Satanic rituals and forced cannibalism. How many refugees share this fate?

The news service Noticias Telemundo recently reported a case of kidnapping, murder and cannibalism which, it seems, may not be so uncommon among refugees trying to cross Mexico into the United States.

Noticias Telemundo Investiga interviewed 32 migrants kidnapped from 2019 to 2021 in Mexico and the U.S. Their relatives were made to pay $1,500 to $5,000 as ransom to criminal gangs for the release of the kidnapped migrants.

The latest story follows the ordeal of a young man named David Sanabria and his little girl Ximena, who are from Honduras.

David Sanabria had arranged a coyote (smuggler) to escort them to the Texan border, where he planned to turn himself and his daughter in to U.S. immigration authorities and seek asylum. But when they reached Reynosa in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the coyote turned them over to a cartel gang. David and other captives were repeatedly made to call relatives to ask for a ransom, and were beaten if the relative said they couldn’t afford it. The victims are not US citizens so relatives cannot ask for help from the FBI, and in many cases the local police in Mexico are in the pay of the cartels.

If the ransom was not paid by the deadline, the captives would be murdered. David said:

“With a machete they dismembered them, killed them, and the only thing I could do was cover my daughter’s eyes and ears so that she would not know what was happening, nor would she have those memories for her whole life.”

After that, the corpses were cooked and the surviving migrants were made to eat the human meat, “so that there would be no trace of anything — that’s what one had to eat.” The term “innocent cannibal” is usually reserved for those who are not aware that human meat is in their meal, but in this case, I think we can apply it to David and Ximena.

At night, the kidnappers performed satanic rituals. “They knelt down. They had images of the devil, of Santa Muerte. They made pleas. They made offerings. It was something horrible,” he said. Several survivors who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga talked about the kidnappers’ “cult of death”.

David’s brother borrowed money from his co-workers, friends and relatives and even asked strangers for money on the streets of Nashville. He eventually raised the $7,500 ransom and David and Ximena were released. David waded across the Rio Grande with Ximena on his back. So they made it to the US border where they were detained for three days, but then were returned to Mexico. Under Title 42 to curb the spread of COVID-19, migrants who are detained at the border are returned to Mexico while their petitions for asylum are processed. This year, 100,000 migrants a month are being returned to Mexico.

They were put in a shelter by the National Migration Institute of Mexico, and Al Otro Lado, which provides free legal assistance to migrants from Baja California, helped David fill out an asylum application.

In August, the U.S. granted David and Ximena humanitarian parole so they could enter the country and live with his brother in Tennessee while they await the results of their asylum petitions.

This is Ximena in the shelter.

The United Nations estimates there are over 82 million people in the world who have fled their homes, of whom 26 million are refugees, half of those under the age of eighteen. That means one in every ninety-five people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.

Imagine, if you can, being a refugee, anywhere in the world. You are fleeing from a place which doesn’t want you, and where people are possibly threatening to imprison or kill you, to another place that also does not want you and may send you back, and almost no one will support you en route. Men, women and children are helpless, easy prey for unscrupulous smugglers and criminal gangs. If you disappear, no one will find you, particularly if you have been eaten.

Migrant kidnappings happen all the time. Mexican authorities at the beginning of September 2021 reported a total of 697 migrants kidnapped and rescued in just 10 days. These are not statistics. They are people like David and Ximena, who may be robbed, kidnapped, beaten, killed, forced into cannibalism, and even eaten themselves, as the world ignores them. In a world where we capture, kill and eat some 350 million animals every hour of every day, is it really surprising that we sometimes do the same to members of our own species?

It made me think of the last line of the film Cannibal Holocaust:

Immigrants and cannibals: TWO HEADS CREEK (Jesse O’Brien, 2019)

The thread that runs through cannibalism texts, from Homer’s Cyclops to Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, is the social outsider. It is a theme that never seems to age, since humans love to form cliques, united by an irrational hatred of those who don’t belong, even if it’s just because they dress differently or support a different sporting team. The most obvious example at the moment, and for most of modern history, is the immigrant.

Norman is played by Jordan Waller who also wrote the script – you may have seen him appear in the TV series Victoria. He runs his mother’s Polish butcher shop in Slough (it’s a real place, although there is definitely a pun in there). It’s post-Brexit Britain, and the locals scream abuse and paint his windows with dog-shit.

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He’s English, but his shop sells Polish meats, so he is the hated outsider. His twin sister Anna (Kathryn Wilder) is the assertive one, and is totally uninterested in his butcher shop.

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When they discover at their mother’s funeral (held in the butcher shop) that they were adopted, they find a postcard from their mother, postmarked from a small Australian town: Two Heads Creek. Not sure if this is international invective, but in Australia, “two-heads” is pretty much a synonym for “inbred”, and is used to denigrate rural people. The outsider does not need to come from outside – just a different region will do.

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Norman is named after his mothers’ favourite singer, the Australian pop star Normie Rowe, who was enormously popular in the sixties, until the government decided to conscript him to the war in Vietnam as a publicity stunt. Normie’s oeuvre is featured heavily in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the twins know nothing of Australia as they sell the butcher shop and head “Down Under” to seek their birth mother, except for clichéd English convict stereotypes, so when the customs agent asks if he has a criminal record, Norman answers “is that a prerequisite?” They travel ten hours to the outback town with a group of Asian immigrants, on a bus driven by an Indigenous man, Apari (Gregory J. Fryer) who is treated like dirt by their guide.

This is a blog about movies involving cannibalism, so it’s probably not a big spoiler to mention why the immigrants are being sent to Two Heads Creek.

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Australian governments of both parties have a long-standing practice of locking up refugees in offshore detention and leaving them there to rot or go mad. So far, they have not considered cannibalism as a solution, so we have to hope they don’t see this movie.

There are lots of explicit cannibalism scenes, as well as some cute intertextual references, e.g.

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The movie is far from subtle in its treatment of jingoism, racism, sexism and various other discriminatory practices popular in Australia and elsewhere.

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But an important thing to realise about cannibalism is that it is an ultimate equaliser – although only certain groups may be chosen as victims, once skinned and cooked, we are all the same. Our differences are, literally, skin deep.

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The scenes of cannibalism are accompanied by another soundtrack, this one the Aussie group Skyhooks, with their big hit “Horror Movie” which, in the song, turned out to be about watching the evening news, and so is just as relevant now as ever. Perhaps more so.

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They do get to meet (and almost eat) their mother, yes, she is named Mary (the wonderful Kerry Armstrong from Lantana, Seachange and so much more), who perplexes them by describing their father as “a good man”.

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The final act is a climax of gore, wildly over the top and full of people being stabbed in the crotch, presumably for the 14-year-old-boy market. The main antagonist, Apple (Helen Dallimore) gets shot with an arrow and goes into the giant meat-mincer with her middle finger the final part to be ground up, while screaming the theme of the movie:

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The best line of the film is from their mother, who is hit in the neck by a lethal boomerang studded with nails, but dismisses it as “only a flesh wound”

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Apari, a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land, is left to clean up the blood and corpses that litter the town. With some justification, as he watches the Australians and the English hobble off, he says:

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This well-crafted film is only the second feature from Australian director Jesse O’Brien. He said of the setting, the mining town of Cracow in the Banana Shire, 500km northwest of Brisbane, that

“I think that myth of the outback being ‘a scary place’, which isn’t always true, does fit rural Queensland really well.”

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The cast is great and the film is fresh, funny and still manages to ask some interesting questions about differences and about appetites. It has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film Threat described it as:

“A deliciously deranged horror-comedy, overflowing with blood and wit.”

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.