Though not exactly the dawn of a new “Dead”, the Argentinian horror film “Legions” is imaginative and heartfelt — with a killer ending.
The pitch for the Argentinian horror film Legions, coming to North American VOD on January 19th following a successful festival run, was an enticing one. Billed as a “love letter to Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD series,” the movie promises that perfect mix of comedy and gore — plus some heartwarming character drama to sweeten the pot.
The problem with marketing a film primarily based on its similarities to another beloved property is that it inevitably sets viewers up for disappointment and hinders the film’s ability to shine on its own merits, utterly detached from its biggest inspiration.
The latest film from prolific Argentinian filmmaker Fabián Forte (who worked on 2017’s masterful chiller Terrified), Legions is a much smaller-scale film than I expected.
If you go into it expecting the Argentinian Evil Dead, you will likely be let down. While it does have some comedic elements, it’s not an overly campy, laugh-out-loud venture. And by no means is this an ultra-gory splatterfest. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty going for it. It’s just important to set your expectations accordingly.
Director Fabián Forte explained his vision for the film:
“LEGIONS is a supernatural story that mixes different narrative lines and genres. The story is fantastic and contains irony, humor, and, obviously, the elements of the horror genre. These ingredients, plus strong and human characters, evil and imaginary beings (or perhaps not), the dizzying pace, and the climates of tension, create a product designed for a young audience, where adrenaline and humor are the support to tell a mystical and critical history of the modern world and the lack of beliefs.”
Legions is really two narratives in one that eventually converge at the film’s climactic finale.
It’s this finale where I finally found the kind of bombastic, highly entertaining thrill ride I was eagerly anticipating. But it took some time to get there.
The first throughline is a story, told in flashbacks, that plays out like a relatively straightforward tale of ancient lore and supernatural demonic possession. We begin in the jungles of Argentina, where a powerful shaman, Antonio Poyju (Germán De Silva), descended from a long line of gifted magic workers, battles the forces of evil with his wife at his side.
When his wife is savagely killed by the demon Kuaraya after giving birth on the night of a blood moon, Antonio is left to raise his young daughter, Helena, alone in the ways of his people.
Upon her birth, Helena is gifted a magical necklace by Antonio’s mother. It’s designed to help her grow in her faith and maintain her ties to the old ways. The wise woman reminds Antonio that they must protect their sacred blood. Unfortunately, the demon returns to steal the necklace, and Helena slowly loses her faith and begins to resent her father.
As Helena blossoms into a teenager, Antonio is forced to move her to the city so she can have the more “normal” life she desperately craves.
But Antonio cannot completely abandon his calling, and his insistence on being his authentic self is met with scorn and ridicule from his daughter, who feels outcasted from her peers and the community due to her father’s strange ways and unusual beliefs.
To Helena and everyone else, Antonio is an unstable eccentric with delusions of grandeur and a hokey adherence to myth and fantastical ideas.
The second throughline introduces us to a much older Antonio (Germán De Silva), now an unwilling patient at a psychiatric hospital after an unfortunate accident where he defended his daughter against a demon-possessed man.
Estranged from his adult daughter (Lorena Vega), a married advertising executive, he desperately tries to escape the hospital and reconnect with his daughter before the demon Kuaraya returns to claim her at the next blood moon.
Surrounded by a cast of kooky patients who look up to Antonio and are even putting on an odd little play based on his life experiences, this is where the film leans into its more comedic elements.
Typically in a horror comedy, filmmakers will attempt to blend and balance both horror and humor throughout the film — which always poses some challenges and is rarely done with great success.
Here, however, the scary is mostly kept distinctly separated from the wacky. That approach creates a different kind of challenge, resulting in a tonally imbalanced film with some odd pacing that makes it harder to stay fully engaged.
Though it may not be what you initially tune in for, where Legions excels is in its realistic and heartfelt portrayal of a father and daughter from two different worlds who can’t seem to see eye-to-eye.
It’s an effective metaphor for the generational divide — like the one that often separates Boomers from tech-savvy, social media-obsessed millennials. More poignantly, it speaks to the ways in which modernization and a shift to urban living have impacted indigenous communities and eroded centuries of culture and tradition.
It’s more than just the old ways being replaced by modern conveniences and more secular thinking.
There’s an underlying commentary about the haste and thoughtlessness by which we live our modern lives, often devoid of spirituality or meaning. In our effort to keep up with the tides of change and the demands of progress, we leave behind a part of our soul. We lose our connection to our past and to nature. Magic is removed from the world in favor of pragmatic reason, and all that remains is hollow and insufficient.
For me, it isn’t as much a call to religious faith, though that may or may not have been the intent. I read it as a plea to believe in something bigger than ourselves — whether that’s familial connections, a sense of community, or the pursuit of artistic passions that feed our souls and make the world feel less cold and empty.
You don’t have to believe in magic to find the world magical; you just need to maintain that sense of childlike awe and wonder we all have when we’re young.
Both De Silva and Vega are very capable actors who skillfully convey the chasm between father and daughter as well as the love that’s capable of bridging that divide. And the patients at the hospital reflect that sense of playfulness and whimsy that keeps life interesting. It’s not a coincidence that those most passionate about life are the ones exiled and called crazy.
Still, I delighted the most in the flashback scenes that invoked a rich and full mythology with elaborate rituals, interesting set pieces, and some stellar practical effects.
The jungle scenes are beautifully shot, with an intense and engrossing tribal score, and boast some genuinely memorable visuals and effects.
This is juxtaposed nicely with the humorous scenes in the hospital, backed by a much lighter and sillier soundtrack, where we are struck by the irony of a powerful shaman discarded by society and subjected to a broken healthcare system. Still, it does create a somewhat jarring viewing experience.
It’s a strange little film, and that’s not necessarily a criticism. In fact, it really speaks to much of the movie’s appeal, but it also may leave some viewers unsatisfied.
Legions is definitely low-budget, but Forte and cinematographer Mariano Suarez prove you can make real magic with limited means and great technical skill. The CGI effects are amateurish, but the practical effects shine. The demon itself looks incredible, a hulking werewolf-like creature that stays mostly hidden throughout the film until the explosive ending. You’ll wish there was much of him, but Forte’s restraint with his most compelling visual is likely what makes it so effective.
When the film begins to bring together its two storylines, it really hits its stride. There’s an excellent hospital escape scene involving a voodoo doll ritual that’s outstanding and wildly entertaining.
Viewers going into a film promising Evil Dead-inspired demons and mayhem will finally get what they paid for in the film’s frenetic third act.
It’s worth the wait and deliriously fun, but the somewhat meandering, oddly-paced hour leading up to that hellish and hilarious carnage may detract from the overall viewing experience.
With the exception of its unhinged ending, this is not what I would describe as an action-packed film. It’s not dull by any means; there’s a lot of meaty stuff to chew on here. But the bulk of the film centers around interesting representations of folklore and mysticism with heartfelt character drama. If you know what to expect going on, it changes your relationship with this film and makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience.
The ending is berzerk in the best possible way, even if it does get wrapped up a little too neatly with a feel-good bow.
Legions is a lean 90 minutes, which means that even if you struggle a bit during its slower moments, it never feels like a chore to get through.
Whether or not the film’s epic final act does enough to elevate this film from good to great is up for debate, and I suspect your mileage may vary depending on your appetite for mysticism and slow-building anticipation. If you are only tuning in for the demonic carnage, this is likely to feel lackluster.
However, if you’re game for a more well-rounded film boasting lots of compelling ideas and strong characters, with a touch of humor and lots of heart, you may find plenty to love about Legions.