Review: Isaac Ezban's THE SIMILARS Pays Homage To An Era Of Fear And Paranoia
In an isolated bus station five hours outside of Mexico City a lone man is getting impatient waiting for the next bus to arrive to take him to his wife who is in labor. The bus is well late due to the torrential downpour happening outside. Soon a pregnant woman runs in and she is determined to get on the next bus into Mexico City to flee an abusive relationship. One by one complete strangers enter the sodden station and then strange events begin. Convulsive fits are followed by physical transformations that frighten this group of strangers. Calm and reason are replaced by fear and paranoia as the rain pours on through the night.
Isaac Ezban's love letter to the science fiction films of the 60s, The Similars, is a nearly perfect ode to the genre. If you are familiar with American sci-fi films from the 50s and 60s you know they were influenced by events that galvanized the culture and ignited certain senses of fear. The harnessing of nuclear power and the emergence of the Cold War acted as backdrops for a lot of our science fiction cinema. Everyone's worst fears and paranoia were manifested on the silver screen.
The Similars alludes to a significant event in Mexican history, the Tliataeloclo Massacre, where any number of students and civilians, from 30 to 300, were wiped out during an anti-government demonstration. Here is the context for the local audience that will add a certain depth to the emotional responses our characters have to events in the film. The event is yet to happen but one of the characters is on his way to the demonstration and exemplifies the pressure that the Mexican people must have felt they were under from their authorities.
At that time the Mexican people were already under influences from all sides to assimilate and lose their individuality. Added to this internal pressure the geopolitics between the West and what was behind the Red Curtain put the World at a state of readiness for the end times. So when everyone begins to change in The Similars and lose their individuality presumptions include anything from experiments by American or Soviets, to an alien invasion.
These metaphors for loss of identity by an external threat add more depth to this entertaining sci-fi thriller. Are they key to enjoying Ezban's film? No, not at all. They merely serve to offer some context to the time this film is set in and it may give a little more depth to the viewing experience of those who know what the Tliataeloclo Massacre was. Even if you did not know what was going on at the time hopefully the real threat to everyone at the bus station will surprise you.
Artistically there is little to find fault in, in Ezban's film. He employs some terrific camera work on set; some of the earlier tracking shots really captured how frantic the visitors were upon arrival to the bus station. He has blanched the film and muted the colors in the bus station and art direction, either serving to visually convey a sense of oppression by not letting true color emerge or even simpler, it is a dreary night and there is nothing to be hopeful and cheery about.
Another element of the film that more than one person at the festival commented on was the simply amazing score. Oh my gosh is the score produced by Edy Lan great. Reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood his score takes Isaac's film to the next level. Then, when the time comes for everyone to change, the special makeup effects artistry by Marco Antonio Hernández and Cristian Perez Jauregui is spectacular.
If I had one misgiving about Ezban's film, and this is an opinion that I shared with him while at the fest, I felt that the middle act was reluctant to let the movie move forward. I found myself losing patience with this middle act, especially when the story refused to moved forward and look at the damn magazines in the office behind the ticket booth. Jeebuz, she has said and handful of times now that someone ought to come with her and look at the magazines. What is the delay?
Apart from a laboring middle act Ezban's stylistic choices are spot on. The Similars is an entertaining, sometimes shocking and even horrific scifi thriller. If you are a fan of good old American sci-fi it is worth looking up.
(The Similars opened this year's edition of Morbido last week)