sella-turcica.jpgFilm: Sella Turcica
Year Released: 2010
Country: USA
Director: Fred Vogel
Notable Cast: Damien Maruscak, Camille Keaton, Jade Risser, Harvey Daniels, Sean McCarthy
Other titles: none

Synopsis (without spoilers): Sergeant Brad Roback [Damien Maruscak] is coming home from Iraq in a wheelchair. With no memory of the attack, or what occurred afterward, and with the loss of function in his legs, it is natural that Brad is confused and dazed. But something more is wrong with Brad. He looks half-dead, with red sunken eyes and a ghastly pallor. He cannot eat; his body oozes black fluid, the stench from which is like the stench of death. As Brad deteriorates, his family gathered round to support him but unable to reach him, the full toll of war is seen. Sella Turcica is a brutal, brilliant statement about the terrors of war. With excellent acting that brings home the gutwrenching horror of what is happening, highly effective makeup and special effects, and a story that will fester in your brain, Sella Turcica is one of the best anti-war horror films we've ever seen.

Commentary (contains spoilers):

Sergeant Bradley Roback is returning of Iraq, wheelchair bound and with a myriad set of strange symptoms that the doctor cannot explain. He has no memory of the attack, and when troops tracked his convoy to the site of the attack, there were no men, no blood, not even a trace of enemy fire. Just abandoned equipment. A few weeks later, the squad was found, unconscious, just a few thousand yards from camp. None of them awoke until they were in a hospital in Germany.

The pain of Brad's existence, and the impact his injuries have on the family is realistically, heartwrenchingly portrayed; excellent acting and scripting bring home the tolls of war. His family has gathered around, his mother [Camille Keaton] his sister Ashley [Jade Risser] and brother Bruce [Sean McCarthy], his cousins, too. But Brad's homecoming is tense and awkward. No one knows what to say, and when someone does speak, everyone takes it the wrong way. Fights are breaking out all over the house. Natural enough, given the trauma that they have all experienced. But something more is wrong with Brad than the fact that his legs aren't working.

The makeup work on Brad is excellent. Gaunt, with red, sunken eyes and grey pallor, he looks half-dead. Dark blood drips from his ear. His feet are covered with what look to be third degree burns, and his tongue is ulcerated. His pain goes deeper, though. He has headaches that feel as though someone drilled into the back of his skull (the anatomical area known as the sella turcica). Nothing tastes right; everything tastes like mud. Everyone has noticed that Brad seems very ill, but no one wants to speak of it. Gradually, the party seems to have become a wake, and the family melts away, unable to take the pain. Brad retires to his room, utterly alone, physically and psychologically.

As the rest of the family prepares for bed, Brad has a series of what seem like seizures. Blood flows from his ear, his mouth, his anus. The stench is unbearable as he tries to clean himself up; whatever is flowing from his body is more than blood. Ashley comes in after he has hidden the traces of what happened. She tries to distract him from his pain by asking about his medals; each one comes with a hideous tale of bloodshed and torture. The medals mean little to him; the memories are everything, and the memories are dark indeed.

Brad's deterioration accelerates. He no longer tries to hide the blood dripping from his ear. He is twitching uncontrollably, and his ability to speak is deteriorating as well. But he seems to have no use for his chair anymore; he moves from one place to another unseen, but his chair has been parked in the living room the entire time. Something is making him walk, but we and his mother fear it is not his own legs, his own spinal cord.

When Bruce sees his condition, he knows Brad needs to go to the hospital, but Brad resists. He only needs rest, he mumbles, staring at a blue screen on the television. Then the family dog, Fulci, comes into his room. Brad eats him, then moves to the kitchen, still chomping on the dog's sinews. He stands from his chair, and moves toward Gavyn [Harvey Daniels], Ashley's boyfriend. When the family hears the scream, they rush in to find the carnage. Gavyn is dead, and Brad appears to be dead as well.

The thought that has been drifting through our minds, festering as Brad festers, comes to the forefront. Brad is acting like a zombie; a dead man reanimated, slowly decaying, inside and out. Suddenly, Brad sits up, stands, and attacks his brother. Yes, a zombie is exactly what he is. He kills his brother, his sister, and finally attacks his mother, who is forced to kill him, crying at what she must do. She splits his skull, and from the sella turcica comes the parasite that has been living inside of Brad, using him as a host and feeding off his damaged body. That is what war has put inside him.

War changes people; those traumatized by what they have seen and done come home "different people," something inside them dead or changed. These changes affect families, cause something to change in them. Fred Vogel has taken this theme to its literal end, externalizing and physicalizing the internal damage of war, the damage to the soul and to loved ones. Maruscak does a masterful job of portraying the deterioration of Brad, from loving son and brother, to a mindless killing machine. Sella Turcica is one of the strongest anti-war horror films we've ever seen.