Ever have a payé spell cast on you? According to the short film Kurusu Serapio, from Paraguayan-Canadian filmmaker Marcos Codas, it’s not good. It can be downright deadly, in fact. At just over six minutes, this little piece of nightmare fuel was recently declared “of cultural interest” by the Governments of Itapúa and Coronel Bogado, Paraguay. Hear that, Academy? Horror Freaks are cultured.
In an interesting touch, all the actors go by their real names. Young Chris Cuadra breaks up with his girlfriend Camila Siguad because she is a “hick from Kurusu Serapio”. This is apparently the dumbest thing you could ever do. You know what they say about chicks from Kurusu Serapio. Total witchdoctors, (or curandero). A title card appears before the film to help viewers like me with the terminology. Much appreciated.
Not taking the breakup well, Camila casts a payé spell on Chris. He mysteriously disappears, so his friends Ale Amarilla and Leila Benítez journey to Kurusu Serapio to find him. Ale and Leila are themselves a bit of an item, and the witch Camila tests their relationship in ways that are both scary and unexpected. But enough about the plot. Let’s talk about the fun parts.
The strongest thing about Kurusu Serapio is it’s soundtrack. That includes both the music and the audio mix. You could almost enjoy it separately from the visuals, like an experimental art piece off the White Album, or an old radio show such as Inner Sanctum. Provided you speak Spanish, of course. Weird clicks, ambient insect hums, and low drones permeate throughout, creating a sense of impending doom. In contrast, the abrupt dropping of all sound, usually accompanied by a title card marking the days of the payé spell, feels like a slashing guillotine.
Another experimental element is the use of first person point-of-view. There are moments, particularly near the end, where we are put in Leila’s shoes. It is a night scene, and the onboard camera light can clearly be seen at the bottom of the frame, illuminating the ground. It creates the raw immediacy of a found footage film, although the film is never established as one. I’ve seen this technique before, especially in Asian cinema, such as Joe Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It’s a sly breaking of the fourth wall. It adds a spectral dimension to what’s onscreen. A nice touch for a modern witchcraft story.
Because of the quick pacing inherent in a short film, the relationship between the three friends is a bit hard to decipher. The confusion is sorted out by the end credits, but you yearn for a scene in the very beginning, during happier times, to establish why these three are so close. And most importantly, why we should care. There is an ironic twist at the end, which will leave you either cackling or devastated, depending on if you have a coal black soul.
Kurusu Serapio is currently making its way around the festival circuit, in particular the Guácaras Film Festival in Argentina.