Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Guatemala/France, 2019. El Ministerio de Cultura Y Deportes de Guatamala, La Casa de Production, Les Films du Volcan. Screenplay by Jayro Bustamente, Lisandro Sanchez. Cinematography by Nicolás Wong. Produced by Jayro Bustamente, Gustavo Matheu. Music by Pascual Reyes. Production Design by Sebastián Muñoz. Film Editing by Jayro Bustamente, Gustavo Matheu. Golden Globe Awards 2020. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
Horror as allegory for sins of the past is used to great effect in this politically tinged chiller. An aged Guatemalan general is preparing for a summary judgment from a tribunal that has been called to look into his alleged crimes against the country’s Mayan population many years earlier. At night while in bed, he hears the voice of a crying woman and believes one of his servants is playing tricks on him; except for his housekeeper, his entire staff, all indigenous, abandon their posts and leave his palatial compound because, his family thinks, they’re afraid of what will happen after the trial ends. He is convicted but the judgment is annulled by an overpowering judicial body, which coincides with the appearance at his doorstep of Alma, the new young woman hired to work as a servant in the house. Mostly wordless, with haunted eyes and long, mythically beautiful hair, she makes her way around the house performing her duties while the general’s wife, at first determined to believe that her husband is suffering because of the lies of grumbling, ungrateful masses, begins to have terrifying dreams of another life. Director Jayro Bustamante emphasizes visual inventiveness without actually resorting to gory imagination, there is gothic beauty in the textures of the indigenous characters’ clothes, the scene of one woman’s testimony at trial is disturbing specifically because it can be taken seriously and not because it has been designed to thrill. The horrific imagery is similarly grounded, scenes of inhumanity related through supernaturally influenced memories affirm the evils of colonialism by literally forcing an alternate perspective on the unbelieving, terrors on par with all the ghosts and ghouls you may have hoped to see in this stylish, moody, and thoughtful film.