Thursday, June 8, 2017

In short: The Similars (2015)

Original title: Los Parecidos

October 1968, Mexico. While rain the local radio station describes as “unnatural” is falling all over the world, the paths of a number of characters converge in a bus station a five hour drive from Mexico City. There’s for example the very bearded mine worker Ulises (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) trying to get to the City because his wife is giving birth, or Irene (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a very pregnant woman on the run from her husband.

The rain is not the only strange thing that’s going on this night. One by one, the characters in the bus stop fall down in a kind of fit to awaken as changed people. This phenomenon is only the start of a series of very peculiar occurrences.

To tell more about what happens in it would be rather unkind to Isaac Ezban’s nifty The Similars, so I’m going to keep things rather vague here. At first, I wasn’t too convinced by the movie: the acting is rather on the stagey side, and the decision to digitally tint the visuals so that they look like a bleached out print of an old grindhouse movie and even add some fake very light damage from time to time didn’t sit right with me. The production design, and Ezban’s direction work right from the start, though, the bus stop looking and feeling as if it had stepped right out of an episode of the (original) Twilight Zone, a series the film will turn out to be a wonderful homage to.

Then, a certain time in, the film’s first twist happens, and it’s certainly not what you’ll think it is going to be. In fact, I’m sure even the more seasoned viewer of this kind of film will be surprised by where The Similars is going. Or, to let me quote the notes I made at this stage of the proceedings: “What. the. actual. fuck.”

From then on out, The Similars does everything it does right and well: the bizarre and capital-W Weird twist will actually make sense, and has meaning and even political resonance with the time the film takes place in without ever losing its total weirdness, particularly thanks to effects work that really understands the disquieting lurking under the surface of the absurd. Further twists make clear that the film’s kinship to Rod Serling’s magnum opus is more than just on the surface, not just because there is a direct borrowing from a famous episode (which will get a twist of its own); there’s also a comparable humanist imagination at work here, and one that doesn’t shy away from having things end less than ideally for everyone involved if necessary. Ezban’s direction makes the most out of his own clever script, creating tense moments and a thick atmosphere out of what certainly can’t have been a lot of money, leaving this viewer rather happy about what he has encountered while randomly zapping through the (in Germany still rather shallow) depths of Netflix.

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