TIFF 2013 Film Review: Cannibal

Starring: Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte

Directed by: Manuel Martín Cuenca

Genre: Thriller (Spain/Romania)

Choice Quote: “Feel like going vegetarian tonight?” (It’s not from the movie, but rather what you might be thinking once the film is done.)

The Hype: Carlos (de la Torre) is an unassuming, middle-aged tailor who lives alone in the small town of Granada, Spain. He has no wife, and the only people he ever has over for dinner end up on his plate. You see Carlos lives a double life as a cannibal, with a specific taste for beautiful women. His solitary, sadistic existence is threatened, however, when the nearly identical sister of one of his victims befriends him, and for the first time in his life the cannibal falls in love.

The Reality: I know what you’re thinking — this film sounds gruesome and disturbing. And it can be. But beneath it all Cannibal is a brilliantly crafted psychological thriller in which de la Torre proves one of cinema’s most sophisticated cold-blooded monsters.

Comparisons to the Silence of the Lambs should be stifled right off the bat. True, both Carlos and Hannibal Lecter share a taste for human flesh, but the similarities between the two are, ahem, merely skin deep.

The psychological edge in this film is born of the fact that Carlos the cannibal is so accustomed to his bloody endeavors that, for him, it borders on the routine. From the murder to the carving up of the body to the packing of the meat in the freezer to the cooking and eating it each night, the process, for him, is akin to grocery shopping. To watch Carlos sit alone at the dinner table, chewing each bite with care, he looks almost disinterested.

Carlos doesn’t eye people in the street and start licking his chops. And, in fact, when his striking neighbor Alexandra (Melinte) tries to wedge herself into his mysterious life, he seemingly attempts to push her out – almost shooing her away from certain danger.

The story gets more griping when, after murdering Alexandra, her unsuspecting, almost identical sister Nina (also Melinte) shows up and stirs some seriously foreign emotions within Carlos. It’s like a second chance to shed some light onto his dark existence.

Director Cuenca is smart enough to let the film’s long stretches of silence and seemingly inconsequential scenes speak for themselves, highlighting the disturbing repetitiveness of Carlos’ life against the backdrop of the stunning Spanish scenery. And when the two main ladies enter his lair (Melinte’s playful Alexandra and mournful Nina are extraordinary counterpoints to de la Torre’s Carlos, by the way) it’s like you’re watching a field mouse wander unsuspectingly into a rattlesnake den without recognizing the sound of the snake’s jangling tail.

Ultimately, Carlos is a unique breed of cinematic psychopath who prefers not to serve fava beans and a nice chianti with his meal. He enjoys his finely tailored existence (no pun intended) and he’s almost painfully ordinary. He’s also able to convince Nina that beneath his stand-offish behaviour a truly nice guy exists inside of him (and I don’t mean one he ate for dinner). But you know the old saying – the nice ones are always cannibals.

The Verdict: Forget all the Silence of the Lambs comparisons others are making. Cannibal stands on its own – edgy, disturbing, superb.

See it in theatres or rent it?: Theatres

Can the grandkids watch?: They probably shouldn’t.

Rating (out of 5): 4.0 kernels