Updated: Mar 2, 2019
At first glance, Diablero comes off as just another horror series, but, if given the chance, it will most definitely not disappoint. A mix of Francis Lawrence’s Constantine and Starz’s Ash vs. The Evil Dead, Diablero comes to us from Mexico an exciting whirlwind of magic, spirituality, humor, social commentary, and badass music. Developed by Morena Films for Netflix, Diablero is based on Francisco Haghenbeck’s book El Diablo me obligó (The Devil Forced Me). The story follows an unlikely group composed of a demon hunter and his sister (a practitioner of Santería), a priest, and demon vessel on a pressing mission that could decide the fate of humanity.
While Diablero is by no means conceptually groundbreaking (necromancy and the supernatural are hardly untouched concepts), it rejuvenates familiar horror tropes and storylines that have been overdone by presenting them through a different cultural lens. The fact the show, beyond being a Mexican production, is actually heavily infused with Mexican culture sets it apart from the array of American horror films and series that flood streaming devices. Among its best attributes are its music, social commentary concerning Mexican machismo and Catholicism, and creative variations of pre-established tropes.
The opening theme for Diablero is a perfect lyrical and musical representation of the show. “Futuro” by Café Tacvba, a Mexican band from Ciudad Satélite, is both ominous, reflecting the shows themes and tone, and culturally specific, the instrumentation and arrangements pointing to show’s country of origin. Upon close analysis, the lyrics very clearly lay out the existential, moral, and spiritual quandaries Diablero explores. The first stanza of the song ends as follows, “Al final que importa, es algo que Dios ya decició,” clearly suggesting religion and fate will play an essential part in the story that follows. The next stanza tackles the matter of life and death implying the instability of such concepts and the futility of being troubled by them:
La muerte dijo sí (la muerte dijo sí) Yo digo que no (yo digo que no) La vida dijo no (la vida dijo no) Yo digo que sí (yo digo que sí) Al final ¿qué importa, si muerto en vida sobrevivír?
There’s a kind of intelligent nihilism in the lyrics that can be seen as representative of the main characters’ conditions of existence. They are all burdened with an underground knowledge or truth that brings with it an unavoidable nihilistic impulse, for a sense of powerless is inevitable when one is made aware of previously shielded realities and uncontrollable forces that could potentially destroy the human race. Of course, our heroic misfits don’t succumb to fear and face these forces head on, something the theme song also reveals with its concluding verse: “Que el futuro es hoy.”
In addition to the brilliance of the choice in theme song, there’s the amazing Mexican punk-rock music helping set tone for the show. In the second episode, we witness an underground demon fight club where people can voluntary become possessed by demons and thrown into a cage to duke it out. It is here that we truly grasp how badass Nancy, the demon vessel, is. Her headphones and music are essential to welcoming and expelling demons and her preferred soundtrack is punk-rock. In order to psyche herself into demon mode for a cage fight that determines whether our main diablero, Elvis, lives or dies, she tunes into “Diablo de Polvo” by Felipe El Hombre. Less scream oriented and more melodic, this Mexican indie punk song not only brings Nancy’s demon to life, but also the entire scene. “Maldito Perro” is another amazing punk-style song featured in the show by a The Runaways-esque sounding all-female band called LOBA. Both LOBA and Felipe El Hombre are worth checking out on Spotify.
The Social Commentary
It’s no secret that machismo has historically had a huge presence in Mexican culture and Diablero makes no attempt to hide it. From the common knowledge ingrained in the main character, Elvis, by his father that women cannot be diableras to Catholic priests purposely having sex with, impregnating, and abandoning women, including nuns, the show is clearly critical of not just Mexican machismo, but also the guise of the Catholic Church. It’s not just random men using women for nefarious purposes, it’s men of the cloth, the people you are taught to trust above all else as a Catholic. Of course, once the church’s plan is discovered and connected to everything else the protagonists are trying to solve, Elvis, Nancy, Father Ventura, and Keta move to undo it.
