If you’d never seen a modern zombie film (ie something made since George Romero relaunched the genre in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead), the Argentinian film I Am Toxic would be a good place to start. It’s a distillation, a jus, of all the elements you might expect to see, with none of the flim-flam.
A man (Esteban Prol) wakes up among a loose pile of bones and bodies. He’s surprised he’s alive. He hauls himself upright and blunders off in a daze, striking out across the scorched earth in the harsh sun.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world and he’s a survivor in it, this we know because we’ve seen a lot of these things, but the zombie virgin would also have no problem in working out what’s going on here, especially as our guy is soon attacked by a shuffling creature that can apparently hear but seems to be blind, and is then saved by some grizzled guy with a gun.
Back at grizzled guy’s refuge, our guy is introduced to the rest of the gang – a wiry ball of spite with no name (though the credits say he’s called Gris), a fat idiot called Cerdo (which is Spanish for pig) and a comely, long-limbed young woman called Iris. The old guy’s name is also never mentioned, though the credits insist it’s Padre Blanco.
Safety! Not a bit of it. In what looks like a plot lift from the Train to Busan Peninsula film (but can’t be because this was made first), it turns out that this armed-to-the-teeth rabble are actually going to be our guy’s main worry, rather than any zombie horde. They name him Perro (Spanish for dog), since he has amnesia and can’t remember his own name, push his face into some disgusting swill, threaten him with death, knock him out with a club, all just the beginning of his ordeals. Iris, meanwhile, is treated little better, a skivvy expected to do all the chores, and who knows what else besides.
Made for buttons with a fair deal of ingenuity, I Am Toxic (Soy Toxico in the original Spanish) gets its grunge stylings from Mad Max, also its fascination with post-apocalyptic junkyard vehicles, its desert setting and its nihilistic vision of a future without any civilising forces at work.
The colour palette is so flat it’s almost monochrome, a collage of beige and brown and drab green, with camerawork tightly focused on the actors, largely, I suspect, because the budget doesn’t run to elaborate production design. What we see is enough though.
Barely a word is spoken. In fact Iris, we are told, has had her tongue removed by the guys because they got sick of her prattling, one more reason for that murderous pout on the face of actor Fini Bocchino, who sulks so well that hair and makeup appear to have given her a bit of an upgrade halfway through. Wavy hair, smoky eye shadow and plum-coloured lips suddenly appear, and we’re graced with Sulking Part II.
You don’t need to know any more about the plot – is Perro (he goes by no other name) going to get free? Is there something lurking in his past? Is there going to be a shock reveal? Spoilers all, though as a nudge I’ll just point out that Argentina is a fairly Catholic country and the concept of original sin does start exerting itself as things develop.
If you liked that “crawling through the carriage” sequence in the first Train to Busan, there’s a chance to see another version of it here, and other small delights include a couple of instances of genuine innovation in the field of gore and splatter. At one point a zombie gets shot in the dick, which was a rare moment of humour in a film that likes to keep its smiles upside down.
Think heavy metallers practising in the garage – tightly focused on a handful of chords, all dressed up in the right gear and ready with the balls-out attitude when all else fails. That’s I Am Toxic.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021