Santiago Mendoza (Harold Torres) is a successful tabloid crime photographer in Mexico City, who has developed a hard exterior in order to deal with the extreme violence he photographs. One night, Santiago intercepts an emergency call and while taking photos of a man consumed by rats, an accidental photo captures a sinister figure. A mysterious illness begins to plague Santiago and all his senses slowly start to go completely numb. It becomes a race against time, and his diminishing body, to try to lift the curse that has befallen him.

Luis Javier Henaine’s Disappear Completely marks the second feature-length film from the Mexican filmmaker, with this most recent work being the director’s first entry into the realm of horror. As such, Disappear Completely has an interesting tone and flow for a horror film, one which largely works in its favor.

Disappear completely
Harold Torres as crime tabloid photographer Santiago Mendoza

Undeniably, the concept of losing one’s senses is a nightmarish concept in itself, but the potential to play on that more for shock value is the most logical route within horror cinema. Yet, Henaine takes a more nuanced approach by slowly stripping the audience of the same sense that Santiago is losing. A prime example would be as he loses his hearing the audio begins to slowly drain from the production. This is an obvious example, but there is a creative use of transforming the film along with Santiago’s suffering that is best left to be experienced along with the film.

In addition, the script is a competent drama that manages to make a somewhat unlikable character in Santiago someone the audience will want to root for. Despite the moral quandaries the viewers will have with his character, especially those unfamiliar with the gore tabloids of Mexico, it would be easy to attach any ill-coming to his profession. Luis Javier Henaine does not really focus on morality; furthermore, he makes the curse the byproduct of an accident instead of tied directly to his deplorable work.

Actor Harold Torres pulls off his slightly grimy persona of Santiago with skill. Showing elements of humanity to keep his character endearing enough, but with an understanding of how the desensitization and predatory nature of Santiago’s career brings a necessary coldness to the persona. The rest of the performances from the cast are complimentary, and at no point is the audience really taken out of the immersive experience in regard to following Santiago into a slow decline. 

As a hardened horror fan, I would be amiss to not admit that as effective as Luis Javier Henaine’s approach to the project is, the lack of going to that extreme within such a fully realized concept does feel like a missed opportunity. Disappear Completely, at times, feels like a drama with horror elements instead of the intense horror experience that would work so perfectly with the concept of curses and the fight of losing senses making the world a terrifying place to navigate the simplest of tasks. Not that it needed to push the boundaries into the realm of the extreme, but a few moments of intended shock could have elevated the project both stylistically and in appeasing to a broader horror audience. As it stands, Disappear Completely is most likely to find those to sing its praises but won’t pierce into full cult status.

Disappear Completely taps into primal fears and the dark seedy underbelly of Mexican culture and superstition to deliver an inventive horror story.  A bit of sensationalism would have really made the film stand out, but as it is, it presents a highly unique and well-executed horror-lite experience worth checking out.

We Watched Disappear Completely as part of the 2022 Fantastic Fest Line-up

Past Festival Coverage