After having spent the last month or so largely immersed in films for Indy's Heartland Film Festival, a festival that emphasizes the transformative power of film, I must admit that I approached indie horror icon Bill Oberst, Jr.'s latest cinematic effort with a certain twisted gleam in my eyes as I readied myself to dive back into the world of indie horror and all things dark and depraved.
Writer/director Adrian Corona's Dis fits that description perfectly.
Dis is centered around the many legends of the mandrake, though I'd dare say it also creates a few of its own in telling the story of Ariel (Bill Oberst, Jr.), an ex-soldier with a criminal past whose unexpected encounter with the demonic caretaker of a secluded Mexican mandrake garden weaves together the story's ancient mythological and fractured human elements in exquisitely beautiful yet unfathomably horrific ways.
The film was actually filmed in Mexico, reportedly under incredibly challenging conditions, and Corona's desire to and success in giving the film a Latina horror feel casts a dark, otherworldly aura that is present throughout the film's slight yet efficient and effective 61-minute running time. Dis recently had its debut at TOHorror in Italy and looks to experience a wildly successful run with Corona's unique and inspired vision that makes the film radiate more a sense of terror than it does of actual horror.
Dis somehow manages to be both jarring and meditative, especially in the film's first 20 minutes or so when dialogue is kept to a minimum and we watch the slow, methodical way in which this demonic presence subjects his initial victim, a young woman, to whatever it will take to acquire the ingredients, specifically the seed of killers and the blood of the damned, in order to continue feeding the mandrake. These scenes are simultaneously horrifying and jarring and illusory and even a tad sensual, the mandrake's presence making even the most demonic presence seductive until it is too late.
By the time that Ariel arrives on the scene, it becomes apparent that Dis is a film that will allow the Emmy Award-winning Oberst to flex his acting muscles in a role that is simultaneously demonic yet stunning in its vulnerability. While Oberst's filmography in recent years has been filled to the brim with indie horror, this indie "terror" film is a reminder that he's an Emmy Award-winning actor, for Take This Lollipop, and may be a familiar face to fans of Criminal Minds.
In fact, Dis is an immensely satisfying, I can't really call it "entertaining," film in which Corona takes a modestly budgeted film and works wonders thanks to his terrific ensemble cast including Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix and Peter Gonzales Falcon. Lensing by Rodrigo Rodriguez is spellbinding, a perfect weaving together horrifying intimacy and terrifying suspense. Kudos must be given to the film's entire team from original music to a production design that amps up the film's hallucinogenic atmosphere.
Dis is an intelligent, thought-provoking film that also absolutely terrifies, an intoxicating cinematic experience that leaves you breathless while also wishing it were even longer. Definitely not safe for work or children or the emotionally timid, Dis is a film that tears you apart and never promises to put you back together.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic