Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: RAGE (Rabia), Growing Tension And Fear Gives Way to a Bloody Finale
Shortly after the passing of his mom Alan is forced by his father, Alberto, to hide in his uncle’s home. Confined indoors Alan goes through his uncle’s belongings and discovers hidden, cryptic messages that suggest that his father is a werewolf. It will be a full moon soon. What will Alan do to save his father, and himself?
His uncle Rodrigo's place is in a housing project of mini-casas, part of a decades-old scheme of ‘affordable housing' from the government. We see rows upon rows of identical units where even the bare necessities are hard to come by. The uniform design of the housing complex stirs up feelings of discomfort, despite the whitewashed facade. As Alan quickly finds out, it is easy to lose your way when everything looks the same.
It is hard to lay low, however. On top of this threadbare and inhospitable environment, the neighbors - led by Francisco Barreiro from Jorge Michel Grau's breakout hit We Are What We Are - claim that Rodrigo owed money and his debts are now Alberto's debts. The community self-governs itself, effectively cutting itself off from the rule of the city it lies outside of. Alberto’s only choice is to return the favor with equal aggression, drawing the ire of the whole community. Tension grows as everything that happens in this community is now Alberto and Alan’s fault.
Much of the story’s focus is on the isolation and loneliness that Alan experiences once they take over his uncle’s home. At times Michel Grau treats this with light-hearted humor yet there are stewing undertones of rebellious youth. No thirteen-year-old boy wants to be pent up in a stuffy old house. Rabia en espanol translates literally to ‘fume’ and you can see that in the young actor Maximiliano Nájar Márquez’s face during escalating confrontations with his father. He does start to fume the longer he is kept indoors and he starts lashing out at Alberto. Only a handful of films to his credit and already Maximiliano stars in two films (the other, 2019’s Los lobos) where he sits out his days waiting in tiny rooms? This kid needs a better agent.
Alan has to get out but he does not dare go out the front door so he finds his way up onto the rooftops where he can walk freely up and down rows of homes without anyone spotting him.
But even up on the rooftops, Alan is still by himself, and lonely. Painted the same uniform brick red the way Michel Grau captures these red rooftops with a deep depth of field they nearly resemble a desert wasteland, stretched out before Alan, as far as his eyes can see.
He meets a strange shut-in named Marco and befriends Yanet (Heusera’s Mayra Batalla) whom he met when first entering the gates of this housing project. Her strong, indigenously-rooted beauty is a lure to the local boors but she has some affinity for Alan and his father, possibly rooted in something that was going on between Rodrigo and herself. Counter to Marco’s idiosyncracies Yanet is as close to a mother figure as Alan has now.
Counter to its English-language title we found Rage to be one of the more sedate werewolf films we have seen. It is a mystery film first, a path of discovery of who is responsible for the strange events going on around their impromptu home. With the slow, meditative pace acts of violence or their aftermath stick out more. Michel Grau is not aiming to overwhelm but to shock his audience in minute bursts. He is building towards an end effect, a culmination of anger and fear in all our players that breaks out in bloody violence in the end.
Jorge Michel Grau fiddles with werewolf lore in a way that he has a creature in his story that is more disturbing than horrific, one that is difficult to shuffle off into a fantastic realm. While on the subject of creatures, we believe we caught a subtle nod to the classic creature features from the world of Universal Horror during the climax - minus the pitchforks. Otherwise, astute horror fans will think that they already have an idea of what is happening. Still, Michel Grau manages to slip past those expectations and make you doubt if you really did have it figured out before the story draws close.