Written and directed by Alejandro Fadel, Murder Me, Monster (or Muere, Monstruo, Muere) follows rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez), who is investigating the bizarre case of a headless woman found in a remote area by the Andes mountains. Pretty soon, David (Esteban Bigliardi), the husband of Cruz’s lover, Francisca (Tania Casciani), becomes the prime suspect and is sent to a local mental hospital after he blames the murder on the inexplicable appearance of a monster who he claims brutally beheads its victims after they plead “Murder Me, Monster”.
As more bodies are found it becomes apparent that the culprit may still be at large and Cruz must work fast to determine who, or what, the real monster may be…
A strange and mysterious horror full of gore and a monster like no other, Murder Me, Monster certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. We spoke to Alejandro Fadel about creating the movie, its inner themes and just what the inspiration was behind that unique monster!
When did you first get the idea for Murder Me, Monster?
When I finished my first feature, I had the idea of making a mix between a documentary and a fantasy film. I want to make a film in three parts – in a monastery, in a military regiment and also in a psychiatric hospital. It was a very small story, a fantastic story that crossed those three places. But as I continued writing, I discovered that the fantasy element was [getting bigger] and taking more of a presence. I [also] discovered that the film needed another important part: a love story, [which in turn gave] the fantastic part more power.
In a way, I think my film is a love story, a love triangle between two men and a woman, and my question as a filmmaker, as a writer was: what happens when this element of love, this element of desire, this element of vitality, disappears? What happens with this empty place for the two men who are looking for love? Because the film is about men, I think, and different ways of dealing with this responsibility.
I was also thinking [about] a simple image: it was the mountain where I shot the film. I included it to make it symbolic. It was a mountain reflected in a lagoon, so I was thinking that the first part of the film was a film about the real mountain, two men and one woman and the other part of the film, the love triangle becomes a monster struggle, and was a love story in a way between the two men and the monster.
Another idea I’ve always had in my mind was of shooting something that has put an impression on me – in this case that the mountain near where I grew up, on the border between Argentina and Chile. So I decided to come back to my province, to my small town and shoot there and try to reproduce, with the elements of the fiction, certain spiritual emotions that I had when I was a teenager with this landscape.
What were your inspirations when writing the film?
It’s a tradition for film makers to combine different elements and my work [aims to create] a good picture of all the things that I want to put inside a film. The [film] is the easel that you use to paint your [ideas] and to try to make a beautiful relationship between them to provoke an emotion. Those are the films that I like.
Of course, there are more intellectual, theoretical and abstract [elements in there as well], but I look for a certain emotion. I embrace it. So I was thinking about how to combine certain ideas about the sacred world with the cinephile universe.
Very different filmmakers from different cultures deal with the idea of God and the idea of evil [in similar ways]. They’re proposing a political vision [through] their work.
So I was thinking: ‘How would John Carpenter deal with these themes?’. I don’t think that you can clearly see [Carpenter as an inspiration] in the film but it was an inspiration to think of how he would deal with the themes I had in there.
One of the ideas that the film proposes is how to deal with that thing that you cannot put a name to… that element that makes you feel unsettled and uncomfortable. How can you put it in a box? Or put it in a certain, quiet place in your mind?
That’s the good thing about horror. When this element is present in a film it makes it more interesting, more perdurable. Horror isn’t only there for the shocks. There are so many elements to them.
Why did you decide to make a monster film?
In the most innocent way, my heart lies with Universal’s monsters! When I was 16 or 17 I was a fan of that kind of monster and then [I became a fan of] Japanese monsters – they basically created the formation of me as a cinephile.
When I wrote the script for Murder Me, Monster, it wasn’t quite so simple but a lot of people liked the monster and wanted it to be in the film. So the moment I discovered I had the money to make the monster I thought ‘why not?’ and it meant I could mix all of those feelings [I had from my childhood] with the ideas that I have now.
That’s why the look of Murder Me, Monster is based on movies from the Seventies and Eighties and, like Carpenter, I put the monster in the light.
The monster is important and I wanted to shoot it just like I would any of the other characters in the film. So you can see the monster doing his thing. You see him during moments when he isn’t a monstrosity, he’s just walking around. So perhaps the monster is just like the other characters… sometimes they’re monsters, sometimes they’re not.
The monster has a very unique look. How did you settle on what the monster would look like?
From the beginning, I wanted to make sure that we created the monster in a practical way, with animatronics and with an actor inside a costume etc. I thought it would make the monster’s image more perdurable.
