Mar 31, 2021
By Harry Jones
Director José Cardoso didn’t set out to make the film he ended up with. The documentarian is a man familiar with the Achuar, an indigenous people from the Amazon. He has spent time with families in the region before, has an affinity for its people and the stories they tell.
He’s familiar with the story of Iwianch—a devil who takes the shape of an anthropomorphised deer—but until now has had no intention of making it his central focus. When he arrives in the village it transpires that a teenage boy has recently disappeared in the forest. The family knows he isn’t lost, “Achuar don’t get lost,” says one family member. So perhaps he was bitten, poisoned, unable to return home. There’s the suggestion that his body could be stumbled upon, though recent search efforts suggest they’d have done so already.
Around two weeks have passed since the boy’s disappearance and the family decide to take the less orthodox approach of finding him than simply looking, instead they recruit the help of a local Shaman. This is the point at which Cardoso’s film starts to tread unsteadily into a murkiness that’ll end up shrouding the film. As the Shaman takes to identifying the root of the boy’s absence, Cardoso takes us into unclear territory, obscuring what we see and hear through a series of sickly hallucinations that are more reminiscent of a horrifying glitch than a psychedelic trip. The Shaman quickly establishes that Iwianch is involved, that the boy has been taken rather than lost, and that the Shaman will connect to the boy and guide his back home.
Iwianch, for the most part, feels like a real time tragedy. A family with a missing child, searching for him, waiting for him. But Cardoso, partly because of his own curiosity and, perhaps, scepticism, along with the families resigned acceptance of the Shaman’s diagnosis, manages to make this into an eerie tale of belief and disbelief, the known and the unknown.
The film never feels as fatal as perhaps fate could have rendered it, there’s always this strange sense that the Shaman has guaranteed the narrative will take the direction he has determined. And in succumbing to this proposal as the only explanation, the film cannot escape a surreal horror, a horror that Cardoso, unsure of the truth himself, seems to lean into with quite frightening results.
Author rating: 8/10
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