Wake Up and Die

Volver a Morir
2011 / 95m - Colombia
Mystery, Horror
Wake Up and Die poster

Colombia is not the most telling country when it comes to producing films. Before yesterday I hadn't even seen or heard of a Colombian film, but in light of Halloween Volver A Morir looked like a pretty good choice. And a good choice it was, Urrutia's first turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, mixing horror and mystery into a high-quality mind twister. So don't let the production country scare you out of seeing Volver A Morir, this is no cheesy b-flick.

screen capture of Volver A Morir

Volver A Morir is a typical low-budget concept film. A film that originated from the director's mind and was handled by him all the way until the end. Apart from writing and directing the film, Urrutia also holds editing credits and helped with a camera work. That last bit comes as no surprise considering he's a trained cinematographer. Volver A Morir is a typical work of love that only betrays its budgetary restraints by its daring, single-focus approach, something not quite possible when working for larger studios.

If you read up on this film you'll find that people are prone to compare Volver A Morir to Groundhog Day. While the concept is pretty much the same, Groundhog Day is far from the only (not even the first) film to feature a repetition of a particular event or day. Then again, it is probably the most well-known film to have featured this concept, so if you forget everything else about both films I guess the comparison makes sense.

The film starts with Camilla and Dario waking up next to each other. Camilla can't remember anything about arriving at Dario's place and feels slightly ashamed for having shared a bed with an unknown man. She doesn't feel too comfortable around him, but little by little she gives in to the adventure. When the two end up in bed again, Dario starts to flip out and he suddenly kills Camilla. The film rewinds to the point when they both woke up, rebooting the story with only Camilla remembering what had just happened.

screen capture of Volver A Morir

Having a cinematographer as a director has some very interesting advantages. For one, you're pretty sure you'll end up with a beautiful-looking film. Volver A Morir certainly delivers. For a film that pretty much plays within the confines of a single house it looks absolutely stunning. The camera work is strong, the editing snappy and precise and the lighting is just perfect. It all helps to build a pretty menacing, claustrophobic atmosphere.

The soundtrack is another definite strong point. Even though pretty repetitive (putting on music - Bach's Air - is one of the first things Dario does when waking up so which each new story loop we are treated to the same song), the way the music is torn apart whenever Dario starts to flip is simply impressive. Bach's Air morphs into a mad, electronic-based derivative that sounds as if it was remixed by a group of asylum inmates. It brings great contrast and greatly enforces the emotional state of the characters.

The acting is quite solid too. The film is carried by Andrea Montenegro and Luis Fernando Bohorquez, beyond them there aren't any other actors of importance. 99% of all the action happens between the two of them so it's quite assuring that they rise above the usual horror fodder. Not an easy task if you consider that for most of the film they are both completely in the nude, definitely not the most comfortable way to act. As for the secondary cast, there simply is none except one guy with two lines of dialog.

screen capture of Volver A Morir

For all intents and purposes, Volver A Morir should really be seen as a psychological thriller that borrowed a couple of influences from the horror genre. It's an important distinction because the film is quite slow and repetitive in nature and the changes between each loop can be pretty subtle. This is not a bad thing, but if you go in expecting a true horror flick you're bound to be disappointed by the pacing and lack of climaxes.

Instead the film leans heavily on the learning process, which goes well beyond the simple A/B testing you'd expect from a concept like this. Coupled with the intense atmosphere, strong acting and solid concept you have a captivating film with the wits to avoid any factual explanations of the story. A great first film for Urrutia which is hopefully the start of a successful career as a director.