Pablo Pares I Am Toxic is a missed opportunity of a horror that goes for the easy plot points when the more complex narratives were staring it squarely in the face. A film that looks the part, but has a weak middle portion.
In a world destroyed by biological warfare, a man wakes in a pile of decomposed bodies with no memory of his previous life. Taken prisoner by scavengers, he meets a young woman who helps him discover his true identity.
I Am Toxic could very well be the most frustrating film you will see this year. A film that builds a grim and desolate post-apocalyptic world and has you interested in the characters. Only to waste that world-building for some poor action sequences and needless narrative in the middle act. We then come around to a great final act where all of the action should have been placed and have questions finally answered.
We also have two leads who are virtually mute throughout. For a person who is confused about what is happening and who he is. He doesn’t talk very much and when only the bad guys are the talkative ones. It begs the question why should we care for this unlucky soul at all? Yes, he has been thrown into a world he doesn’t know and has been dealt a pretty rubbish hand. But, if he doesn’t talk and emote and allow the audience in, then what is the point? Couple that with the other protagonist who does good deeds only to go back on them at virtually every point we are stuck in one hell of a quandary. She has some sympathy for him, in that she won’t just flat out kill or torture him like the men in her group want her to. Yet she isn’t exactly caring either.
Where I Am Toxic shines however is in the story it has weaved if you take out the action portions in the middle act. There is a lot here to enjoy and it feels as if, these action sequences were merely added to help get the budget needed. This is a film that is begging to be a drama but just doesn’t have the confidence to carry through. Add more dialogue and discussion about this barely mapped out yet the visually gorgeous world and we have a great film.
When we get to the final act, the film begins to elevate itself to something so much stronger. We get the backstory as it is eventually revealed to us and this post-apocalyptic horror becomes a tragedy. We see what our protagonist goes through to survive with his loved ones and how in the end, that destroys his family dynamic, leaving him to slowly become what he is. No better than the people who captured and tortured him. Truly it is a great last 30 or so minutes that comes out of nowhere when we consider the dross of the middle act that needed to be far tighter and compact.
Focusing back on that opening third, we are presented with an original enough world which blends a more sinister grindhouse take on Mad Max with a touch of The Hills Have Eyes (With zombie-Esque people replacing mutated humans). These zombies like people are affected by the toxic or nuclear war that has seemingly occurred and is known as the ‘dried ones’. It is a simple change that provides a new dynamic to proceedings as it never appears as if they are true zombies. They are something just different enough to stand out.
We also notice that this is the only part of the world where this is happening, as planes continually fly overhead dumping endless bodies. This part of the world has become one large cemetery and it is an imaginative take. Which begs the question, wouldn’t it be better to have the characters try and escape their current circumstances and go to obvious safety of where those planes have come from? While still incorporating the story, an added element has been missed here.
Regardless the world built here is substantial, it feels lived in, and we, of course, have seen worlds akin to this before. Yet it works. Thanks to the substantial efforts by the production designer Cecilia Castro. I Am Toxic looks wonderful. Granted I would not want to live or experience that world, but it does look well lived in and not an actual set. By being so well designed, it beggars belief that the ball was dropped in the way it was here. Everything is going for it.
I Am Toxic could have been a wonderful post-apocalyptic study into male masculinity set in an environment where no one wins. This is a horror that should have been a drama with just some horror elements. Yet, there is still a lot to take in and appreciate here. It is just a case of what could have been.
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