Monday, March 17, 2014

Cold Sweat (2010)

(Original title: Sudor Frio

This much maligned midnight film is actually a decent example of contemporary exploitation cinema, boasting an exemplary knack for cost-effective filmmaking and some refreshing takes on female nudity and the aesthetics of explosions. Given its minute setting and diminutive roster of characters, director Bogliano favors an impressionistic approach to his craft, hence managing to create a truly immersive film experience. The narrative is absolutely nonsensical, refuting the laws of chemistry, physics and common sense in a bid to fuel a nearly oneiric atmosphere imbedded in disturbing historical fact, but it certainly doesn't impair the sheer enjoyment to be had from this didactic effort in retrospection.

The film stars a clueless young man named Roman. Having recently lost track of girlfriend Jacquie through the intervention of an online seducer dressed as Death Note's L, Roman commissions female friend Ali to arrange a date with the mysterious young man in order to discover Jacquie's whereabouts. Invited for a romantic dinner in a rundown apartment complex on the bad side of Buenos Aires, Ali is then captured by two psychotic old men, former members of the fearsome "Triple A" (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) and holders of 25 cases of dynamite stolen from revolutionary fighters of the 1970s. Having just lost yet another stunning lady to these creepy old reactionaries, Roman must dig deep, put on his thinking cap, assume his balls and get in there to save the day. And while lovely Ali proves to be a more resourceful, charismatic and ultimately better character, it is Roman that really needs to grow up through this ordeal, casting away his childish antics to better face the perspective of manhood.

Blowback: devious members of Triple A come out of
retirement to torture ignorant youths.

The most insistent criticism of the film stems from its nonsensical tribulations. I've seen this time and time again. People complain about what they think is an unrealistic situation, suggesting myriad other ways in which it could've been resolved and applying their "wisdom" to every single issue of every single film. They throw their hands in the air, as if annoyed by the fact that the events onscreen are not verisimilar, oblivious to the actual nature of exploitation cinema. Unable to suspend their disbelief anymore, these spectators are slowly sapping all the fantasy out of movie theaters, subsequently validating the widespread recourse to gritty remakes as a way to streamline Hollywoodian production. Given this new trend, it was inevitable that Cold Sweat would be relegated to the halls of infamy. I personally failed to see this coming, but then I am just a melancholy dinosaur, lumbering around in a world that is quickly escaping my grasp. And while I think that lapses in logic are no basis for criticizing such a sensuous film experience, I cannot defend Bogliano's dubious screenplay other than to say that it conveniently compensates for the production's lack of budget by filling wholes through iffy causality. 

Actually, the film resorts to a fairly common means of narrative economy by using the "house of horror" approach to storytelling, proceeding from a collage of unrelated vignettes to create an horrific atmosphere rather than focusing on a linear dramatic storyline. As such, it proves to be more of a freak show than an actual narrative film, not unlike Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, the latter effort proving equally nonsensical in its patchwork of eclectic influences. Drawing from the tradition of Grand Guignol, both these features boast various horrific set pieces used indiscriminately for their individual shock value and not any sort of dramatic power. Being a Southern import, Cold Sweat throws in a good measure of erotic vignettes, hence providing a touch of burlesque to the mix and making it all the more appealing to thrill-seeking spectators. It's pure exploitation, but the film has no greater pretenses, nor does it try to hide behind dubious morality or any delusion of dramatic grandeur.

Using the "house of horror" approach, the film
trades plausibility for shock value.

