One of the more con­tro­ver­sial films to hit the hor­ror fes­ti­val cir­cuit in recent years is Morituris. It debut­ed at the 2011 FantAsia film fes­ti­val and eas­i­ly divid­ed audi­ences, with some hail­ing it as a result to grim, old-school Italian hor­ror (some­thing the pro­duc­ers play up in its ad cam­paign) and oth­ers crit­i­ciz­ing it for being mean-spirit­ed and misog­y­nis­tic. The film seems more like a mix­ture of impuls­es, with the fin­ished pro­duct caught some­where between those impuls­es.

The story’s setup offers a nod to the ‘70s, with a trio of well-to-do young Italian men escort a pair of wom­en vis­it­ing from Romania into the forest for a rave. They arrive near a set of ruins and find no one in sight so they decide to have a pri­vate par­ty until the real par­ty shows up. Unfortunately for the wom­en, the men have some nasty sur­pris­es up their sleeves for their new lady friends. Unfortunately for the men, their cho­sen par­ty site is the buri­al place of a group of rene­gade Roman pris­on­ers who rebelled again­st their cap­tors — and the Morit-bluactiv­i­ty wakes them up for a new round of car­nage.

Morituris lives up to its promise of bru­tal­i­ty: the final third deliv­ers plen­ti­ful grue done in a vin­tage prac­ti­cal effects style, cour­tesy of 80’s Italian hor­ror alum­nus Sergio Stivaletti. The impal­ings, flesh-rip­ping and head-crush­ing all look impres­sive and are bless­ed­ly free of dig­i­tal enhance­ments.

That said, the film also fea­tures a lot of sex­u­al vio­lence towards wom­en, includ­ing a sub­plot that throws in a nasty American Psycho homage. The lat­ter ele­ment is a deal­break­er for a lot of view­ers and it’s not dif­fi­cult to under­stand why as it is chore­o­graphed in a dis­turbing and con­vinc­ing man­ner, with direc­tor Raffaele Picchio spar­ing the view­er lit­tle of the women’s suf­fer­ing. Even when the super­nat­u­ral men­ace is unleashed, there is no E.C. comics-style jus­tice and the wom­en suf­fer as much as the men do.

However, to call Morituris a misog­y­nis­tic film is off-base. It nev­er show sym­pa­thy for the male aggres­sors and the vio­lence towards the female char­ac­ters is pre­sent­ed in a bru­tal way, with no attempts to give the bru­tal­i­ty any S&M eroti­cism. Picchio and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have said the plot of the film was inspired in part by an infa­mous Italian case and their inten­tion was to force the view­ers to con­tem­plate the evil that wealthy men get to per­pe­trate on oth­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly wom­en.

Sadly, the attempt by Morituris to explore such ideas is half-baked at best. After rub­bing the audience’s nose in the evil that men do, it fails to do take the idea in any direc­tion beyond shock val­ue and instead shifts to a gener­ic no-hope super­nat­u­ral hor­ror tale. The first hour of the sto­ry was clear­ly mod­eled on films like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House On The Left but it fails to give the view­er the moment of cathar­sis that those films ulti­mate­ly achieve. Instead, it goes for a cheap, knee-jerk nihilism that feels like a copout.

Thus, Morituris is a shock-hor­ror item that is more inter­est­ing than it is good. It clear­ly aspires to dis­turb the view­er but either shies away from the ideas that would allow its vis­cer­al con­tent to add up to more than an endurance test.

Blu-Ray Notes: Synapse Films recent­ly released this con­tro­ver­sial film on blu-ray. The trans­fer does well by the dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy and fre­quent night exte­ri­ors. Both 5.1 and 2.0 loss­less Italian lan­guage stereo tracks are offered: the 5.1 was used for this review and it adds some nice dimen­sion to the sound, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the use of music. The one extra is a trail­er.