Touted as the “this year’s most insane midnighter” by Chattanooga Film Festival for their virtual edition, you only have to look to the trailer Skull: The Mask to see it more than earns that distinction. An insanely gory, ambitious effort hailing from Brazil, Skull sets a bloodthirsty supernatural killer loose in São Paulo. That would be enough to fill a feature-length film slasher, but the increasingly complicated plot threads bring multiple tones and flavors of horror into the mix. A simple slasher with enough viscera and organ meat to appease gorehounds gets bogged down under the weight of its massive ambition.
Opening with a 1944 set scene deep in the Amazon, Nazis experiment with a strange artifact. It’s a skull mask, or the Mask of Anhangá, the executioner of pre-Columbian God, Tahawantinsupay. Anhangá’s sole purpose is to commit visceral sacrifices for his god, and the bloodier, the better. In other words, he’s a nearly unstoppable killing machine. The Nazi experiment fails, though, and the mask gets buried until present-day archeologists discover it. The mask finds a human host and embarks on an all-new murder spree across the city.
That’s all well and good, but this central plot thread is intercut with the noir-ish storyline of Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues), a Detective with a shady past working on a missing children’s case. As she’s drawn into the central story, the film establishes many other characters- from a sleazy businessman to a crook looking to upkeep his family’s honor- all with various stakes in getting their hands on that mask. The further into the story we get, the more convoluted everything becomes. There’s a high probability you’ll forget about a character’s existence entirely before they pop up again.
The ambition that writers/directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman demonstrate here is impressive, especially given the clear budget constraints. They’re attempting to marry actual ancient mythology with modern socially conscious themes. It’s juggled with a wide array of characters across the moral spectrum, and multiple set pieces and locations. Skull is a part noir, part action drama, and part ultra-violent slasher, causing a little bit of whiplash as it toggles between tone. It’s a lot to process.
Luckily, there’s Anhangá, one blood-drenched beast of a killer. The remarkably gruesome practical effects, enhanced by slurpy sound effects, brings the balls-to-the-wall gory fun. None of the film’s flaws matter much when Anhangá is on screen, rampaging his way through the city, ripping bodies apart in the most grisly and destructive way possible. If you want unapologetic, creative kills with a tentacled masked maniac, this more than delivers. When the focus shifts to the other key plays, the energy Anhangá brings deflates noticeably.
Overall, enjoyment of Skull: The Mask depends on your approach from the start. If you sign up merely looking to satiate your appetite for an insanely gory slasher, well, Anhangá has you covered. Beyond that, though, Skull is marred by a convoluted script that needed significant trimming. Fonseca and Furman seem to be aiming for Brazil’s current political climate, perhaps making a statement about how forgetting the past can be catastrophically damaging. The messaging gets lost in the scattered shuffle and technical limitations. Skull contains a gloriously carnage-fueled horror movie nestled deep within a messy web of entangled plot threads. A lot of it doesn’t work, but it’s hard to be too upset about a film that brings an insane amount of gore and intriguing new monster mythology.