★★☆☆☆

An inventive setup unfortunately cannot save Skull: The Mask from its poor attributions. Confusing editing, disjointed storytelling, too many subplots which appear to be from completely different films, only the delightfully gruesome special effects and vivid cityscape location shooting leave a positive impression.  

Horror is all about execution. Aesthetics and craft as much as victims for the psycho’s blade. Warning signs things will not pan out are right there in the film’s translated title. What the hell does Skull: The Mask even mean? Who signed off on that? Yeesh. At least the original Brazilian translation makes more sense (Skull: The Mask of Anhangá). Anhangá is an Incan demon, the righthand executioner of a pre-Colombian deity. Anhangá’s evil spirit is hiding inside an old mask and when unleashed, it causes bloody bedlam in downtown Sao Paolo.

Accidentally let out into the modern world after being unearthed during an archaeological dig in the Amazon, a cursed object attaches itself like a parasite to victims, turning them more into Michael Myers baddies than Jim Carrey party animals. The backdrop is at least intriguing, but co-directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman do next to nothing with the material’s potential and avoid any serious points or inviting colonialist commentary in favour of crowd-pleasing ultra-violent shocks.

If you want decapitations, people strangled with intestines (their own and other people’s), faces hacked off, flesh exploding, Skull: The Mask obliges the audience and then some. What’s a shame though, is this film could have been so much more. Ingredients are there for a riveting comic-book style fable. A spooky mask to recover and destroy, rival warring factions, a detective always ten steps behind events. It could have been, in better hands, Indiana Jones meets The Maltese Falcon meets Halloween. Instead, the editing jumbles subplots together in cack-handed fashion, making a simple enough tale hard to follow in places and turgidly presented.

Natallia Rodrigues, in the lead, does her best, but she’s often left floundering and going through the action heroine motions. For a 90-minute adventure, it is also overstuffed and falls flat where it should shine. The location shooting, though impressive in the night-time scenes where Sao Paolo is lit up like a nightmare labyrinth, cannot save Skull: The Mask from being disappointing.

FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio