By Mariko McDonald | September 21, 2012

This review was originally published on July 28, 2012…

Horror-comedy is a pretty tricky genre to tackle, success hinging on such a delicate balance that it’s a wonder any directors at all managed to achieve it. For every Shaun Of The Dead that comes out there are 49 abysmal Evil Dead II clones, and you would think more aspiring film makers would be aware of this ratio and take a step back before walking too slavishly in Sam Raimi’s footsteps.

Argentinian director Valentin Javier Diment attempts to sidestep this particular pitfall by soaking his film, Memory of the Dead, in a mix of dream-like atmosphere and Latino flavoured high-camp. The result is a mishmash of horror references that manage to work on an absurdist level, although probably more by accident than by intention.

The plot probably owes its greatest debt to the films of Buñuel, with a group of bourgeois Argentinians reuniting 49 days after the death of the mysteriously deceased Jorge. You’ve got your standard mix of soap-opera tropes: the mouthy “slut,” the mousy ex, the destructive best friend, the new guy, etc. Holding them all together is widow Alicia (Lola Berthet), but are they really all there to say goodbye to their friend, or is there something more sinister going on? Considering Memory of the Dead is billed as a horror film, the answer is obviously the latter.

And this sums up the biggest problem with Memory of the Dead. While the film is drenched in references to horror staples like Raimi, Argento and even Psycho, none of it is really done in a way that is surprising. The dream logic at work functions to keep the viewer from minding too much that nothing makes sense, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling film per se. Ridiculous sequences like a jump scare exploding head are given the same weight as serious and upsetting fare like child abuse and parental neglect. An effective sequence with a faceless child is cut up in the edit and then obliterated by female blood wrestling.

Oddly enough, the film works best when playing it straight, but it just can’t make up its mind between high-camp thrills or psychological chills. Performances are uniformly good, with no one actor rising above the others, although certain characters have more to work with than others. The cinematography riffs on everyone from Raimi to de la Iglesia, but generally feels flat and video-like.

While the film will find an audience with fans of midnight cinema, there is talent here that just needs a little confidence and to stop hiding behind comedy.

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