Salem Horror Fest 2020 Review: Hunger ★★★

Judah (Judah Vivancos) is a dancer. He’s a beautiful dancer and a beautiful man, lithe and muscled and with perfect razor-angled stubble. He dances primarily with the alluring Rebekah (Leonor Campillo), and while their choreographer and director have a lot to say about how they can improve, director Manu Herrera’s camera captures their performance with an intimacy and goosebump-inducing sensuality.

Judah has a thing for redheads like Rebekah. He is intoxicated by her presence, filled with a carnal desire for her… and an overpowering need to both consummate and consume that desire. Which is to say: when they finally start to date, and finally wind up having sex, he is unable to help himself from tearing into her flesh and eating until he can barely move, bathing himself in her blood.

At first he is distraught, writing in his journal that the man he thought he was is now gone, and he needs to figure out how to live with this new desire. Now that his hunger has been awakened, he finds it impossible to control; when he’s not dancing, he goes on the prowl, stalking the night for redheads he can devour.

Judah (Judah Vivancos) and an unnamed woman visit an art gallery. Courtesy of The Room Studio

Eventually, Judah meets a new redhead, a man named Javier (Javier Caraballo). They are paired up in rehearsal, the director looking to see how the piece works with two men dancing as doubles of one another rather than as a male/female couple. The result is wildly successful. Judah is intoxicated by Javier in a whole new way, and he’s smitten. In his diary, this one he’s comfortable calling “love.” But… he’s still hungry.

Hunger is a curious film. It’s aesthetically fascinated by bodies: bodies in motion, bodies writhing in pleasure and in pain, bodies torn apart by the teeth of a lover. It’s also very quiet. Long stretches of the film contain nothing but wordless sequences of dance and rest, stretching and preparation and more dance, all backed by a stunning, beautiful score by Joan Martorell. In fact, it at times feels as though the film is primarily a dance film rather than a horror film, that the horror elements are just a frame upon which to hang the dance sequences.

Judah (Judah Vivancos) is horrified to remember what he’s done. Courtesy of The Room Studio

Said dance sequences are often filmed beautifully, focusing on small moments like a soft-shoed foot kicking up a cloud of dust in a sunbeam. But other times, they’re staged coldly, bodies moving on a fluorescent-lit white stage, as though we’re watching rehearsal footage captured carelessly on someone’s home video camera and intended for the dancers to watch their performances back.

I was most interested in the way the film functions as a metaphor for queerness, Judah’s desire for flesh standing in for the slow, agonizing process of becoming aware of a hidden longing you can’t shake and then deciding to act on it. It’s uncomfortable that the violence in the film is often sexualized and misogynistic, but then again, plenty of gay men are casually cruel to the women whose journeys intersect with their own process of learning about sexuality.

Ultimately, the film feels somewhat sterile, an echo of the way Judah and a talkative redhead gaze up at a painting we only get glimpses of, describing its sensuality and bloodlust while they stand in a clinical, white-walled art gallery. You’re certain that what you’re looking at is beautiful and artistic, and it is, but the experience of taking it in feels disconnected and strange.

By Eric Langberg

Hunger is available at the Salem Horror Festival from October 2nd-11th with an All Access Pass, or during Weekend II from October 9th-11th.

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