September 26, 2014
Henry Bedwell (adaptation) & Carlos Enrique Taboada (original idea)
Zuria Vega as Greta
Adriana Louvier as Maria
Erendira Ibarra as Pilar
Ona Casamiquela as Vicky
Greta (Zuria Vega) and three of her party girlfriends, Maria (Adriana Louvier – a striking doppelganger for one of my close friends), Pilar (Erendira Ibarra) and Vicky (Ona Casamiquela) move into a dusty and lavish old mansion in the remote Mexican countryside. Greta has inherited the place, a stack of money, the home’s housekeeper – Evangelina – and a strange black cat named Beker, from her eccentric old aunt. As you might guess, their modern ways don’t completely jive with the way things are kept at the cob-webby manse, and as with any place (and story) such as this, there are tantalizing secrets to be uncovered and scary ghosts to be unleashed.
It’s a remake/rehash of the same-named 1970s schlocker (at least that is what the trailer leads me to believe – I’ve not seen the original). But based on the so-so quality of this remake, chances are I won’t be seeking out a screening of the original anytime soon.
The performances are all quite good. They are your basic damsels in distress, although they do have a little bit more to do than the usual, as the house begins to close in on them and change their minds about the paranormal. There’s some obvious possession going on (not a spoiler, if you don’t see that right away, get out of the game), and paranoia as things progressively get louder and more powerful in their “bump in the night” scenarios. You’ve also got some lesbian situations – which brings me to Erendira Ibarra. All of the actresses put on a good show, but I’ll throw in the ring that Ibarra was the stand-out. Her Pilar is flirty, lovelorn and hopelessly loyal to our lead, Greta. Greta is dating Pilar’s loser brother, but he is merely a fling (despite their engagement). But Pilar is the real deal. She’ll go to the ends of the earth (or the depths of hell) for Greta, and in fact, she does. Pilar has the most to lose. Greta’s almost immediately mesmerized by this new place, and Pilar can see her friend (and wannabe lover) falling under the spell. Ibarra gives us the insight into Pilar’s longing and her pain as her beloved turns to the dark side. It’s good work.
There’s a Rebecca quality here, both in the old-time mansion, with its many halls and many secrets, as well as the Mrs. Danvers-esque leanings of housekeeper Evangelina (the brilliant Margarita Sanz). She’s the most fun in this film, randomly showing up in the far corners of the house at inopportune (or are they timed this way?) moments. In fact, it becomes a bit of an ongoing joke in the film, as the four young ladies discover the nooks and crannies of the massive home and then begin to scold Evangelina for keeping them constantly on edge when she magically appears.
The film is far too long, and the fact that we seemingly revisit some of the same scenes over and over (how many times can we have Maria lightly step out of her office space – as she works late into the night – at the end of that over-used hallway set, so that she can investigate strange noises, yet again?) makes it a sometimes eye-rolling viewing experience.
To the film’s credit, there are some very effective “boo” moments, including one (make that several) long-awaited scares which you just know are coming. But the filmmakers keep you in anticipation until finally, the payoff shows up – in multiple scenes. And it works every single time.
Also, the audio work at play whenever a spirit is present (a creepy jewelry/music box which slows down to an icky slow pace) is always an unwelcome (but exciting) sign in the film.
The movie’s very sleek, with a decent budget behind it. However, the lack of final explanation (and it may be the translation – my husband said that the English subtitles were atrociously done – also Darker Than Night is the general English translation, but per my husband it should read “More Black Than the Night”, which makes a difference since the cat Beker is a central character/plot point…see the subtlety?) doesn’t do much to make this a winner. Yes, I get what happens with the flashback to the aunt’s wedding day, but it feels like a little more reveal would have worked wonders for this film (how was Beker the cat important? Who or what was he?) Once again, as a horror film audience, we’re walking that fine line of annoyingly being spoon-fed the details or wondering what was actually going on in the story – and what did it all mean? It’s so rare that films of this kind actually get it right. Hey filmmakers with a successful and satisfying horror film reveal, what’s your secret?
But once the credits roll, there’s not much to linger in your long-term memory banks – or your short-term for that matter. It looks good. The actors are good. And you get a couple of good jolts for your money. Other than that, “meh”.