Starring Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Luis Alberti, Carmen Beato, Fernando Becerril
Directed by Isaac Ezban
Two things piqued my interest when it came to Isaac Ezban’s latest slice of psychotropic sci-fi, The Similars. The first was a promotional booklet, handed out at this year’s Sitges International Film Festival, brimming with beautiful bearded babes – a sight that needs to be seen to be believed. Sadly, I didn’t manage to fit the film in there, but when Joe Dante tweeted that it was the best film he saw at Morbido Fest, I just had to get my mitts on it.
Having now seen it, there’s no suprise as to why Dante loved it as it shares so much in common with his “It’s a Good Life” segment in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. Nor does Ezban have any qualms in confessing his intention of crossing over to another dimension, citing a plethora of “Twilight Zone” episodes and many rainy nights as his chief inspirations.
Set on October 2, 1968, The Similars precedes the Tlatelolco Massacre, considered part of the Mexican Dirty War, when the government used its resources to suppress political opposition. This serves as a perfect springboard for Ezban to blend in his sci-fi elements as a metaphor to something disturbingly close to home. The supernatural element is about as bizarre as they come as the small band of characters (male and female) trapped inside a bus station begin to bear an uncanny resemblance to the hipster-bearded Ulises (Sánchez Parra), and it’s not long before we have a Chuck Norris convention situation on our hands. Sure, The Similars pokes plenty of fun at the golden era sci-fi it’s aping, but having the characters turn into one and the same person serves as a potent metaphor for society’s loss of identity and how our appearances play such a large role in shaping our singularities.
Keeping most of the action in such a cooped up location also means you need the characters to be as disparate and as charismatic as possible, and Ezban provides that in leaps and bounds: Cue the station kiosk attendant, the cleaning lady, a man desperately trying to reach the hospital before his wife gives birth, a ranting witch doctor, and a heavily pregnant woman, all soon joined by a mother and her mysteriously ill child and a student making his way to Tlatelolco. The tension among the various characters works particularly well when paranoia sets in and the group members begin to form alliances, ultimately turning on one another given their failure to comprehend just what the hairy hell is happening. Top kudos to child actor Santiago Torres, who pulls off a crazily complex role at such a tender young age.
The whole aesthetic of the film really harks back to science-fiction fare of the ‘60s too. Isi Sarfati’s use of filters to desaturate everything and kill most of the colour, combined with scratches and reel change circles, gives the film a gorgeous retro flavour. The real winner in this department is the old school camera technique. Gone is the current fad for handheld cameras in favour of swooping shots and perfectly choreographed cinematography tracking the actors in perfect harmony with the dialogue to give the film a frantic fly on the wall feel. Edy Lan’s grandiose score also keeps things firmly anchored in the swinging ‘60s, seriously intensifying the plot and inflating the small-scale set beyond proportion.
Extra special plaudits to the makeup team, Marco Antonio Hernández and Cristian Perez Jauregui, as they pull off an insanely remarkable job of transforming the cast into Sánchez Parra’s character. This rings particularly true when five o’clock shadows start sprouting on the leading ladies’ chins and they end up looking like anything but those infamous macho stone throwers in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Fans of Rod Serling’s eternally essential TV show are in for a real treat as Ezban nails that very same formula into the ground. Much like 2013’s Coherence, this is sci-fi in its rawest form: a “Big Brother” style experiment with human guinea pigs making the rashest of reactions when placed in unfamiliar and incomprehensible surroundings. While the unscrewed setup definitely won’t be for everyone, it shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly as Ezban never resigns to the predictable, wrapping baffling plot devices around literally everything. This ambiguous and offbeat nature definitely warrants your attention and should find audiences revisiting the film time and again to ferret out the pieces of the puzzle they missed the first time(s) round.