Modern Vampires of Mexico City

in 4th Los Cabos International Film Festival

by Marietta Steinhart

Guatemalan-Mexican writer-director Julio Hernandez Cordón (Gasolina, Marimbas From Hell) has made a bold new film that depicts a volatile romance between two young men, set against the backdrop of the Mexican narco-run blood trade.

Miguel (Diego Calva Hernández), a young, brooding skateboarder, is having a heated affair with Johnny (Eduardo Martínez Peña), the glue-sniffing son of Miguel’s family’s maid, though Johnny is also wildly attracted to Adri (Shvasti Calderon), much to the chagrin of jealous Miguel. They spend their days in a kind of drug-soaked juvenile oblivion inhabited by skater tribes, having the occasional sexual adventure, starving for affection and seeking their next high. Their adolescent sense of immortality and naiveté is perfectly intact. When they are not skateboarding along overpasses or through markets and plazas, the two boys round up people to be “milked”, which means they get paid for persuading acquaintances throughout the neighborhood to sell their blood to emergency rooms and ambulances. It’s a lucrative business – until one day a very big order of blood comes in from the black market, and the boys get in over their heads. The drug cartel’s deal turns bad for everyone, threatening to end in a mass kidnapping or massacre.

When the deal is introduced it seems as though things are about to get interesting, but it is during this very same exchange that things begin to go off the rails in Hernandez Cordón’s fourth feature. Unfortunately, the world of illegal blood trade, an issue that is still rather a taboo in contemporary Mexico, is never fully explored. Victims disappear and we never discover where they end up. Our heroes are left psychologically under-developed and therefore it is difficult to truly care about them. In his final act, the director favors chaos over coherence, which will not please some viewers, but the film ends on a sweet, sincere and lonesome note that proves memorable.

Calva Hernández and Martínez Peña, non-professionals whom Hernandez Cordón casted via Facebook, give incredibly raw and devoted performances. Their chemistry is sound and it is the mood they help generate that keeps the viewer invested. I Promise You Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía) is a visceral kind of beast that breathes despair and turmoil, but Hernandez Cordón has emphasized it quite deliberately.

As with the young director’s preceding films, this Mexican-German co-production employs a rather crude and realistic aesthetic, delivered with forceful style. There’s authenticity beneath thick layers of inventiveness. Supported by cinematographer María Secco (Tanta Agua), Hernandez Cordón delivers some intriguing, dreamlike images and sensual scenes, soaked in blood-red light. There’s a bit of Gus Van Sant (Paranoid Park) here and a touch of Gaspar Noé (Love, Enter The Void) there. Painting a rather dark mosaic of an abandoned generation, Cordón offers us a world of crushing misery and madness that also recalls works such as Larry Clark’s Kids (1995). The soundtrack is evocative, with a wonderful Spanish version of “Sunny” by the Mexican band Los Iracundos.

I Promise You Anarchy is as much a gay love story and a social comment on homosexuality in Mexico as it is a crime thriller, but these underlying themes are never fully delved into. That the cartel doesn’t accept Johnny’s blood because he might have a sexually transmitted disease isn’t just a quirk, nor is the film’s proximity to the literary queer horror tradition and its longstanding use of vampirism as an erotic metaphor.

The film is a visually rich and mesmerizing affair, heavy with symbolism. It’s puzzling at times, built on a jumbled script that blends genres and spins multiple Mexican subcultures, but don’t be fooled. This, so it seems, is entirely Hernandez Cordón’s intention. We are promised anarchy, and his film delivers.

Edited by José Teodoro