During the filmmaking process, I said to the monster’s designer that I wanted to create an anticapitalist monster. It was a joke of course but when I was looking at some new horror films and TV shows, like Stranger Things, the monster was able to do everything! It can be a flower that explodes, it can be a dolphin or a dinosaur or whatever you needed because if you use CGI you can do whatever you want.
It was important to me that the monster only had one or two abilities. That it was limited and not just able do anything that a computer or an algorithm decides it can do. That limitation was good for me and good for the film.
I also noticed that most monsters were similar in that they were fast and skinny. So I thought to myself ‘okay, we’re in South America, we’re in Argentina, we don’t have the monster tradition. Maybe we can work with another body type that connects us to the now’. So I thought it should have a normal body and I decided it should be a chubby monster, a slower monster, because I wanted an element of normality to it.
Perhaps that doesn’t make it a good monster but it is original! Which I think is so important during these times where everything looks the same. Of course, if you make a film that’s a little bit different you will lose some audiences but you win in another way. I don’t know if win is actually the right word [haha] but I do think sometimes it’s more important to be new than good these days. Making something that’s just ‘good’ is pretty easy.
It’s quite hard to shock audiences these days…
It’s important for me to be different. You take Netflix and Amazon etc, they all have algorithms to tell you what to watch. We don’t decide, we’re very lazy when we’re looking for things we like. We lose time scrolling through [movie and TV platforms] saying ‘there is nothing to watch, there is nothing…’ but a few years ago there actually was nothing and now we have everything! Now we have kids who don’t understand this algorithm. That we’re being sold a product. They’re taking our feelings to make money.
I think that dealing with some disruptions to the system is what makes art, and cinema is art. Try to break some rules, because if not, you are playing for the monster not against the monster.
Another unique aspect of the film is its protagonist, Cruz, he isn’t your typical hero…
The idea of Cruz is the same as with the monster and with the rest of the characters – to try and find bodies, faces and voices that you may not expect in a movie.
Francisca is also not the kind of woman you may expect. You had to fall in love with her and actress Tania (Caciani) was able to do this with her very beautiful face, but perhaps not in the way you’d imagine.
When I was writing the character of Cruz I was actually thinking about Esteban Bigliardiea who plays David. Esteban’s voice was quite deep and monotone. But when I met Victor Lopez (who plays Cruz), when we cast him, his voice was not that deep, it was completely different. But I followed my intuition for Victor to play Cruz, even though it takes a little more time to understand what Victor is saying.
That’s an important part of filmmaking. If you make a decision on intuition, sometimes you’ll find a beauty that you didn’t expect and Victor’s voice combined with Esteban’s voice created something magical.
Sound also plays a big part in the film, with the monster’s growl underlying scenes that the monster isn’t even in…
An important decision in the sound design was how to deal with the presence of the monster in the frame and out of frame. So we decided to use its breath so there’s some element of the monster you can always feel throughout the film.
But I also wanted to work with the visual to put that idea across, as the sound is quite an unnatural element. The landscape is a character of its own. It has a voice. It even gives the other characters a trick on how to solve this crime!
I wanted to shoot the film in wide-open spaces with a wide-angle lens but also, this film is about claustrophobia. So I had to work out a way to use the sound and the image together to create these two contradictory feelings. You have a big landscape but it also has to feel like it’s closing in around you.
This is why the main images are always in the centre of the screen, it makes your eyes go to the centre of the frame, which helps with the claustrophobia and that then gives space for the sound design to open around you.
What’s next for you?
The new project we are working on is called Las Aventuras de la China Iron (the book is translated into English for those who want to read it). It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Gabriela Cabezón Camara. When we read the novel we felt it gave an effective view of the world, and what was happening in the past (the story is set in the 19th Century in the pampas of Argentina). I imagine the film’s tone will be slightly different from my previous films. This time there is something light to it, with a focus on adventure, eroticism and discovery. You have the tradition of the western and of the gaucho. All of our historical films, the epic westerns, are about men – this is the anti-gaucho in that the main characters are two women.
As a filmmaker, I like to have new challenges. With Murder Me, Monster I wanted to focus on the landscape and that imposing point of view. With this new film, I want to focus on nature; its beauty and its smallness, the birds, the insects, the life within a piece of land and the harmonious relationships that build the elements of this natural ecosystem. Then to compare that to the social and political ecosystem that we ourselves are also part of…
Murder Me, Monster (Muere, Monstruo, Muere) is in select cinemas and on-demand from 4 December 2020. Read our review here.