Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Hidden Face (2011)

Now this one was a big surprise from Colombia! In his "The Hidden Face" (2011), a Spanish-Colombian production, writer-director Andres Baiz takes a rather simple premise, disorganizes the story a little bit, adds a rather interesting gimmick and makes the film work based solely on it, and even manages to keep us glued to our seats!

How does he do that? Well, it all begins when an up-and-coming orchestra conductor, Adrian (Quim Gutiérrez) finds a video message from his girlfriend Belen (Clara Lago) saying that she is leaving him and that this was the only way to end their arguments! She also asks him not to look for him and that she loves him but cannot stay on with him. A distraught Adrian immediately takes to alcohol, visits a nearby bar, meets a beautiful waitress Fabiana (Martina García), who somehow instantly takes a liking for him, and soon ends up in bed with him!

One wonders how a young girl can be so dumb as to take a drunk stranger home! Nonetheless, you tend to excuse these unconvincing developments that happen rather quickly in the life of our protagonist, and move on as Fabiana practically starts to live in with Adrian in his isolated mansion-like house, in a quiet setting, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. A beautiful house, with surroundings that seem to be right out of some nature painting, make Fabiana fall in love with the place.

But there’s something sinister about it. Fabiana who loves to bathe in Adrian’s rather luxurious bathroom starts to hear things, possibly from under the bathtub or from within the bathroom sink. Water filled in the sink automatically creates ripples. 

She begins to think that the place is haunted by a ghost and complains to Adrian, who, of course, promptly laughs it all off. Fabiana gets increasingly freaked out as the happenings in the bathroom get weirder. More shock comes in for Fabiana when two cops, investigating the disappearance of Belen, show up at Adrian’s door and it is established that he is a suspect, for Belen is untraceable. Halfway through, we enter a flashback mode that provides a background of Adrian’s relationship with Belen. This back-story gradually reveals the mystery behind her disappearance and subsequently piques your interest in the remainder of the film.

It is the structuring of Baiz’s screenplay that intrigues you. In fact, the narrative device used in the film isn’t new to those acquainted with some earlier Spanish thrillers/dramas. For example, Baiz’s story-telling style closely resembles that of some of Pedro Almodovar’s later films, in which the essentially non-linear narrative has a series of long flashbacks that contain big plot related reveals.  

They come out one by one in a layered fashion and gradually surprise us instead of the now famous one-big-shocking-twist-in-the-end tactic! Baiz’s film also brings to mind J.A. Bayona’s horror film "The Orphanage" (2007). Although the plot itself is completely different from this film or any of Almodovar’s films, the narrative is organized in a somewhat similar fashion. Baiz uses this form as a clever maneuver that pays off. 

It is all the more commendable because just when you start writing off the film as a pedestrian spook story with cheap jump scares, Baiz brings in his trump card that ironically twists the story in a fashion that pulls you right back in and restores your attention! He also adds a bonus in the form of POV shots and repeats some scenes by making us look at them from an entirely different perspective later in the film, that further makes us commend the director’s creativity. Baiz builds a considerably claustrophobic thriller with a minimal setting with three primary characters and therein lies his talent. He keeps you hooked despite some predictabilities interspersed within its twists. It is interesting how, at one point, the story gives out a feel of an atmospheric gothic horror fiction.

However, a thriller like this doesn’t come without its holes, a couple of glaring ones too. But it is Baiz’s handling that makes us see through the imperfections, and focus on the greater concern of the culmination of the story. It is the final half hour of the film that is the most riveting and guaranteed to keep you guessing 'til the very end. It is another story that the eventual conclusion of the story could’ve been a bit more satisfying than the one chosen by our writers in an attempt to perhaps tone down the disturbing quotient. 

The acting leaves a little bit to be desired too, with Martina García being mostly expressionless and wooden. Her talent then, lies in getting naked, which she does on several occasions in the film. Lago is decent, but again, slightly disappoints when she has to emote and doesn’t really come across as authentic. The only performance that rises above the rest is by the lead actor Gutierrez, who gets it right for the most part, although it is alarming how the length of his stubble doesn’t seem to change across time gaps!

Nevertheless, the superb story-telling, rife with nail-bitingly suspenseful moments especially in the final act, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the haunting background score and beautiful cinematography, capturing some breathtaking locales in the plush countryside in Colombia are enough to make "The Hidden Face" a substantially satisfying film experience.

Score: 8/10

**Warning: DO NOT watch the trailer on youtube. In what could be a huge marketing blunder, the trailer reveals an important plot twist in the film!**
 

5 comments:

  1. Wonderful review. This sounds like it would be just our cup of tea.

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    1. Thanks Las Mayanas..comment and feedback much appreciated!

      I do hope you enjoy the film!

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  2. Nice review, Aditya. I am curious where you found the pictures. Are they screen captures from the DVD, or are they from some Web site? They are much better than the pictures I found.

    The Grouch

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    1. Yes sir, Grouchyeditor...they are screen captures I took myself from the DVD I watched, on VLC Media player, after tweaking the picture quality a bit! :)

      Thanks for stopping by and for the feedback. Much appreciated.

      And I did read your review too, from your FB post...in a strange coincidence, on the same day that I was done watching the film!

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  3. 'Virginia Casta' ...film to start shooting

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