Do you have anxiety about what will happen to your inflexible, gelid remains after you die? Do you fear the callousness or dubious moral fiber of the postmortem professionals who will survey and prepare your physical vessel for its transfiguration into man-mulch? What kind of person chooses to do the dirty work of managing soft tissue and washing a body before it’s preparation for terrestrial internment? I mean you never see David Caruso or Gary Sinise trimming back a dead man’s wiry pubes or stuffing a gelatinous brain into a flayed chest cavity. Were not talking about sexy, adroit, forensic pathologists, but rather thick-browed, knuckle draggers who wield their bonesaws indelicately and rip through your lifeless body without ritual or reverence. Perhaps this seems a little heavy handed, but it is exactly the impression that Spanish horror honcho Nacho Cerda hopes to leave festering in your craw with his short film “Aftermath”.
The film is a slice of life involving a morgue, a young female carcass and a medical examiner who embodies all the grotesque intemperance detailed above. On a quiet night an orderly brings a new stiff to the subterranean staging fridges and on his way out of the morgue stops to watch two examiners carve up their latest bodies. It becomes apparent quickly that one of these gentlemen is a tad over invested in the process while the other displays a rough distance from his tasks. He frightens the orderly off and returns to his work with unnerving delectation.
After his partner, Mr. Business leaves the cutting room; the creepy corpse cleaner brings in the body of a young woman who has met with a violent end. The creepizoid takes great relish in cutting off her clothing and then sets about molesting the body with his implements. He intensifies his lusty ways until he achieves a full mount, penetration and a few pictures for his private collection. He bags up the dead girl’s heart and heads home to feed his dog.
“Aftermath” has some really nice moments of gore in it. High quality practical FX work with great attention paid to anatomical detail lends a lot of credibility to the production. Another standout aspect of the film is the cinematography. Shot on 35mm by Christopher Baffa, the lurid subject matter and the super sanitized environment clash to create the right amount of visual tension and repulsion. The production design is also top shelf. Cold white tiles and stainless steel surfaces framed by low ceilings and bathed in hot but sparse light give the viewer the feeling of a labyrinth underground sepulcher from which few secrets ever escape. All these excellent mechanics are made more impressive by the fact that the film is 16 years old. Excepting some low-fi digital title FX and the presence of a cassette tape Walkman one might never suspect the film is nearing two decades old.
Sadly, most of my admiration for “Aftermath” ends with the technical excellence and the atmosphere. This is because at its core the short seems to hold a less than pressing premise. What is worse is that weak premise is an excuse to indulge a little necrofun. Making a film about fucking the dead and having it's central point be that those who handle the body after death could potentially perform all sorts of hideous acts because of their relative anonymity in the process, seems too flimsy. I would like to believe that there is an element of black comedy about the Spanish health care system circa. 1994; but if it is in there it is obliterated by the film’s method of delivery.
This film feels like a polished approximation of German Deathmeister Jorg Buttgereit’s first big hit “Nekromantik”. With “Nekromantik” Buttgereit trotted out all his fantasies with underwhelming style and a surfeit of shocking imagery. The movie is a crude forerunner to his headier and more refined sequel “Nekromantik 2”, and his great moribund meditation “Der Todesking”. What “Aftermath” shares with “Nekromantik” is the desire to fetishize the act of romancing the dead. Unlike “Nekromantik” it isn’t the selling of putrescent beauty but the base and lascivious violence and defilement. If Jorg is the Mary Shelley of Necrophiliac tales then Nacho Cerda is Jackie Collins… dressed unconvincingly as Jean Paul Sartre.
Fortunately, Cerda has taken the technical promise of “Aftermath” and used it to much greater overall effect in his subsequent efforts “Genesis” and “The Abandoned”. Each of those films makes greater use of metaphor and have more expansive, relatable themes at their core. As for this cinematic carcass fucking opus, unless you have a need to indulge your necro-agraphobia (fear of sexual abuse after death) you are better off spending 104 minutes watching Jorg’s “Nekromantik 2” than 30 minutes watching Nacho’s “Aftermath”.