In Review: ‘MATER MORTIS’ by Rishi Gandhi

A short horror where an inexplicable disease becomes a metaphor for the trauma of dealing with the suffering of loved ones. 

From the moment ‘MATER MORTIS’ opens on your screen, your senses are stung by themes of familial trauma and you do not have to travel far to see the personal connection to this film.

A more unusual family gathering as depicted in “MATER MORTIS”

Rishi Gandhi has proudly and boldly broken into the world of narrative film with his incredibly personal short where we follow Rajan, deftly played by actor Leo Solomon, and are forced to endure his heartbreak and confusion in dealing with a mystery illness suffered by his mother. Solomon was recently awarded best actor for his work at the Awareness Film Festival and ‘MATER MORTIS’ has been collecting laurels along its journey in the festival circuit. With its UK premiere coming up as part of London Rocks Film Festival, it is our honour to review his work and also provide an in-depth article into Gandhi’s work.

A haunting soundtrack opens upon the flashback of a young child and then a jarring awakening jolts us into the suffering caused by a mysterious zombie-like virus (a common yet all the more horrific theme considering the reality we live in now). ‘MATER MORTIS’, shot in New York state, has all of the trademark notes of a horror film. Sudden and almost hypnotic flashes of a gruesome face, a newsreader describing the vile reality people are facing and the pained and suffered face of his mother, not to mention the ending – which you just have to wait to reveal itself. 

As previously mentioned (see our extended interview), the film is an exploration of trauma suffered by Gandhi with his own mother’s bi-polar disease and the subsequent struggle in handling a relationship with his father. The initial story was written in 2009, but not put into production until 2019. I have to congratulate Gandhi is his ability to look at his own very personal story and translate that into a film where you are drawn into the dark recesses of Rajan’s mind during flashbacks to a seemingly happier childhood. 

You are left cringing at his father’s treatment of what Rajan is going through, with his blasé dealings with this zombie rot, and then the ease in which we see him being able to move on with his life. You can cut the tension in his relationship with his father with a knife. I felt myself spitting venom towards his character yet at the same time, who are we to judge? Everyone reacts to trauma and to seismic life events in their own way and Siraj Huda, who plays the father, does an excellent job of being very nonchalant in the face of hell.

Gandhi stated that he hopes the film “inspires empathy, self-reflection and conversation”, all of which I can agree with, and very much hope to see audiences continue to deepen their comprehension of the film and the topics it deals with. 

MATER MORTIS’ will screen at Whirled Cinema on Friday 5th November at 11pm

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