Credit: Theo Montoya
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film

Anhell69 — Theo Montoya [SXSW ’23 Review]

March 17, 2023

There have been a number of meta-cinematic works over the years that detail the plans for a film that a maker had in mind, but was unable to complete for one reason or another. But Anhell69, by Colombian director Theo Montoya, is quite different from other such experiments in failure. That’s because Anhell69 is a brutal examination of cinema as a kind of makeshift memorial, and how the present moment is everything when life itself becomes unfeasible. This is a story of fragile existence focused on the queer community in Medellín, a city ravaged by authoritarianism, narco wars, and relentless homophobia.

In the beginning, Montoya planned to assemble some young men and women from the drag scene in order to produce a low-budget allegorical fiction, involving the coexistence of the living and the dead in the streets of Medellín. As ghosts accumulate in the city, a group of outcasts begin having sex with ghosts, an act that is perceived as a threat to the natural order. These “spectrophiliacs” become the target of death squads, which of course only adds to the crisis. Whereas death is supposed to be a terminus, Montoya conjures a world in which it is merely a new state of being, a way for Colombians to reconcile their inability to project themselves into the future.

Montoya begins with a series of casting calls, which show him interviewing various street kids about their lives, and the one constant is that none of them believe they have a future of any kind. This proves entirely too true, as two of the prospective actors die before Montoya can even begin the film. This results in a pivot into a different project, a mournful essay film about the precariousness of life in a nation that seems all too willing to forsake its gender-nonconforming children to violence and drug abuse.

Anhell69 takes its title from the Instagram handle of a young man, Camilo Najar, who Montoya wanted to be his star. After he dies suddenly, the film becomes a concerted effort to document a milieu under siege, an attempt to create a material record of brief lives that the dominant society is all too eager to forget. From its ominous drone shots over Medellín to the pleasures of the city’s queer nightlife, Anhell69 conveys the stark contrast between freedom and fascism in contemporary Colombia.

But as the film makes clear, death is ever-present. Montoya and his cast conclude their journey in the cemetery, honoring the deceased while squaring off against their own looming demise. As a rhythmic motif, Montoya continually cuts to a hearse driving at night, with the director himself serving as the man in the casket. With Anhell69, Montoya has constructed an indelible, at times shattering portrait of a collection of lovers and fighters who have embraced hedonistic nihilism, just in order to find a place to exist.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 11.