SIFF Film Review – Cannibal



Manuel Martín Cuenca’s new film, Cannibal – seen by me at the Seattle International Film Festival – is the story of Carlos (Antonio de la Torre), a tailor in the Spanish town of Granada. (While researching Granada, I ended up learning it was the capital city of Andalusia, which is an autonomous community of Spain. Learning about autonomous communities took me down another Internet rabbit hole and was actually pretty interesting. This has no bearing on the movie, but learning about Spain’s governance structure was worth my time. Recommended reading.  Anyway, back to the review.) He’s the best at what he does and lives a pretty simple life across the street from his shop. He’s got a big secret though; he’s a serial-killing cannibal. After his beautiful neighbor Alexandra (Olimpia Melinte) “mysteriously” disappears after getting too close to him, her sister Nina (also Olimpia Melinte) comes looking for her. Carlos is drawn to Nina, which should lead to her doom. However, Carlos’ feelings for her – and the fact that he has any at all – complicate the situation.

Cannibal Movie Still 1

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Carlos’ cannibalism and how he gets his food. If you are going to have one of your characters be a cannibal serial killer, he or she needs to be one for a reason. It can’t be just an incidental point that has no effect on how the story plays out. Carlos is protecting his secret, but there is no reason for him to specifically be a cannibal; there are quite a lot of things he could be hiding that he would kill to conceal. He could be a mob hitman, a drug dealer of lethal hallucinogenics, a child molester, an evil space alien – whatever. It doesn’t matter. If the screenwriter is going to give a character some sort extreme back story, it really needs to matter to the plot. I watched this movie after viewing an episode of Hannibal, (cannibal double feature if you will) and let me tell you, Hannibal Lecter puts Carlos to shame. Hannibal LOVES his food. He prepares it with care, expressing himself through his meal. Carlos pan fries his dinner, and as far as I can tell doesn’t eat anything else. No veggies. That is going to play havoc on his digestion; no wonder he seems so grumpy. But most importantly, Hannibal Lecter’s serial-killing cannibalism is at the root of everything he does, it’s an integral part of the plot. The same cannot be said for the events in Cannibal. Carlos is so opaque, we never really learn anything about him and why he does what he does. At one point he gives a one-sentence explanation about his motivation, but it was super vague. Not everything in a movie needs massive amounts of exposition, but if you are going to go there, then GO there.

In spite of my ranting, this is not a bad movie. It is however very slow. I was never bored, but I did have moments where I wished the pacing was just a little faster. There’s not a lot of dialogue, which means we don’t really get to know Carlos very well, and there are a lot of lengthy shots of him putting wool back on the bolt or staring out a window. There are A LOT of shots of him looking out the window. And yet, I really never got restless; I just sort of entered a meditative state and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and let the story unfold.

Cannibal Movie Still 2

The lack of character growth also increases the leisurely pace. Carlos falls in love, but it is hard to know what that means to him because we can’t look into his mind, and he isn’t talking. Does it change him? Will he continue to kill? Will he always be resisting the urge to eat Nina? The way the film plays out, we’ll never know, and that’s frustrating. It has a great set up: serial killer falls in love, but the story unspools in such a matter that it is hard to know why the audience should care. There’s no way to empathize with a character that has no entry point. Maybe because he is a psychopath there isn’t anything going on inside, but his ability to love Nina contradicts that.

It is a really lovely movie though. What we see of Granada is beautiful, and the mountain scenery is breathtaking. The acting is good, and for all the flaws of it, it’s worth seeing if you are in the mood for something quiet and melancholic. But it’s more style than substance, and that hurts it. I didn’t need for this to be more like a Hollywood thriller, but I did want it to be more something. I wanted meaning and growth and a reason to spend almost two hours with a character who is nearly incomprehensible.




Adelaide enjoys watching all kinds of movies, but is never going to see Titanic unless there is a sizable amount of money involved.

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