London 2015: The Corpse of Anna Fritz review

★★★☆☆
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the morgue. Having all feared for so long that you would never get the film about a cadaver that you'd been yearning for, two are released in quick succession. In September, Pablo Agüero's Eva Doesn't Sleep - a woozy odyssey following the unbelievable adventures of Eva Peron's body - received its world premiere at Toronto, and now Hèctor Hernández Vicens has arrived in London with The Corpse of Anna Fritz. Short on subtlety or deeper meaning it may ultimately be, but it's a deliciously dark and nerve-shredding thriller, spiced with an unhealthy dose of necrophilia.

The eponymous corpse begins the film peacefully interred at a hospital only to be disturbed by a young orderly, Pau (Albert Carbó) and his two drug and booze-addled pals, Ivan (Cristian Valencia) and Javi (Bernat Saumell). High and horny, they do not baulk when one of their number suggests actually interfering with the young woman. Into this opening premise Vicens weaves commentary about celebrity obsessions - a photo snapped on a phone kick-starts the ghoulish events and the opening sequence overlays the deceased being wheeled through the hospital with audio of entertainment television and radio coverage. Even before her untimely death, Anna was already just a body to so many - a famous actress, more clothes-horse and gossip subject that person. Once this has been established, The Corpse of Anna Fritz largely abandons this line of examination in favour of a single room wit-jangler.

No sooner have Pau and Javi interfered with Anna's prone body than the trio begin to suffer divisions within. Vicens is looking for internal drama and soon reveals his characters to be three well-worn archetypes: a boorish alpha-male, a creepy beta and the upstanding good guy, appalled by what they're doing. It's narratively basic stuff, but plot is not where Vicens thrives - it's in tension. Vicens and his cinematographer, Ricard Canyellas do a cracking job of ratcheting up the stress levels, managing to craft in the lifeless Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) a show-stealing heroine whose uncertain fate becomes the all-consuming question to which the answer is masterfully delayed. She is never presented in the titillating way that she might have been, and the visuals remain strictly outside of the characters' warped and lascivious perspective.

A cold pall is cast over the aesthetic, as befits a mortuary, by grey-blue hues and subterranean strip-lighting. When blood is finally spilled, it runs over the linoleum floor in inky black. That is also the colour of the film's decrepit heart, but ultimately there's not a lot happening beneath the skin; The Corpse of Anna Fritz will live or die by its suspense, and fortunately, it maintains white-knuckled momentum throughout its admittedly brief runtime.

The London Film Festival takes place from 7-18 October. For more coverage, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson

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