The Fifth Commandment (El Quinto Mandamiento)

This entry is part 28 of 30 in the series Raindance 2011

Released: 2009
Director: Rafa Lara

Starring: Guillermo Ivan, Luis Felipe Tovar


A decent but unoriginal addition to the serial killer genre

There’s a great exchange in the very first episode of the The West Wing where Toby argues with a Christian fundamentalist about the order of the Ten Commandments.  As President Bartlet points out later in the scene the first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”  Thinking about that scene and watching Mexican crime thriller The Fifth Commandment at the Raindance Film Festival inspired me to look at what the commandments are.  It seems strange that it isn’t until the middle of the list that we get to what is surely the most important instruction of all – Thou Shall Not Kill.  And that is the commandment that this film is about.

Victor is a deeply troubled young man, sexually abused by a priest when he was a child and raised by a zealous mother he has moved from his small town home to Mexico City where he has become a serial killer.  He kidnaps, rapes, tortures and kills young women.  As the film begins he is killing his 11th victim in the space of a year.  The police are under growing pressure to capture Victor, known as The Cross Killer.  The killer increasingly battles his internal demons, aware that he is committing unforgivable crimes but unable to stop himself sinning.

The first fifteen minutes or so of the The Fifth Commandment were absolutely spellbinding.  Victor’s monologue to his victim was chilling and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

Unfortunately that sense of compulsion didn’t last for the duration of the film.  There was too much going on – Victor’s story, the police manhunt, the “bad” priest who continues to sexually abuse children, the “good” priest that Victor confides in.  There was a never-ending barrage of plotlines taking place at any one time.  The film would have been greatly improved by streamlining and focus.

Guillermo Ivan as Victor is outstanding.  He manages to be vulnerable, charismatic and terrifying all at the same time.  A great bad guy performance that doesn’t descend into pantomime villainy.  Luis Felipe Tovar is also impressive as the policeman in charge of the hunt for Victor, but the character suffered from being stereotyped.  He’s a cop with a great reputation who is losing his touch due to a personal tragedy and his heavy drinking habit.

The use of imagery and lighting were striking.  Lots of shadows, muted colours and religious iconography gave the film a definite identity and sense of foreboding.  I’m not keen on the cliche of the abusive Catholic priest, but it did work well in the context of the story.  That said, I hope that we don’t see a spate of serial killer movies where the perpetrator has been abused in the past by a man of the cloth.  It has the potential to be an easy get-out clause for lazy writers.

If you’re a fan of serial killer films like Se7en then you’re bound to enjoy The Fifth Commandment.  It is a well-made, well-acted and suspenseful addition to the list of decent serial killer films but it doesn’t bring anything new or original to the genre.

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