Thoughts On: 2012: The Curse Of The Xtabai (2012: Kurse a di Xtabai, 2012)
This is the Belizean film of the series made by Matthiew Klinck.
This is an awful movie, but a very… unique cinematic experience. It is the first major full-length movie that has been ‘100% made in Belize’ and is centred on a curse that suddenly plagues a small town, many people stricken dead for unknown reasons, leaving a group of students to venture into the forest to find a cure.
A Creole-language film, The Curse Of The Xtabai can be understood quite well without subtitles – and this was one of the more amusing elements of this film as it did keep my mind active in the duller moments. Beyond this, the director, Matthiew Klinck, has some degree of competence and shoots some strangely beautiful and weirdly effective sequences, but the quality of this film’s direction and cinematography undulate significantly. The acting is consistently bad though – as is the script. Actually, the script is probably the worst aspect of this movie, just about beating out the horrific soundtrack.
What makes this script so terrible isn’t really the complete lack of sense, tone, atmosphere, drama, verisimilitude and character. These elements (or the lack of them) actually work with the alien cinematic approach that the director takes as you do get the sense that this is just supposed to be a dumb movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously; a Belizean remix of The Blair Witch Project and Predator. What takes the fun out of this is the allusion to the folklore that is completely out of place, making this film seem like a 10-year-old Sam Raimi was once told a Belizean bed time story and then given a camera for the first time.
The underlying tale that this film refers to is of the Xtabay or X’tabai. This is a story that follows two women, one that is promiscuous, a prostitute who sleeps with anyone who asks, and another who is beautiful and austere. Xkeban, the promiscuous one, is, however, an honest, humble and self-sacrificing person that, in the archetypal fashion, serves the poor, sick and homeless. On the other hand, Utz-Colel, the virtuous woman, is cold, full of pride, disgust and disdain.
One day Xkeban is found dead after villagers follow a sweet scent to her home. Here, Utz-Colel proclaims that there shouldn’t be anything so sweet coming from such a vile being and that such a perfume should come from a body like hers when she dies. As you could guess, one day, Utz-Colel dies, a virgin whose corpse emanates a disgusting smell. Embodying the Tzacam cactus flower that grows from her grave, Utz-Colel surmises that she met such a foul end because she was unlike Xkeban, whose sins must have came from a place of love. And so, by calling upon evil demons, Utz-Colel moves back into the realm of the living so that she could seduce men, becoming the X’tabai. However, her nature had not really changed; she was still cold and corrupt of compassion. So, when she attracts men, she kills them, disguising herself in tress, even as trees or, some say, as snakes and other animals.
Whilst this isn’t the most profound of parables, it conveys an idea of internal worth with clarity and so is a thousand times more intriguing than the incomprehensible narrative that we’re given by The Curse Of The Xtabai. There are allusions to themes of selfishness and destruction within this narrative, but the manner in which they’re implemented into the script is below an amateur level. With some grip on their story, the screenwriter could have used this folklore and the tropes of horror to produce an interesting commentary on a vast number of things – most directly, promiscuity, envy or charity – as to expand on this legend. However, using a cheap reference to a ‘scary story’ to give this narrative a Belizean texture that’s only really skin-deep (what lies beneath is a lot of influence from dumb-but-fun American movies), The Curse Of The Xtabai really sullies all of its initial elements of cheap fun and dumbness. In such, with just a little bit of effort and thought in the scripting process, this could have been a much more respectable film, but, as is, it’s a bit of a let down.
All in all, this is a bad movie that you may be able to have some fun with if you go in completely blind (though, at this point, you can’t – sorry), but it ultimately shoots itself in the foot with its cheap attempt at capturing and projecting complexity and depth from its own culture.
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