Nancy, the demon vessel, is clearly a strong female character with her ability to control demons and accompany Elvis on a number of life-threatening missions, but Keta is an even larger female force. Well-versed in Santería, Keta is almost like voodoo queen/witch doctor with powers that rival Elvis’s. In fact, in episode five during a flashback, we see that Keta took to magic and the spiritual arts much quicker than Elvis. Additionally, we eventually find out their father lied to them about the existence of female diableros or diableras. It turns out Elvis and Keta’s mother was a powerful diablera and Keta seems to have inherited her gifts and potential. What can be considered the main villain or antagonist of our heroes, Mamá Chabela, is also a diablera, a very powerful one that is trying to condemn humanity.
What we are supposed to consider the most powerful men, clergymen and even Elvis, are presented as weak; the clergymen because of their cowardly submission to overwhelming forces that control their livelihood and status and Elvis because of the way he doubts Keta. However, it is important to note that the clergymen, except for Father Ventura, are presented as weak and pathetic throughout the entire series, and Elvis is only presented as weak when he doubts Keta or other members of his “team.” Thus, Elvis is a good man that still has some lessons to learn in humility and the delegation of power and trust, while the clergymen are sheep. The character Isaac “El Indio” carries with him a similar critique; he too is revealed to be weak because of his inability to trust his daughters and love interest, Keta. Isaac is introduced as a dangerous antagonist, but, in a rather Severous Snape-type twist, turns out to be a good guy that’s been hurt hiding behind a hard façade. When he starts to clear away the façade, his role in the plot, his attitude, and his portrayal are transformed; he goes from gangster zero, to wild-card hero.
As previously mentioned, necromancy and the supernatural have been successfully treated time and again by past television series and films; Diablero does not regurgitate these tropes, but instead reimagines through a Mexican, cultural lens. The spiritual language of the diableros and those incredibly well-versed in the spiritual arts is not really Latin, but Náhuatl, the language of the Aztecs. This and the Catholic faith are the spiritual power bases of Diablero with the ancient Aztec faith playing a more prominent role. That is not to say the Catholicism does not play an important part. Although the bulk of the clergymen in the show succumb to dark forces, Father Ventura seems to be a beacon of hope. He rejects the tempting offer of the church to join in the ranks of a powerful elite and proves to be touched an angelic presence. He maintains his faith despite the obvious failure of the Catholic Church and it pays off. This suggest that if a second season were to occur, Father Ventura’s faith and Catholicism will play a more significant and positive role.
Demons traveling in the form of black smoke has been done before, most recently and notably in Eric Kripke’s Supernatural. Nonetheless, in Diablero individuals who are aware of the existence of demons can avoid being possessed by them by plugging up their orifices; that’s right, their bodily orifices. In episode 3 when Elvis releases a demon into a room with Isaac’s daughters, one of them, Thalía, cries out “¡Es un demonio!¡Cierra las patas, pendeja!” (It’s a demon! Close your legs, you idiot!). Thalía’s sister does so, and everyone else proceeds to cover their mouths and noses and press their backs against the wall to shield their back doors; one unfortunate soul fails to do so, and the demon seems to enter him through his exposed derrière. Clearly there is an element of humor here, an element that is prevalent throughout the series functioning almost as comic relief; conversely, in Sam Raimi’s, Ivan Raimi’s, and Tom Spezialy’s Ash vs. The Evil Dead, constant humor is the name of the game, it’s more camp than drama. The dark humor used in Diablero seems essential, as in addition to addressing the supernatural, the show also problematizes the Catholic Church; these can both be considered controversial topics which, in the case of Diablero, are closely tied to the culture being represented, and, if not treated correctly, can alienate or discourage viewers. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that Diablero uses humor to alleviate the potential harshness of the social commentary.
Overall, Diablero is a killer show which revitalizes and expands the TV series horror genre through its cultural specificity, creative choices, and blatant social commentary. If you’re not a fan of reading subtitles, don’t let it discourage you; even though the show is Mexican and in Spanish, its structure and plot development are fairly standard. That is, even if you don’t know the culture and language, there is a structural familiarity you will recognize that will allow for a successfully engagement with the show and its central themes. Plus, what’s better than learning about a new culture and language while watching a kick-ass show?