Frightfest 2018 ‘Crystal Eyes’ (Mirada de Cristal) Review (THN)

Recreating bygone eras is a tricky business. Most attempts suffer one major drawback – try as they might, they just aren’t the genuine article. A way round this is to nail every little detail, from the font of the opening titles right down to the special effects. This gives people the impression they really are watching something from the time of grainy VHS and good old-fashioned slasher antics.

Crystal Eyes (Mirada de Cristal) pulls off that trick, but goes one better and creates something entertaining and inspired in its own right. Writer/directors Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano have crafted a fiendishly simple homage that stays absurd throughout without veering into spoof territory.

When drug-addled supermodel Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) dies during a fashion show, the emptiest of industries in mid-80s Buenos Aires tries to fill the void. To this end a tribute is planned, which in effect is a clambering exercise for models looking to take the top spot. But there’s a crazed killer at large offing the glitterati in various and visceral ways. It could be any number of the shallow, vindictive and memorable “personalities” on display. Or it could be Alexis herself, risen from the grave with a Giallo-fuelled grudge.

Despite the genre trappings (which the filmmakers revel in) the action has some unusual touches worthy of David Lynch, though in a league of their own. The title track alone is barmier than a box of frogs with lipstick on, part of Pablo Fuu’s synth wave soundtrack which exists on permanent overdrive.

Everyone is acting like they’re in a telenovela, spouting a raft of exposition-heavy dialogue so judging the performances is pointless. Endelman and Leandro Montejano have a real eye for vivid characters and the small touches they introduce are fantastic. At one point a character walks around in heels having just got out of the shower, and a strategically-placed stone backside also raises a chuckle amongst the chills. The malevolent protagonist (played by the brilliantly-named Issis Trash) is creepy yet ludicrous and the action plays out against the backdrop of stylized sets, grimy basements and old architecture.

Every so often you can see the film is shot on digital but given the Eighties pop video vibe that’s a quibble. You could also argue this is more an overextended sketch than anything, but I was truly taken with it.

For casual viewers the nature of the film will be irrelevant, but hopefully they’ll be drawn into what for me was quite a unique mix of elements. Crystal Eyes is a blast and one of the best evocations of the era I’ve seen. A minor triumph and an instant cult classic.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

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‘Verónica’ Review (Frightfest, THN)

A psychologist (Arcelia Ramírez) lives in a secluded mountain location, having sworn off treating patients for good. However when a call comes in asking her to see Verónica (Olga Segura), she decides to try and crack the mystery surrounding this confrontational yet sensitive figure. The professional thinks this is a getting to know you exercise. Verónica believes that as walking stereotypes they know each other already. From there a battle of wits unfolds, rapidly developing into something more intimate and unnerving.

Shot digitally with stark black and white cinematography and showcasing a chilly, fog-strewn landscape, it’s clear we’re in safe albeit sinister hands with directors Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran. Together with writer Tomas Nepomuceno they’ve conjured a classic thriller scenario. The psychologist’s house with its exposed brick walls contrasts with the great outdoors and its connection to primal instinct and rebirth. Segura is quite hypnotic as she and Ramírez test each others’ boundaries. There’s a chemistry between them that keeps the tension simmering, alongside Daniel Wohl’s pulsating score.

The helmers build the intense atmosphere gradually and when things get erotic it makes sense rather than feeling exploitative. “Chaos makes for better honey,” Verónica remarks as she describes the habits of insects in a sequence so sweltering you could probably fry an egg on it. The filmmakers keep the visual trickery to a minimum, letting the action do the talking, but there’s one extended take that delivers in spades on the “weird yet sexy” front. Horror-wise the movie doesn’t get in your face but a scene involving bloodied splinters in a glass of water sticks in the memory.

You could argue the conclusion doesn’t tie together as well as it should but I was by no means disappointed. This is the directing team’s debut feature and I’d be more than satisfied if it was coming from an established name. The production company call themselves The Visualistas. “That sounds like a boast,” I thought. Well they weren’t kidding. Verónica could be the start of something special.

 

This review first appeared on THN.