REVIEW: Nail In The Coffin – The Fall and Rise of Vampiro (2019)

dir. Michael Paszt.

Back in the 90’s, Canadian bruiser Ian Hodgkinson arrived in Mexico City not speaking a word of Spanish and quickly established himself as an unlikely legend in Lucha Libre Mexican Wrestling. Painted in goth makeup and going by the name “Vampiro”, his is an incredible story, in the truest sense: both remarkable in detail and surprising in trajectory.

Catching up with Hodgkinson in later life, documentarian Paszt touches on Vamprio’s dramatic career – his time in Lucha Libre; an ill-fated stint Stateside in WCW – but remains focussed on his relationship with teenage daughter Dasha, for whom he is a single parent. Remarkably splitting his time between their family home in Canada and several days a week in Mexico and LA, a picture emerges of a devoted father living with a body and life both fractured by wrestling.

Paszt’s structure is elliptic and disjointed, archive footage capturing moments in time with little context or setting. The result is both mesmeric and meta, eschewing a traditional structure and emerging almost as half-concussed memories, floating out of a fog of confusion. Whilst this adds to a sense of Hodgkinson being anchored in the relationship with his daughter – all else is in motion – it does create some frustrations when such an interesting life is not paid closer analysis. That is not to say that the usual exploits are not present – the drugs, the ‘droids – but when fascinating moments (such as rivalries spilling out of the ring to the real) are not fully explored it feels like an incomplete picture is being presented, a selective rendering of a more nuanced history.

Comparisons with Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008) are perhaps inevitable, and Paszt’s intention to present a hopeful narrative is to be praised, with moving scenes of Hodgkinson reaching for a tender connection with his daughter. However the portrait ultimately lacks cohesion as Paszt – and perhaps Hodgkinson himself – struggle to make sense of a life lived at such wild extremes.

Tim Coleman

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