Does it count as World Cinema if a film is from Argentina, is a post-apocalyptic zombiefest and you have to read the subtitles? No clue; but as soon as I found out it existed I knew I had to watch Soy Tóxico, as that combination is something you don’t come across often. And I am so glad I did!
The film starts about 100 years in the future, with a man (Esteban Prol) waking up in a stake of dead bodies with no memory. He is soon introduced to the zombies shambling around, and then gets rescued by a very mysterious Horacio Fontova. After that… well, I’m not going to tell you but “things go from bad to worse” covers it. I want to tell you more – I’m dying to talk to more people about this film – but it’s one of those where any detail starts giving things away so “ooooh, I did not see that coming!” covers most of Pablo Parés, Paulo Soria and Daniel de la Vega’s fantastic script.
Things I can tell you are that the cast is quite excellent, including the shambling horde that keeps on turning up to chew on the living. Fini Bocchino gets a special mention for her work as Iris, in many ways stealing the show with a brilliant and complicated performance. Most of the acting is low-key and naturalistic, with the few snappy action one-liners being perfectly set up.
On top of that, the set and the costumes are also incredible and real. There is a problem with lower-budget post-apocalyptic films where there isn’t a continuity of decrepitude, where sets look well kept but with a thin layer of rubbish thrown on them or vehicles and costumes are just that bit too clean for items that have been in a desert for a month, let alone the implied years. Here, everything looks equally beat and sandblasted; like it all belongs in this one place. There is also a delightful scrap-tech feel to things and a rugged practicality to everything on display.
This includes, for the most part, the zombies. Dried and unnervingly peckish, they manage to look like you’d think a corpse that’s been left out in a desert too long to look. They also have a neutrality to them, making them feel like an inevitability or a manifestation of entropy rather than a motivated or angry beast. Throw in the option to keep their lore minimally explained and their behaviours consistent, and you’ve got a constant threat to be worried the main cast might really get hurt by.
On the subject of hurting, the film handles it’s violence well. It’s at the top end of its 15 rating, by virtue of avoiding excessive details or fetishization, but it feels a lot stronger through careful editing and showing the pain that results. It’s similar to the tricks The Texas Chain Saw Massacre used, including getting our minds to fill in the really grim bits, and that’s clearly a film director Pablo Pares notes from as there are a couple of sly nods to it. It’s also helped by you becoming invested and interested in the small cast, playing with that empathy to up the unpleasantness. So, not one for the kids but fine for people who don’t normally watch horror.
And non-horror fans may well want to give it a watch, as for all it’s promises of being “Mad Max crossed with The Walking Dead” there is something far more interesting than a two-genre mashup going on here. Again: I don’t want to give too much away here, but this is a deeply feminist movie and the toxicity of the title isn’t just a reference to the nasty crap that caused the zombies to pop up. There is also some world politics on display, although that feels more background than driving force.
Obviously, not everyone will love it as much as I do. It’s got strange pacing, the story structure (though done incredibly well) may put some off, and there is a lot of violence happening. What it wants to say has probably been said more eloquently by others before, but this is talking to a specific audience in their own terms rather than trying to be fancy or polite.
It keeps the attention with an intriguing mystery, it has something interesting to say, and whilst it’s low budget it looks great. There are also some crazy cars, zombie action, amazing landscapes, and the general irresponsible behavior that genre fans love. It’s a Treasure of the first order, and I simply have to encourage you to go watch it now and then come back so we can go “yes! That bit! And That Bit! OMG! So Damn COOL!!!” together.