In the States, few horror fans have heard the name Daniel de la Vega (Necrophobia). Thanks to the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, horror fans venturing across the Northern borders are discovering his post-retro style with his latest offering White Coffin. The Argentine director has a lot to offer horror fans. His style is Grindhouse and flashy but controlled and reserved. He only amps things up only when a more kinetic style suits the moment. The film is short and sweet, focusing on a desperate mother forced to make difficult decisions in order to retrieve her kidnapped daughter alive and unharmed. Julieta Cardinali embodies the role of Virginia with a despondent urgency. There’s a lot more going on behind this character’s eyes than the film first lets on. White Coffin has hints of Race with the Devil and Drive Angry but with far more class and focus. It tosses aside the Drive-in camp of those films for a troubling message buried beneath the chases and bloodshed. White Coffin is a breathtaking surprise as only Fantasia can provide.
The script from Andrian Garcia Bogliano and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano follows a young mother Virgina (Julieta Cardinali) and her daughter Rebeca (Fiorela Duranda) are on a road trip. Virginia is troubled by something she won’t share with her young daughter, suggesting she may be on the run. A flat tire introduces her to a helpful wanderer named Mason (Refael Ferro) who warns them to keep traveling until dark, far away from their current location. Virginia stops at the next gas station for a break and a bite to eat. Her rest stop turns into a nightmare when Rebeca and another boy are kidnapped by a man driving a huge wrecker. Chasing after the truck, an ambulance racing behind her forces her off the road. The crash is deadly. But death will not stop her, Mason returns to help her rescue her daughter but forces her to face hard decisions: to what lengths will she go to save her child. The answer is bloody, violent and mysterious.
As Virginia, the frantic mother, Julieta Cardinali is a treasure. She brilliantly represents the challenges this woman faces and the mindset in which she interprets the events that unfold in front of her. Cardinali takes Virginia on an emotional sling shot that forces her character to grow in challenging ways. With every turn she struggles against being swallowed by the hopelessness of her unusual and frightening situation. Her face reflects the dire straights and breathless anguish Virginia must overcome. She discovers an inner strength she did not know she had and dives headlong into battle. She blindly searches for the mysterious White Coffin and the coven that holds her daughter captive. When she is faced with the final and impossible decision, she allows her character to instantly define her answer and her actions. Her performance is immensely interesting and captivating.
The nature of the story has a strong Seventies feel to it. It lives and breathes in an era where Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Lara Parker and Loretta Swit would face off a Satanic cult out to get them on the open road. White Coffin feels like it belongs on a large drive-in outdoor screen. Its sensibilities and framing give it a familiar tone and edge. Yet, it also plays as a film unique in its flavor and distinct in its drive. When Virgina darts after the wrecker, the editing contains a hint of Sam Raimi and the camera angles reveal a dash of Alfred Hitchcock. But not in too extreme a way to consider it derivative. A hint of Quentin Tarantino seals the mixture, especially noticeable as Mason frees Virginia from her tomb. The gore ramps up the action as the second act kicks into high gear. And the finale is a kick to the gut in a way horror films do best.
Much of the success of White Coffin belongs to Andrian Garcia Bogliano and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano who construct a tight little tale. They fill the twists and turns with surprises and challenges that are perfectly subtle for the length of the film. They provide just enough hints at Virginia’s state of mind and the forces that drive her, both internal and external, that are fascinating and engaging. The locations and cinematography from Alejandro Guiliani set the visual tone of the film accentuating the isolation and desperation of Virginia’s plight. The editing from Martin Blousson, Hernan Moyano and director Daniel de la Vega is top notch. Together they provide White Coffin with its own distinct style and atmosphere far different than most modern horror films.
White Coffin hits the road running, tearing up the dusty asphalt with a focused and driven horror. It is out to haunt you with its unexpected and harrowing conclusion. It is full of surprises, both in its story and in Daniel de la Vega’s direction. The writers, Adrian Garcia Bogliano (director of Here Comes the Devil & Late Phases) and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano (director of Penumbra) should be commended on keeping the script concise and to the point. This approach elevates the urgency and intensity, giving the horror a aura of personal immediacy. The few uses of gore in the film come fast and furious in a shocking assault of crimson ferocity. It also serves to motivate the film’s lead and shift the decisions she must face. The acting is terrific throughout with Julieta Cardinali as a stand out while Refael Ferro and Eleonora Wexler give exemplary supporting performances. White Coffin is a small gem that deserves to be discovered. Seek it out.
White Coffin (4 / 5)