There’s something sort of funny about doing favors for people. It’s even funnier when they’re favors the other person didn’t ask for. Doing someone a favor often puts that person who got the favor in the mind that they owe the other person a bit.
But what if they didn’t want that favor in the first place? Then, not only is the favor a little intrusive, a little too much niceness, but it also creates a sense of obligation that not only is unwanted, but is, in its way, aggressive on the part of the person doing the favor.
That’s the problem great surgeon Dr. Fausto runs into in the Spanish horror film Fausto 5.0.
Fausto (Sola) in a new town for a conference, runs into a man who claims to have been his patient many years ago. The man shows Fausto the scar from an operation to remove his cancer-ridden stomach and can’t thank Fausto profusely enough for saving his life. Fausto, though, can’t remember the man, Santos Vella (Fernandez), and can’t get rid of him, not matter how often or in what unlikely situation Vella turns up.
Vella, it seems, can make almost anything happen for the man who saved his life: sending willing young women to his room, leading him down paths of luxurious indulgence, or even, perhaps, taking vengeance on his enemies, Vella helps Fausto fulfill his darker urges.
Given the doctor’s name, the movie’s name, and the plot, it’s no secret that Fausto 5.0 (why the 5.0, though? No idea) is a retelling of the Faust legend, in which a doctor makes an ill-fated deal with the devil.
Fausto 5.0 is a modern take on the story, though, and leaves behind the religious elements in favor of existentialist meandering.
Santos Vella is certainly possessed of amazing abilities (though none of them are ever directly demonstrating onscreen) and Fausto is making a kind of deal with him every time he desires something, but this is no bargain for the doctor’s soul and Vella is no devil.
Rather, like Hob Gadling in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, he’s just a man who decided not to die and gained power from taking control of his own existence (and here’s where we go existential!). In fact, despite seeming seedy and occasionally threatening, Vella rarely seems or acts evil as the original story would seem to require of him.
As Fausto realizes who Vella is and what he can do, the pair engage in an indulging of Fausto’s desires from theft and destruction to sex and violence.
Still, as Vella says, all of this is what Fausto wishes for and when he grows tired of it all he needs to do is wish Vella away and everything will be back to normal.
The film has eschewed the religious aspect of the original story in making both Vella and Fausto existentialists. Both men see no higher power, no true meaning in the universe except for the meaning they make themselves. Vella is the truest expression of this idea in the film, with his rejection of the commonly accepted rules of mortality in favor of a reality of his own creation.
But it’s this existentialism that undercuts some of what is most likely intended to be the film’s impact and horror.
Dr. Fausto’s indulgences with Vella are never as horrible as we’re supposed to think they are. Instead, they kind of look like fun. The worst that happenws to him, after all, is that he has to cut a big check to a family and he has a nightmare. I’m not sure that’s a bad tradde off for indulgining in a lifetime’s worth of fantasies.
Even more, though, the story’s existentialism robs these events of the power that might have had over a more superstitious person. In a world without a god or an afterlife, there are no eternity-long consequences to bad actions, only consequences that affect people in the immediate, temporal world. And since Fausto faces no real consequences, and seems to be distinctly lacking the kind of conscience that would trouble him, nothing seems to really be at stake in the movie.
In theory, the life of Julia, Fausto’s assistant, is what hangs in the balance and Fausto’s story is, ostensibly, about him discovering himself and accepting his love for Julia. However, we see so little of her, and so little of their relationship, that it’s hard to feel anything for them when they do, finally, get together.
Fausto 5.0 does a lot of things right. It takes a non-superstitious view of the world, offers low-key but real horror, dresses sets intelligently, and offers strong acting. However, its lack of a true sense of risk holds it back from being a really terrific horror film. Still, the people who made it (Spain’s La Fura dels Baus theater company) are clearly thinking along the right lines and more horror films from them would be most welcome.