Toronto Film Festival Preview: New Argentine Suspense Flick ‘To Kill The Beast’ Invents ‘Tropical Gothic’

Despite the insidiousness of this thing called Delta Variant, the exalted annual celluloid schmoozarama that is the Toronto International Film Festival will boldly carry on in some hybrid of the physical and the virtual this month (the 9th through the 18th, specifically). It’s an indication of the resolute determination of the culture biz to get back to whatever real life actually is, especially when it comes to the business of moving pictures, an entire industry built on the reimagining of reality. And one of the most intriguing featured films at TIFF is one in which discernible reality is very much taken to task.

The rather ominously titled To Kill The Beast is actually the feature debut by Argentine director Agustina San Martín, whose previous shorts include The Cry of the Oxen, Swedish Cousin, and Monster God, the latter netting her a jury prize at Cannes in 2019. Last year, as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, she and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda took on the roles of acolyte and mentor, respectively – an indication of her burgeoning potential as a filmmaker.

The trailer for To Kill The Beast has just been released, and it is awash in nerve-shattering anxiety and enigma. In it, 17-year-old Emilia (Tamara Rocca) is in search of her long lost brother, and in trying to find him goes to stay at the hostel run by her peculiar, distinctly unnerving Aunt Ines (Ana Brun), somewhere near the Brazilian/Argentine border. She leaves a phone message for that same very sibling, insisting, “I’m not leaving until I can talk to you.” But from all we can discern, he doesn’t appear to be replying at all to her entreaties. And Emilia, after arriving at the isolated, unsettlingly haunted-looking guesthouse, is grimly informed by her aunt, “There’s no cellphone reception here.” (Isn’t that always the way?) When Emilia asks about her brother, the answer comes simply, “I don’t know.”

What could be merely another “missing person” story is eerily complicated by the rumor that a strange beast has been stalking the area, which just might turn out to ring metaphorically – though a real, vigilante-like search party has been formed to investigate. Add to that Emilia (Rocca plays her with a riveting combination of vulnerability and tightly-wound tension) meeting a local woman for whom she develops previously unexplored sexual feelings, and To Kill The Beast promises to be a sensual/visceral suspense flick and equivocal horror story at once.

Or as the TIFF preview page describes it, “A bold piece of tropical gothic.” Which, from what we can tell, must be an entirely new cinematic genre.

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