The stateside success of Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Salma Hayek got the folks at Venevision International to thinking: Why let Hollywood make all the money off great Spanish-speaking actors? Instead of importing movie stars, why not import entire movies? Not those grim arthouse bores made for miniscule audiences but the new, glossy commercial fare of European-Union Spain and MTV-era Latin America -- crowd pleasers with high production values suitable for screening alongside Serendipity or even Zoolander. And what better market to launch this invasion of the multiplex than Miami?
The first offering is El Arte de Morir, a sleek tale of horror haunted by a ghost with a Mohawk. The Art of Dying proved a favorite among focus groups of hip local Latinos. The target audience is young, well-heeled, and wants to be entertained -- not unlike the cast of six stylish victims. One fateful Saturday night, instead of going to the movies, this Iberian version of Friends takes a camping trip, and the requisite drinking and couple-swapping leads to murder.
The Art of Dying
While the premise shares many similarities with, say, I Know What You Did Last Summer, there are plenty of signs besides the Castilian accent that this movie was made in Spain. Protagonist Iván (Fele Martinez) is cute in a nerdy kind of way: He's skinny and wears glasses. He shares an apartment with his girlfriend, Clara (Maria Esteve), such straightforward cohabitation still a little sofisticado for Hollywood's PG-17 puritanism. Even more telling, The Art of Dying eschews hockey masks, talking dolls, and hook hands in favor of a gory revenge plot inspired by the work of fifteenth-century Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. Sure, one of the characters might be skewered on the tap of a beer keg, but that doesn't mean viewers can't contemplate the meaning of life.
Apart from the Renaissance reference, every other aspect of the film is ultramodern -- from the Frank Lloyd Wright-style house of the mad Mohawk to the minimalist design of the victims' apartments, the neighborhood bar, the police precinct, and even the gym. All the better to lead those so inclined to see the blood and guts splattered across the severe slate surfaces as a comment on the violence of contemporary consumer culture. Or not. Deep thoughts are strictly optional as the and-then-there-was-one body count progresses, offering the same date-clenching chills of the best and the worst horror Hollywood has to offer.