By David Dent
Whereas Srđan Spasojević’s 2010 movie A Serbian Film – which the excesses of this film resemble – used the cultural background of his own country in a rather abstract way as justification for the horrors on display in his movie, director Lucio A. Rojas uses specific events in the history of Chile – notably the military dictatorship under General Pinochet – as the basis for the almost unwatchable levels of violence and torture in Trauma.
This is no better evidenced than in the film’s prologue – a woman, strapped to a chair by her husband for supposedly sleeping with a communist, is force raped by her son, Juanito, medically induced to erection, while dad looks on, eventually shooting mum in the head after vowing to rape their daughter.
The rest of the film is set in the Chile of 2011. A group of Santiago based women head out into the country – they are Andrea, her sister Cami, Cami’s lover Julia, and niece Magda. The house in which they’re staying has an aviary attached and the group notice a dead bird on the ground. “There’s always one that dies,” comments one of the group, presaging future events; throughout the movie we return to shots of the decomposing bird, itself a metaphor for the rottenness and decay we’re about to witness.
On the first night of their stay the girls are horrifically and sustainedly attacked by two men. The older one turns out to be the same Juan of the prologue – impossibly damaged by the horrors he has lived through, now a human monster – and his son Mario, who Juan uses incestuously from time to time. Most of the group live through their ordeal, but when the police are summoned, the impression given is that Juan is outside the law, so the women must take matters in their own hands to seek revenge.
From the above account I hope I’ve given the impression that Trauma is definitely not for everyone. It has a relentlessness that for me even out-excessed A Serbian Film, whose horrors occasionally felt rather unreal. Every shock and brutal action in Trauma feels very believable; when the obviously powerless police observe that Juan’s behaviour is out of character because he never usually attacks out of towners, there is a real sense of total moral breakdown.
Trauma is a film of two halves, the second of which, covering the attempts of the women to track down Juan and Mario, is fairly standard guns and running material. But it’s the first half that will leave you shocked, stunned, and as anxious to see the end of Juan and his son as are the revenge crazed women who have been his victims.