Arrebato screens at the Trylon Cinema from Friday, April 7 to Sunday, April 9. For tickets and more information, scroll to the end of this post or visit trylon.org.
I have spent an embarrassing amount of time being mad about vampires, and this piece is proof that I need to have my writing platform removed immediately.
Arrebató is a fantastic film. In his final, career-killing movie, Ivan Zulueta spins an incredible tale about addiction and spectatorship through flashbacks, blurry home movies, and lots of heroin. The focus on the camera as a vessel of addiction unsettled me almost as much as the protagonist’s downward spiral into a heroin addiction. The frantic and unexplained ending makes Arrebató stand out against similar films featuring the camera as an addiction. In a 2002 essay, film critic Roberto Curtilikens Arrebató to Peeping Tom and Videodrome. Peeping Tom’s final act is unsettling but wraps up too neatly, giving the villain a classic, “he was bad and now he’s dead” ending. My beloved Videodrome draws more conclusions about the body than it does addiction––I think the more appropriate Cronenberg reference is Dead Ringers, but the Internet isn’t ready for that conversation. Just because two movies feature vaguely supernatural cameras, doesn’t mean they’re apt comparisons.
On the subject of things people need to stop saying about Arrebató: people need to stop trying to explain the mechanics of the camera and focus more on the human characters instead.
In my first viewing, I was more impacted by the parallel characters of Pedro (Will More) and José (Eusebio Poncela), and how their relationships with each other and addictive substances drove them to their ruin. The men are warped reflections of each other. José is an established director who’s lost his touch, deriving no pleasure from the films he produces. Pedro is a childish home-movie maker who experiences fits of ecstasy from his films; he calls them arrebató, or raptures. Both use heroin, though to achieve opposing results: José craves euphoria, while Pedro uses it to become a mature version of himself. Their shared interest in film brings them together, ut their addiction––their need to seek out the euphoria presented first by heroin, then by the arrebató––is what bonds them.
José’s relationship with addiction is straightforward. While we learn he’s been using since before his first film, it’s evident that his addiction to heroin starts sometime after the success of his directorial debut. He gets himself and his girlfriend, Ana, addicted, which leads to the downfall of their relationship, José remarking at one point that the heroin ruined their sex life, among other things. Even when José claims he wants to kick the habit, all it takes is one conflict before he and Ana are so desperate that they’ll snort heroin off a dirty carpet.
While Pedro also uses drugs, his addiction lies in the films he creates. The time-lapse movies he makes cause him immense distress, and yet, he can’t stop making them. Pedro claims he doesn’t sleep or eat for days, instead focusing on creating his next “rapture”––the fits of ecstasy he experiences when watching one of his films. When he stops making movies, he becomes more social, more acceptable to the public, but at the risk of his own happiness. It’s only when he relapses and starts making films again that he discovers the raptures––a rejuvenating, yet unexplainable event that occurs when he’s filmed asleep. The only evidence he gets is a red splotch that takes up 10 frames at a time. The one time someone intervenes, he goes through something he describes as “withdrawal”: Pedro becomes violent, reckless, and desperate for the next rapture.
These raptures are what eventually destroy Pedro and José, the latter of which is desperate to feel something after his addiction numbed him to the rest of the world. During the film’s final act, after Pedro’s cousin Marta vanishes under the gaze of the camera, Pedro realizes that he doesn’t know what will happen when the red splotch takes up all of the film. Even so, he records his life story, sends it to José, and gives himself to the camera for one last moment of ecstasy. Eventually, José succumbs to the recorded raptures, too.
The film ends with José’s rapture, and these final frames had a profound impact on me. The scene makes quick cuts between the camera, José as he anticipates the unknown in an unsettling glee, and Pedro, whose smirking visage is trapped in film. José’s face fades in and out over him as the two share the unique, horrifying bond of the filmed raptures. The heightened tension, coupled with the increasing volume of the score, pulled together the ending for me. The need to find that euphoria drove Pedro to vanish––to his death, essentially––and José to suffer the same fate as his friend.
There’s no explanation for what happened to the men (or any of the somewhat paranormal events). There doesn’t need to be. This is the problem with most modern readings of Arrebató; somewhere down the line, someone calls it a vampire story, taking the focus away from the broken men and putting it all on the power of the parasitic camera. While the authors aren’t trying to unpack the how and why of the ambiguous ending, it reduces the supernatural storyline to a tired, “vampires-equal-addiction” metaphor. I don’t need to know that the camera is a vampire to be horrified by what it represents. The sentient camera isn’t even the only vaguely paranormal aspect of the movie: Pedro has godly knowledge of José and Ana’s childhoods, and seems to appear and disappear at will. Trying to explain that would ruin the movie even more. I mean, how would you feel if José suddenly turned to Ana and said, “Can you believe Pedro was psychic the whole time?”
At the end of the day, this essay is not going to do Arrebató justice. I was so unsatisfied with other readings of the film because they weren’t reflecting my reading; in the same vein, I’m sure that there’s someone out there who’s going to spend twenty minutes of a podcast discussing the vampiric nature of the camera. That’s okay. Arrebató is an experience––it’s something you need to see and sit with, preferably in a dark room by yourself. Or at the Trylon, I guess––just hope that no one else is having a rapture of their own in the theater.
 See Curti, “The Act of ‘Seeing,’ and Jared Mobarak, “Arrebato Review: Newly Restored Spanish Horror Lives Up to Cult Classic Status,” The Film Stage (September 2021), https://thefilmstage.com/arrebato-restoration-review-ivan-zulueta/.
Edited by Michelle Baroody