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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Is That You?

As the movie opens, thirteen-year-old Lili (Gabriela Ramos) sits on her bed humming to herself, pasting photo cut-outs into her journal, and ignoring the sounds coming through the wall. Her parents, Alina (Lynn Cruz) and Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadiós), are in the next room. Eduardo is speaking harshly and Alina’s ankles are covered in rashes. It’s quickly apparent that this is not a happy, loving household – visually signified by their house’s dank, shabby, and stark interior.

Writer/director Rudy Riverón Sánchez’s debut feature, “¿Eres tú, papá? (“Is That You?” in English), is classified as a horror film but it’s possibly best described as a drama, though the tense oppressive atmosphere created in the film does at times seem more in line with a horror movie. The photography is, more often than not, confined to the small dimly-lit rooms of the family home where Lili and her mother are controlled by the domineering Eduardo. Since Sánchez is more interested in implying the horrifying over out-right showing it, things are mostly left to the viewers’ imagination. The audience is all too aware of what’s going on inside this house, they don’t need to see it.

Alina finally decides to make her escape, waking her daughter in the middle of the night to try to flee the house. Confusingly, Lili herself denies taking part in the escape, retreating to her parent’s bedroom and threatening to wake Eduardo if Alina leaves, showing Lili’s devotion to the man despite his behavior. Has Alina attempted to leave before? Is she trapped there more by her love for her daughter than terror of her husband? The next day, Lili tells her father of Alina’s attempted escape, embellishing it with a lie that his employee Carlos (Jorge Enrique Caballero) was waiting outside for her.

One thing leads to another and Eduardo goes missing, the audience is aware of where he goes. Lili winds up in contact with a spiritualist, Caridad (Eslinda Nuñez), who gives her a ritual to perform at her house in order to help Eduardo find his way back to them, producing unexpected results.

Composers James Williams and Owain Kelly accent the grim visuals and the characters’ emotions with an overbearing orchestral score full of shrill strings and deep rumbling bass, reminiscent of the scores heard in films like “The Conjuring” and “Insidious.” The soundtrack does more to cause discomfort for viewers than the film’s visuals, embellishing what might have otherwise been a dull-straightforward narrative.

This cooperation between audio and visual isn’t enough to save this movie. The characters behaviors and their decisions often don’t make sense, especially from Lili. Her father doesn’t treat her all too well either and he frequently tells his wife the only reason she’s being allowed to do something (such as being allowed to have dinner for the night) is because Lili begged him. Once Eduardo disappears, the direction of the story feels odd… Shouldn’t Lili be somewhat relieved at her father’s disappearance? The actors all portray their characters in the same aloof and detached manner. This behavior perhaps makes sense for Lili and Alina, but not so much for Carlos and Caridad.

Even as the film progresses to more typical horror elements in the film’s final act, Sánchez leaves things to suggestion, raising questions on how exactly the film’s final events should be interpreted. “Is That You?” isn’t entirely gripping. By the time the film reaches its ambiguous end, you might find yourself not caring too much about what happens to any of these characters.
Review by Bret Oswald

Available on DVD and VOD August 13

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