Trading emotional realism and narrative logic for sheer expressive power, the film makes use of canted shots, aggressive close-ups and a cacophonous soundtrack to create a sensuous diegetic space meant to convey and not merely portray the protagonists' harrowing experience. Foremost contributor to the film's oppressive atmosphere is the lingering presence of hard rock music, the shriller notes of which are amplified to complement the shocking spectacle of exploding heads and surging intestines. Then, there is the impressionistic editing, which proceeds from a succession of close-ups and medium shots to fragment space into fearsome shards of oppressive scenery. Whether they're intercoms threatening to expose the protagonists' presence or crates full of dynamite, nearly every element of decor seems to reveal a new menace. Not only does this type of spatial construction contribute a dizzying sense of disorientation amongst the viewers and protagonists alike, but it allows the director to make the most out of its diminutive sets, creating a labyrinthine deathtrap from just a handful of contiguous rooms. Drawing from a vast arsenal of economical visual devices, he also uses canted shots and slow motion to create evocative tableaux out of mundane, often overdetermined images. Hence, the climactic explosion of one of the villains becomes a highly stylized affair featuring surging intestines flying through the screen. But despite the sheer amount of cheap building blocks used in its construction, the film heavily relies on one even cheaper plot device, one that can be easily defined as narrative panacea*, and that is nitroglycerin.

The weak screenplay takes many shortcuts, but none more blatant than the inclusion of  a highly volatile "contact" explosive akin to nitroglycerin. Imbued with daft properties, this gooey liquid is said by the antagonist to explode on impact or when exposed to high temperatures. Once its efficiency is proven through the explosion of a naked woman's head, it subsequently allows the director to create suspense out of nowhere, conveying a sense of impending doom with the mere sight of a single drop. It also justifies the shameless exhibition of glistening female flesh in the film's most prominent scene. This happens when Roman finally discovers ex-girlfriend Jacquie (played by nude model Camila Velasco) tied to a table in a dimly-lit basement. Seeing how she is covered in nitro, the young man smartly suggests that she remove her clothes, lest she risks dying from friction. This warrants a fairly large amount of close-ups on Camila's glistening naked flesh, including a peek at her lovely breasts. Obviously, it's all fairly gratuitous, but then so is exploitation cinema, spurred on by narrative rationales akin to excuses meant to justify the showcase of unrestrained violence and unbridled eroticism. Here, you could actually consider the entire screenplay as an excuse to justify the film, but I doubt that this will prove its worth amongst casual viewers...

Glistening female flesh is one of the film's
most distinctive, most enticing features.

Luckily, while the premise of the film appears slim enough, it offers rare insight into Argentinian history, hence becoming a didactic exercise to help enlighten vacuous protagonist Roman and foreign audiences alike. Using archival footage from the "Dirty War" to introduce its anti-communist antagonists and their stolen stash of dynamite, Cold Sweat uses real-life horror not only to help shape our appreciation of those antagonists, but also to expose a gaping wound in the national unconscious kept open by the continuing trials of former military officers accused of heinous war crimes. Drawing from that real-life horror, the director manages to infuse his villains with a truly fearsome agenda, one that seems to find renewed relevance in its opposition against the carefree, uneducated youths of today, further hinting at the unnerving presence of a vengeful reactionary undercurrent threatening the populist gains inherited from Peronism.

Politics aside, Cold Sweat is a straightforward, unapologetic effort in exploitation cinema. Based on a flimsy screenplay tantamount to a convenient excuse for the showcase of tits and blood, the film thrives on a powerfully evocative visual landscape to immerse us into the diegetic world. And while it features a fair share of lapses in logic, the film ultimately succeeds in its humble goals by providing ample amounts of shock and exploitative material. Boasting three stunning brunettes exposed in various states of undress, it also proves to be a rare threat for women enthusiasts and a perfect example of unapologetic midnight cinema.

A single drop of narrative panacea goes a long way.
If you don't believe me, just ask Ridley Scott!

3/5  Despite a flimsy screenplay, this muscular exploitation effort features enough impressionistic shocks and enticing female flesh to please any thrill-seeking filmgoer undeterred by faulty logic.

* I originally coined this term to convey my appreciation of the multi-purpose black goop from Ridley Scott's atrociously penned Alien prequel Prometheus. Used indiscriminately to create a plethora of contradicting effects, this substance constitutes one of the laziest plot devices I've ever seen, begging the question as to what exactly Scott was searching for during the 33 years between the original film and this fourth follow-up: God or narrative panacea?