Carnal Sins, 2023.
Written and Directed by Juan Sebastián Torales.
Starring Nicolás Díaz, Martina Grimaldi, María Soldi, Cali Coronel, Luisa Lucía Paz, Beto Frágola, Tania Darchuk, and Adrián Ramallo.
Fleeing homophobic attacks, Nino moves to a rural house amidst a forest haunted by Almamula, a monster that takes those who commit carnal sins. In a world of whispers, unspoken desires and prayers, Nino’s curiosity and impulses rise to the surface.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Carnal Sins wouldn’t exist.
Set in a deeply homophobic rural area of Argentina, the other local boys not only build up and bloody teenager Nino (Nicolás Díaz) for probably being gay, but the residents also believe in a mythical fable speaking of a supernatural woman dubbed Almamula, an evil entity residing in the woods that comes for anyone with impure sexual thoughts.
However, Carnal Sins (from writer/director Juan Sebastián Torales) is not a traditional horror film, as the terror comes from the behavior of the Catholic Church, heavily pressuring Nino to reel in those sexual feelings, cruelly punishing him when his homoerotic actions become more prevalent and cross into blasphemous territory, such as confessing to fantasizing about stripping Jesus and masturbating to his holiness. Some familiar scary elements remain, such as the usual creepy drawings and the occasional glimpse of something or someone terrifying.
Further complicating Nino’s situation is a difficult family life without any comfort from his parents. His mother does not accept his sexuality while also blaming busy Dad for not being in his life enough to keep him on what she and the church deem the correct path. It also doesn’t help that his sister is feverishly horny for other boys, which is accepted, or that he has a crush on one of the attractive indigenous caretakers working for the family. These subplots don’t add much beyond piling on more oppression toward Nino, while also showing that the individuals following the religious book don’t seem to be living fulfilling lives.
While the central message of Carnal Sins is delivered bluntly, it is effectively harrowing thanks to a quiet, expressionless, empty-inside performance from Nicolás Díaz (he is equipped with an awkward, nerdy innocence accentuated by glasses but also regularly seems like he is one second away from snapping on the world). Nino is treated inhumanely and given no freedom to express his identity, save for working up the courage to act on his feelings toward a worker with whom he slowly develops a bond.
There is also equally devastating dialogue shaming Nino for his sexuality and striking imagery conveying lust from all characters. Again, it’s all an obvious metaphor that the real horrors come from within the real world, but gripping and evocative material nonetheless.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com