly edited by the government or other dimensional forces or both. In making this show believable, it makes for a compelling 60 MINUTES style roundtable discussion about conspiracy, the occult, and other issues involving the two.
During the commercial breaks, the story cuts to a group of the show’s producers, hoping to lead a rebellion against this occult backed government movement. This is where most of the emotional beats come from and its going to convey how important this show is to the common man watching. There are also snippets outside of the watching room where the information proving the occult government connection has been attained. The whole thing is crisply edited, flipping through flashbacks, info gathering, and people’s rections at a rapid-fire clip that made Oliver Stone conspiracy films like JFK so effective. The sense of urgency and stress communicated in HISTORY OF THE OCCULT works very well.
That said, HISTORY OF THE OCCULT is for the patient and those who appreciate that slow burn. There are some very subtle, yet terrifying scenes of strange happenings. But for the most part, the bulk of a group of people staring at a TV screen and a Mclaughlin Report style roundtable show. While there is a persistent sense of dread and doom, I wouldn’t call HISTORY OF THE OCCULT a thrill a minute. I found it somewhat dry in delivery, yet was compelled by the conspiracy angle and the use of the 60-Minutes style format. But don’t go looking for a slam-bang horror show here. It’s more of the horror that creeps in on you in the periphery, which to some will be just the kind of sneaky horror they’re looking for. Your enjoyment will vary, but I will recommend HISTORY OF THE OCCULT for those who like their terrors in slow, sneaky doses.