Trauma is a movie that’s garnered a lot of attention from horror fans across the board. Gore hounds love it because of the brilliant mix of practical and digital effects. Extreme horror fans seek it out because of the popular comparisons made to A Serbian Film and Salo. Others simply find joy in showing it to their friends and watch their expression alternate between terror and disgust.
Regardless of what keeps audiences running to Trauma (read Nik Sullivan's review), it’s arguably one of the most surprising successes of 2018 in the horror film industry.
Prior to seeing Trauma, I only knew director Lucio Rojas from his earlier film Sendero. I was excited for this new movie because Rojas excels at balancing gore and taboo subject matter with strong storytelling and characterization. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the experience of seeing Trauma for the first time. This might cost me some serious cred as a horror fan, but I had to watch it in increments the first time around. If you think you might have a stronger stomach than me, I challenge you to watch the first five minutes while eating dinner…
I was lucky enough to send a few questions not only to Rojas, but also Ximena del Solar, one of the leading ladies. It was a great privilege to pick their brains, but I feel it was only fair; their movie, after all, permanently blew my mind!
Water Portrait credit: Paula Bertrán Salinas (www.artefoto.cl – 2018) Paula Bertran Instagram: @paulabertrans
Some of the more shocking scenes in Trauma are based on true accounts from Chilean history. Could you talk a little bit about how you found out about these past brutalities and how you incorporated them into your movie?
LUCIO: In Latin America we have experienced some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. In Chile in particular, the level of violence, sadism and cruelty of the agents of the State during the Pinochet dictatorship have no comparison with anything that's ever been seen. Except with the Nazi concentration camps, to which the Chilean military has always admired. Chile was under the barbarism of these ultra-right criminals from 1973 to 1989. It was 17 years that left thousands "disappeared" and tens of thousands tortured in the most savage, brutal and inhumane ways possible. I felt that I had to tell this, as it had never been done, it was an almost obsessive need on my part as a filmmaker. This led to the construction of the first scene in "Trauma," a scene that for many, is one of the most extreme and unpleasant in the history of cinema. I regret to say, even that terrible act seen on screen was something massive in those years and there were acts of violence even more cruel and violent than those seen in "Trauma". Human violence, when it is under the protection of the power of the State, can make men become the worst people.
But in spite of all that, what scares me the most is that, even when there's the recent memory of ultra-right governments, political parties and presidents with these political positions are still coming to power. This is dangerous, frightening and even more violent. The people have not learned anything.
Ximena, your character seems to be the most “alive” in the movie. As an actress, how did her appetite for life inform your character choices? What did the character represent to you in the overall story?
XIMENA: Yes, without a doubt Julia is a character who experiences the desire for adventure and enjoyment in a very palpable way. I think that, in general, Julia is a woman who has always had her way. When she witnesses the real horror before her eyes, she suffers an impact of great magnitude that makes her, for example, appreciate Camila's love - which until that moment was a romantic relationship in which clearly the level of commitment and fidelity was not mutual - under a new light.
For me, Julia also represents the most sensual side of the female universe. She has a relation of love and natural disinhibition with her own body that in many ways coincides with mine. So it was the easiest aspect I had to work with due to the natural identification between us.
One thing that I adore about Julia is the enormous amount of arcs that she crosses. From the funniest to the bravest, from lust to the capacity for struggle and commitment. I think it's the character who experiences the greatest variety of emotions within the film. As an actress, that is particularly attractive and the challenge was to make all those processes of change coherent and credible within the psychology of the character itself.
Can you tell me a little about the various character arcs and how they affect the story as a whole? The women in particular make some very bold choices in the third act.
LUCIO: More than thinking about individual characters, we wanted to make the group of women a single character that, as the film progresses, goes through different emotional states. The distrust in the encounter at the beginning with characters that are not tolerated, Andrea (Catalina Martin) and Julia (Ximena del Solar), more innocent and candid characters like Camila (Macarena Carrere) and Magdalena (Dominga Bofill), who do not perceive the danger from their helplessness. So throughout the film, we go through joy, extroversion, fear, anger, rage and finally revenge, but it was always thought of as a block that's facing its enemies.
And so it is, within the third act, after enduring the brutalities at the hands of these men, they decide to face them in a spiral of violence that could never be stopped. Well, that's one of the concepts of the film, violence breeds violence, brutality creates more brutality. And when someone gets into that, you can never leave and after living all this hell, the protagonists of "Trauma", being alone in the world, must face the villains even with the risk of it being a suicide mission. That's what human sacrifice is about, to give whatever it takes to save the other, and in that, women are the ones who can teach us a lot about that. We, many of us, have to learn about those values.
XIMENA: Women suffer the great shake of their lives. What until that moment were preoccupations of affective nature and conflicts due to lack of affinities (Julia/Andrea) suddenly becomes a fight between life and death, literally survive. The presence of little Yoya, a sweet infant kidnapped by Juan, impels in them the need for revenge and also the desire to rescue something precious and valuable: the life of a helpless and innocent being. This act demonstrates the level of sacrifice that a woman is capable to face, which is identical to the sacrifice of a mother. At the same time, very deep inside they feel there is nothing more to lose. The soul is so fractured that achieving at least one positive thing before the end becomes a battle flag, a reason to believe that some dignity can persist beyond the pain.
Your previous film, Sendero, had some similarities to Trauma. What did you learn from this previous experience that helped you make Trauma such a success?
