Frequently hilarious and surprisingly subtle, this superbly acted horror satire from Spain explores the connection between incels and conspiracy theories.
A man in his mid-30s and still living with his mother spends his days lounging around in his pants, masturbating over old classmates, and posting reptilian overlord content on YouTube. However, his self-imposed purdah is compromised when he bears witness to a possible murder by his burly barber neighbour.
Reluctant to reveal what he saw to the police his hand is forced when the potentially murderous hairdresser from upstairs strikes up a relationship with his kindly but vulnerable mother. Determined to expose the infiltrator of his incel world he enlists the services of an unstable prostitute and his already pathetic life unravels in devasting fashion.
The protagonist of director Miguel Azurmendi’s mischievous movie is never actually named. We know him only by his high school nickname of Rat. A cruel sobriquet administered by his peers because rats are nasty creatures that run away when they become startled. During one instance of post-stress reflection, he almost reveals his true name but can’t bring himself to do so, a clear indication of how he has allowed the bully’s taunts to haunt and define him. The moniker Rat is at the center of his world, just as it is in the film’s title itself.
Instead of rallying to prove them wrong and set himself free from their jibes he has retreated deep into a rabbit hole of misdirection and reactionary paranoia to become the very person they accused him of being. He is a virtual shut-in, only emerging to attend a school reunion where he finds nothing has changed except that some of his classmates have become hugely successful in the very field he routinely bastardises online.
He compounds his raging jealousy with the type of vile hate-speak that has become sadly synonymous with troubled outliers who have been mercilessly groomed by toxic internet personalities such as Andrew Tate. Rat is living his life in front of a web camera with a green screen behind him instead of his problematic past. He sees himself as a truth-wielding hero, trying to educate the sheeple masses on the intricacies of lizard enslavement.
In truth, he is an emotionally stunted man-baby who dines on his mother’s noodles while treating her as a mere annoyance. Her obvious disappointment in him has become so entrenched that when she accidentally catches him jerking off she nonchalantly offers him some tissues. Rat is surrounded by the paraphernalia of conspiracy paranoia, They Live posters, and rewatches of The Matrix, but it is this tragic normalisation that speaks most to his lack of self-esteem.
If Rat’s character is a little cliched the dire situation he finds himself in certainly isn’t, and this is where the film finds its feet. His interactions with his mother’s new ‘friend’ are both desperate and hilarious, not least when he confronts his nemesis about his intentions while he’s wearing an ‘ I am your father’ Star Wars T-shirt.
Empowered by the interest she has been shown, his mother crawls out of her miserable shell with a glam hairstyle and an attitude of resentment towards Rat. He fights back under the guise of protecting her from herself, but it’s a hollow gesture based primarily on his own survival. Rats’ devious plan however becomes seriously derailed when he agrees to a revealing truth game involving mind-frying Chinese synthetic drugs.
Regarding its suspenseful mystery elements, Keratyna could easily collapse under the weight of its own Hitchcockian ambitions but its delicious dialogue and claustrophobic camerawork are up to the task. It’s narrative may well be a sledgehammer but its cinematic execution is nimble and nuanced. Keratyna utilises single tear drops and brief crushing handshakes where other less accomplished ventures would steam in with hysteria and excessive violence.
The final third begins with landing a bonkers game-changing haymaker that implodes everything we have previously digested and sends the film in a crazy new direction. It’s confrontational and beautifully staged providing a satisfying change of tack that re-submits its previous agendas under a different gaze.
Anarchic and thematically on trend, Keratyna is a minimalist shin-kick to a global society ravaged by culture wars, damaging polarisation, and the compulsion to feel part of something, no matter how improbable.
Conspiracy Comedy, Serial Killer Thriller | Spain, 2023 | Cert. 18 | 101mins | Grimmfest 2023 | Monkey Minds | Dir. Miguel Azurmendi | With: Fernando Ramallo, Maiken Beitia, Jordi Aguilar, Mireia Oriol, Ramon Langa, Jon Viar, Oier Sola, Desiree Balbas, Ramses Gallego, Pablo Lapastora