Thanatomorphose is described in Reverso’s French language dictionary as “modifications visibles ques la mort provoque sur les organismes” which, when translated into English, means “visible changes that death causes on organisms”. In what may be the most disturbing film since David Lynch’s Eraserhead, or at the very least The Human Centipede, writer/director Eric Falardeau delivers a view of decomposition like no other. The twist is that the decomposing subject is not an orange that you find under the rear seat of your car or an animal discovered in a ditch at the side of the road. The object of this study is a woman who literally rots from the inside out.
The story opens with a nameless young woman (Kayden Rose) wandering around in her apartment naked after having sex with her boyfriend. The woman notices a bruise on her right shoulder but thinks nothing of it. The next morning she loses two of her fingernails while preparing for work. Thus begins a daily pattern of waking up to new bruises, skin discolouration, weakness and increased pain.
The most curious aspect of Thanatomorphose is the woman’s reaction to the changes. She is not alarmed or panicked. She does not even consider going to the hospital during the early stages of the metamorphosis. Instead she takes a detached approach to the way she observes the changes. It is like she is a scientist charting the progress of an experiment. This reaction fits well with all the signs our heroine displays in the early stages of the film. She is a person that is very much alone, empty and suffering from low self-esteem. Her circle of friend is small, there is no mention of any family, and her boyfriend is both neglectful and abusive. She uses sex as an attempt to feel, but there is no true passion in her life.
Kayden Rose turns in an extraordinary performance in the lead role. Despite being her debut feature film role, she skillfully handles the task of being in every frame of the movie. The extremely physical role often calls for Rose to demonstrate the pain and suffering inflicted on her character. It is a very gutsy performance as she spends a lot of time on camera covered in an increasing amount of prosthetic makeup that conveys the notion of a rotting organism.
Cinematographer Benoît Lemire keeps the lens set to a small aperture for the majority of the production. Every scene in the film takes place in the woman’s apartment and, for the most part, in low light. The lighting scheme fits well with the claustrophobic feeling for the piece. It also forces the audience to work at deciphering what they actually seeing throughout the lead character’s transformation. The darker tones also plays well with the hand-held camera work that follows the protagonist as she stumbles around the apartment discovering what has befallen her each day.
Special makeup effects designer David Scherer, whose majority of earlier works have been in shorts and television, created some signature work in this film. The way he slowly turns a fit mid-twenties woman into an oozing bundle of cells is both hard to watch and mesmerizing at the same time. Each day she is a little more discoloured, leaking somewhere new, and has another appendage that needs to come off.
Thanatomorphose is a riveting and horrifying spectacle that goes beyond the category of a horror genre film. It is the visualization of the link between the emotional and the physical. The main character’s emotionally vacancy is manifested in the physical transformation she endures. Though I think you should go and see the film, beware that Thanatomorphose will stay with you long after you exit the theatre.