Review: DESAPARECER, A Jungle-Set Thriller That Raises The Bar
Giovanni (Ismael La Rosa) travels to the city of Iquitos in search of his girlfriend Milena (Virna Flores), an environmentalist who's gone missing. The trail leads him to a secluded village on the banks of the Amazon river struck by a rash of mysterious disappearances that the locals blame on the Yakurunas, a mythical race of "fish-men".
At first glance, this is a lot like one of those "backwoods" survival thrillers a la Deliverance, where the city folk travel to a remote location and are preyed upon by the locals, only not as violent or mean-spirited. Fernández-Moris certainly milks the jungle setting for all its worth, creating an ominous atmosphere where no one can be trusted. It's a great, exotic locale, a character unto itself, but the thrills are sometimes stopped cold by a script that tends to over-explain things rather than show them; the audience will have probably figured out the mystery long before the characters do.
Said mystery also covers other intentions; Desaparecer has things to say about preserving the environment and looking after natural resources, a problem in the Amazon few are familiar with. Thankfully, it doesn't beat you over the head with its environmentalist agenda. Its point is driven home by a climax that's atypical for a Peruvian movie and really takes chances (and spares us the sight of guys in rubber suits).
The movie has flaws on a scripting level - the dialogue at times sounds stilted and theatrical, making a capable cast look bad (simply put, real people don't talk like this) - but there's nothing to complain about on the technical side of things. The photography and production design are solid, and a lot of care has gone into making the movie look good; aerial drone cameras are given quite a workout here. In fact, the film is capably setting a technical standard which all local filmmakers should follow.
Thrillers are rare in Peruvian cinema; this one doesn't always succeed at building tension, but it's a respectable effort from a director who could do wonders with a more solid script.
Desaparecer is currently playing in Peruvian theatres.