LUCIO: I'm very fond of "Sendero" for all that it meant. Many festivals, a lot of recognition and it was the first Chilean horror film acquired worldwide by Netflix. But, and in this you have to be honest, it was a film that failed in many things. It did not end as well as I wanted, it was not everything I had imagined and that was my own responsibility, not being firm and clear about what I wanted. "Sendero" ended up being a great professional apprenticeship for "Trauma," where we tried to correct all the mistakes that were made before, from the planning, going through the technical aspects and even the shooting. They're films that have almost the same budget, "Trauma" only 20% more, but they seem to be from two different categories. I think that better work is what finally led "Trauma" to this kind of success, and after 15 months of touring festivals, it has become popular. I think that over time, this movie will continue to grow and over the years, it will become a mini cult film within the terror audiences. Not only in listings of more extreme, but of very brave films in its realization.
The blend of practical and digital special effects was extremely well done, so much so that I actually had to look away for a moment during a gruesome scene in the third act! What sort of planning and experimentation went into deciding how to execute these extra-bloody scenes? How many chances did you have to get the makeup effects just the way you wanted them on camera?
LUCIO: It was very well planned. It was a joint work with makeup artist Isabella Marchesse, who designed and executed the practical special effects, together with the cinematographer Sebastián Ballek and in coordination with Jump Cats FX, who intervened several of the practical effects and developed many. All of this, plus the excellent work of composition and the digital retouching of these great artists led us to have a quality of impressive special effects. This is spoken of everywhere it has been exhibited and that makes us very happy, because it's a very low budget film that could never have dreamed of having special effects of this type.
I was interested in hyper realistic effects. I did not want something medium, but totally realistic, explicit and shocking. It's not a film that was made thinking of large audiences or the mass audience, we knew from the beginning that it would be 18 years old and up, that is why we never cared about the level of violence and therefore, the explicitness of the gore effects. In fact, everything is seen on camera, there were no effects on off-field, because we were not interested in showing this softened brutality. Of course, this meant that for some of the effects, we only had one chance to make the shot because we did not have more. In those cases, we were concerned that everything was filmed correctly and to not waste the only opportunity to have the desired special effect.
XIMENA: There are many moments in which makeup really contributes to create a mental sensation that helps starting an emotional work.
About the practical effects, I think the worst thing that I had to experience was when a prop was made from my head during the pre-production process. That requires spending a lot of time immobilized (in my case, with the mouth open) and it's like being locked inside your mind, like a state of catalepsy where you can feel the world around, but you cannot express yourself. Fortunately, I am a very patient person and I managed to cope with the experience. Then, during the shooting, many effects are not seen with the spectacularity you see them later on screen. So you work more from the imagination and the conviction in the acts that are represented during the filming process. And well, imagination I have a lot!
Speaking specifically about physical suffering, like the one that can be observed in the movie, I personally do a mental investigative work that I rehearse several times on my own long before I get to film it. I imagine the pain step by step and the tools that provoke it. When I reach a certain limit of emotional tension I stop the exercise and reserve that last expression for the shooting. When it comes to emotional pain, the exercise is similar, but I incorporate memories and experiences that, although not necessarily in script, can be attributed to my character's backstory.
I must say that I am fascinated by the possibility of working with emotions and extreme situations. It makes me feel fear and curiosity at the same time. The advantage is that
you live those extreme situations in a performance and then you return to a safe space. I consider that as a great privilege offered by this profession.
Have the favorable comparisons between Trauma and other extreme horror films helped or hindered your ability to stand out to horror fans?
LUCIO: From the beginning we have been compared to some films, especially "A Serbian Film". This does not bother me because it is a film that I found very interesting, courageous and I will always support rupturist proposals, unique and independent of their quality that are able to go beyond the politically correct. At the beginning we felt it as a weight, but within the following months, after more than 60 festivals to date, several appearances in Blu-ray, DVD and other formats, "Trauma" began to have its own personality, began to stand as a unique and incomparable film. A film that even critics have a hard time classifying. Well, I think that is the film, unclassifiable. More than an exercise in violence, brutality and gore, it's an experience about sadism, badness, sordidness and human indecency. Somehow, not only does it represent the most malevolent of the human condition in what happened to the Chilean dictatorship, but in some way as an author, it projected some of my worst sins of life that in my case, I hope never come back .
"Trauma" for every person who sees it, regardless of the country, is an unrepeatable experience. It is a film that exudes evil, that exudes perversity and that decomposes physically and mentally. I think that few films of recent years are capable of taking you to a state of these characteristics and in that sense, we are very proud of the result of the film and especially, the global reception it has had. At first, this had us restless and a little scared because we did not know how it would be received, but following its great approval we were very happy. Obviously, there are people who do not like it, that's normal. This type of work has no middle ground, you will like it as an experience or you will hate it as a whole. But if it does not cause either reaction, that's worrisome.
XIMENA: It is impossible to avoid comparisons with other films, it always happen. I think that the excessive comparison with "A Serbian Film" (a movie that I respect a lot) was interesting at first because of the huge popularity it has among a worldwide audience (beyond the fact they can hate it or love it), so it served as a marketing for us, but over time the truth is that I didn't like that comparison too much. A journalist from DecayMag.com recently mentioned that it seemed to him that Trauma is some kind of Latino version of Martyrs. In some way I do understand that point of view (and somehow I identify more with that comparison due to the tortured soul topic Trauma develops). What I do believe is that Trauma is a film full of particularities and Horror fans have to watch it first and give their opinion later.
Trauma presents many situations that can be interpreted metaphorically. There is a denunciation towards the totalitarian state and the Chilean dictatorship, there is representation of the feminine struggle in a world full of macho concepts and visions, there is a clear sample of what the evil of an individual can generate in other souls and how the effects of a harmful and perverse “education” corrupts the soul of a victim.
Crypt Teaze would like to thank both Lucio and Ximena for taking the time to answer these questions! Trauma is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Artsploitation Films. The film is also available to stream on Amazon Prime.