Tuesday, January 29, 2019

In short: 1974: La posesión de Altair (2016)

The recently wedded couple of teacher Altair (Diana Bovio) and artist (I think) Manuel (Rolando Breme) are living a happy, even idyllic, life in the Mexican countryside. Idyllic, that is, until the night after Altair’s birthday party. The young woman has a dream of an angel standing beside her bed, talking to her, and from there on out, weird things start happening, most of them centred on Altair. It’s not just psychologically explicable stuff like sleepwalking, or her buoyant temper turning brooding and distant, there are also things like the very real phenomenon of the flock of birds that commits suicide by repeatedly crashing into the house. The angels – apparently there are now more than just one – tell Altair to build two doors out of black bricks in the house, the bricks and black paint appearing neatly packaged in the garage; strange phone calls come in at night; the couple’s pup disappears and then seems to reappear as a grown dog despite no time having passed for the animal to actually grow up. All the while, Altair’s behaviour turns ever more self-destructive and decidedly creepy.

Eventually, a desperate Manuel calls Altair’s reticent sister Tere (Blanca Alarcón) and his best friend Callahan (Guillermo Callahan) in for help, but it doesn’t look as if anything could stop whatever is playing games with the couple.

Mexican director Victor Dryere actually shot this period piece of POV cinema mostly on a Super 8 camera, the sort of thing his protagonists would have been using at the time. Unless one can’t get over the usual “why would these people film all of this!?” anxiety that seems to plague some of the particularly principled POV horror haters, this turns out to be a brilliant decision, providing the resulting movie with an instant patina – with the grain to prove it – of the past. It’s also a pretty admirable technique for making a low budget period piece, the grain and limited colour of Super 8 hiding quite a bit of the period detail a director usually can’t afford to bring on screen.

Dryere does quite a bit more with this though, using his film stock’s weaknesses to create very well imagined moments of strangeness (probably enhanced via digital magic). There are quite a few scenes which work particularly well because we can’t quite see what’s going on here. My personal favourite is a moment when Altair seems to nearly step backwards through one of the doors she has built, which becomes extra creepy by the fact that in this resolution her doors don’t look like bricks piled on each other but like black rectangles that could be and hide just about anything Wrong.

In general, Altair is quit excellent at creating this feeling of wrongness out of its grainy visuals, some very convincing acting and a mix of elements of various tales about alien/transdimensional abductions and general High Weirdness. Additionally, the film also happens to be one of the new wave of POV horror films that actually do pacing well – there’s not a wasted moment on screen here, the tightness of the script of course strengthening the impact of the strangeness even more.

Not a bad result at all for a movie that has apparently been making the festival rounds since 2016.

No comments: