In the Quarry. 2018. Directed & Written by Bernardo & Rafael Antonaccio.
Starring Paula Silva, Augusto Gordillo, Rafael Beltrán, Luis Pazos, & Natalia Tarmezzano.
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains spoilers
Thrillers can be an interesting way of exploring gender politics. It can go either way: filmmakers can go extremely graphic routes, or they can choose a tamer, yet still terrifying path by digging into the tension rather than focusing solely on exploitative violence. In the Quarry opts for the latter. It’s billed as an ‘interpellative thriller,’ and that makes everything about the ideology and identity embedded into the story.
Directing and writing pair Bernardo and Rafael Antonaccio’s screenplay centres on a woman called Alicia. She’s originally from a smaller town, now living with her bougie boyfriend Bruno in the city. She returns to see old friends, Tincho and Tola, who’ve stayed back in their hometown rather than venture into the urban areas of Uruguay. Immediately there’s visible tension, as Alicia obviously has more than a friendly relationship with one of her old pals. But it’s also more than clear that Bruno has serious control issues.
What emerges during one hot summer afternoon in the abandoned quarry where these four spend their day swimming, eating, and drinking is a dark, taut exploration of how various forms of patriarchal control lead to ruin. The film sits in the perspective of Alicia. Her struggle to make it out of that quarry is representative of the situation we, as a society, place women in— we make women the object of men’s desires, as well as leave women unprotected against male aggression, and then act shocked when they inevitably become prey to a hunter.
The story hovers around an uneasy sense of class disparity. Bruno acts very urban bourgeois, talking about the sushi they go eat in the city while seeing no irony in the fact he’s condemning Tincho and Tola for actually fishing themselves: “If I want fish, I get it at the store.” He goes so far as to use the word “peasant” in reference to fishing. Living in the city is juxtaposed against the lives of “small town people.” Although class difference plays a major role in the plot, it’s considered in an intersectional light.
Gender is at the centre of everything within this film.
What In the Quarry does best, apart from nail its searing, tense mood, is present the various ways men treat women with everything from dominance to indifference to violence. Easiest to see is the way Bruno tries to dominate Alicia, rather than act like an actual boyfriend. He wants control, right down to the way he holds her by the back of the neck while they’re walking and talking. He tells her she’s “playing the victim card” and gaslights her. One of the largest plot developments occurs when he invades her privacy and looks through her phone. He doesn’t respect her autonomy, in any sense. The violence between him and Tincho is more evidence of his toxicity. It”s also evidence of the way Tincho treats Alicia as an object.
While Tincho isn’t as controlling or domineering as Bruno, his choice to be a white knight-like male through physical acts of force isn’t any more positive. They’re two men reverting back to primitive instincts rather than talk sensibly, between themselves or with Alicia. Not only that, Tincho does show a possessiveness over Alicia, believing he’s got to fend off or fight the man he sees as ‘taking away’ something he has a right to because of the history between them.
These men might as well be fighting over a piece of meat off the grill.
Try not to forget Tola. He could easily do something early on, and he doesn’t, like so many men who are unwilling to check the behaviour of their friends when necessary. He seems like a normally nice, sensible, fun loving guy. But he never steps in to defuse the ticking time bomb of masculinity that’s sure to go off. His indifference costs him, and it nearly spells disaster for Alicia, too.
The male characters use many words and phrases that play into destructive conceptions of masculine behaviour. The use of “pussy” and “cunt” as demeaning is part of the ideology inherent in toxic masculinity. So many men use these words. Then there’s “faggot,” which comes out during a heated exchange between Bruno and Tincho— another term borne of fragility in heterosexual men, especially two who feel they’re locked in a competition of egos.
Interesting how even in Uruguay the sexism and misogyny of a man like Donald Trump affects pop culture, when Tola tries to apologise to Alicia for the “locker room talk” going on between the angry boys. That phrase isn’t uncommon, though its use is curious in a film about gender and violence at the current moment in time. Altogether, these instances of language weaponised by straight men is an important look at the ways violence is not only a physical act— it’s also verbal and psychic.
“Don’t be a pussy”
Going back to the animosity between Bruno and Tincho, their regression back to caveman behaviour is perfect laid against the backdrop of the quarry itself. The rocks and the barren landscape make the men’s fight into something akin to the realm of neanderthals, turning the quarry into a primitive symbol. Look at Alicia’s escape from the quarry as, ultimately, an escape from primitive modes of being. She’s freed herself from the control of men, narrowly avoiding the potential worst of its awful violence.
A fascinating image we see and hear about several times is D’Orbigny’s slider a.k.a the “tiger turtle” as it’s colloquially known in Uruguay. In this species, sexual dimorphism is noticeable particularly through physical size. Females are almost 17% bigger than males; we could imagine this big turtle in the film is, in fact, a female. The turtle can survive a hook. In contrast, we see the nasty image of Bruno winding up with a hook in his face. Great subverted imagery. Just like the female tiger turtles are bigger than their male counterparts, so does Alicia become stronger in these moments than Bruno, overcoming him. She flips the hunter-prey relationship. Suddenly he becomes the catch, and Alicia escapes getting caught in his violent snare.Father Gore can picture many men somehow justifying Bruno’s anger. Regardless of whatever Alicia has done, she doesn’t deserve violence, and, also, how much of her behaviour has been dictated by her boyfriend’s attempts to dominate her into the perfect partner? These are the types of questions In the Quarry will bring out. The controlling, hyper-masculine ideology of someone like Bruno, and likewise Tincho’s territorial attitude towards Alicia, whose attitude is little better than the boyfriend, are instances of toxic masculine attitudes that come part and parcel with a patriarchal society.
The film does a terrific job of drawing out the tension until it’s too much to bear. After that it still doesn’t go where viewers who are well-acquainted with these types of stories might assume it would, leaving surprises in store. Alicia’s struggle hammers home the feelings of a woman’s experience, being trapped with men intent on nothing but petty violence, like carnivores, or scavengers, wrestling over scraps of meat. In the end, she luckily makes sure she won’t become some predator’s next meal.