Folktales are a unifying force. Even if you are not a fan of them, folktales have a way of drawing people in. Gisberg Bermudez’s 2018 horror film The Whistler: Origins, or El Silbon: Origines, centers around popular Venezuelan folklore. While the film provides traditional scares from supernatural sources, the most alarming thing about The Whistler is the evil that lives in men and the silent complicity of women.
It is believed that The Whistler only preys on sinners. A question that permeates the film, is why the little girl? Ana, played by Valeria Oribio, is first seen wandering through her garden. A shadow passes and she screams. The next scene shows her holding a knife to her father’s chest. Written by Bermudez, his brother Gisyerg Bermudez, and Irina Dendiouk, the folklore is adapted and interwoven with gender politics to relay a story of abuse, trauma, and revenge.
Setting plays a pivotal role in setting up the horror and cultural aspects of this film. Set in a rural village, The Whistler tells two separate stories that take place in the same location, many years apart. One story tells the origins of Venezuelen legend El Silbon or the Whistler, while the second story is about a young girl who seems to have become possessed. The remote setting contributes to the making of an urban legend and in the second story, the town is not as isolated, but it is home to strong Catholic and occult beliefs. In both stories, the community’s willingness to accept and believe what is seemingly impossible is a bridge that allows the legend to thrive.
The film features a talented cast. Oribio, Daniela Bueno, and Fernando Gaviria are just a couple of names in a strong lineup of actors. Gisberg has a grasp of folklore and each character is very much out of a storybook.
The film starts off fast-paced. A young girl appears to be possessed and her family readily accepts this and so does the local priest. This pacing works with folktales. Folktales are told with a routinely quick pace. A strange scenario is presented and accepted by both the audience and other characters in the story. The same goes with the origin story. A series of events, both illogical and violent occur with little to no consequence, and the story is on its way.
The quick pace starts the movie, but towards the end, the story begins to get a little muddled with an excess of explanation, slowing the film down. Despite the strange crawl at the end, the movie moves quickly and keeps the viewer interested with a compelling story and strong acting.
The Whistler: Origins mingles classic horror, the darkness of fairy tales, and the evils of human villains. The blending of horror and trauma tells a complex story of child abandonment, abuse, and the most basic fears that haunt children. While the film may not offer loads of jump scares, but it delivers on blood and gore. The tone of the film remains overall disturbing, fitting for a folktale.