April 16, 2021 Embryo (Movie Review)
When Embryo made its premiere at London’s FrightFest in 2020, the world was introduced to a new blend of Horror and Sci-Fi straight out of South America. Well, some of the world. For the rest of us, Embryo arrived to On Demand on April 6, 2021 thanks to Uncork’d Entertainment.
It begins much as many Horror flicks do: a couple goes hiking in the wilderness to get away from it all and find peace. Once they set up camp for the night, Kevin (Domingo Guzmán: La otra cara del espejo series, Hidden in the Woods 2012) professes his love and puts a ring on it. Then Evelyn (Romina Perazzo: La comodidad en la distancia 2014, Mimimesis short 2016) makes an all too common mistake by leaving the tent in the middle of the pitchblack night, in her underwear, no less, to stumble out into the wilderness to investigate an odd noise. She subsequently goes missing, only to turn up pregnant and very, very hungry.
What follows includes interspersed footage of two similar cases in which other women—Carla (Evelyn Belmar: Hidden in the Woods 2014, Downhill 2016) and Paulina (Paulina Facuse: Mi Primera Vez 2007, Toro Loco 2011)—have gone missing in the area under equally bizarre and disconcerting circumstances. These found footage moments are brought to life by the acting talents of Carolina Escobar (Amistades Inconvenientes 2008, Hidden in the Woods 2012), Cristian Cuentrejoa (Toro Loco: Bloodthirsty 2015, Cydonia 2021), Yuri Caceres (Dirty Love 2009, Downhill 2016), Giordano Rossi (Ámbar series, La Jauría series), and François Soto (Dirty Love 2009, Toro Loco 2011).
Directed by Patricio Valladares (Toro Loco 2011, Downhill 2016), who co-wrote the story alongside Barry Keating (Downhill 2016, The Rift: Dark Side of the Moon 2016), Embryo packs a lot into its succinct 72-minute runtime. Which is both a blessing and a curse, as the film is a slow burn that never fully embraces any of the tension that it begins to build. Resting on its foundation of a rather banal Horror and Science Fiction blend that has a splash of Cronenbergian influence, as well as echoes of 1995’s Species, the film also includes artwork that seems to be inspired by the legendary H.R. Giger. Yet, while it draws from some of the greats, the film fails to do enough to set itself apart from its endless competition.
Much of this is due to its lack of character and plot development. As it stands, it is a story that builds towards thrills, only to suddenly switch to found footage pieces that, while supporting the main plot-line, each begin anew when it comes to creating something eerie. With minimal dialogue, this means that anything that Embryo sets out to achieve is seemingly lost with each switch back and forth between the past and the present. This is particularly disappointing when it comes to the case of Cuentrejoa’s Detective Jorquera, a character that ties all three of the women together and offers an additional, more intriguing plot-line. With proper editing to its screenplay and replacing its emphasis, Embryo could become a Supernatural Thriller about the credibility of an alcoholic detective who sees little gray men.
As it stands, the film is an exploration of three intermingled paranormal case files that suggest that alien beings are attempting to breed a master race with Chilean women. A bit bizarre, sure, but it is still an intriguing offering out of Chile. Presented in Chilean Spanish with English subtitles, the screenplay is purportedly based on true stories of extraterrestrial encounters out of the southern region of Las Trancas. In this, Embryo (Embrión in its native land) presents itself as a filmic take on an urban legend: according to the film, the town of Los Lleuques is a hotspot for paranormal activity, particularly the forests of Snowdevil Mountain (which appears to be fictitious). Certainly there are some parallels between this tale and the reported UFO activity across Chile, particularly in nearby San Clemente, although it’s doubtful that there are many claims of aliens siring hybrid Chilean offspring.
Either way, the entire premise of Embryo feels rather generic as far as Sci-Fi productions go. Without offering up any spoilers, let’s just say that there’s nothing terrifying within the film, and the eerie moments are few. Taking the approach that the less you see, the more frightened you will be, Vallardes generally chooses to build tension and atmosphere rather than presenting his viewer’s with cheap scares. Although, there is an attempt to incorporate some blood and gore, but the special fx make-up fails to deliver anything close to a nauseating thrill.
So without any character development to speak of, it’s hard to become truly invested in these characters. Flipping between Evelyn’s story and the ‘found footage’ cases that echo her current predicament, the film chooses to bank its success on its story development, which is there, but rather weak. So, what does it all amount to?
Well, Embryo shows us how Evelyn transforms from happy-go-lucky fiancée to flesh-craving mother-to-be. How she feels about this experience is left to our imaginations, and whether or not she will eventually dine on Kevin is also one of life’s great mysteries. Thankfully, the film does show great promise for Vallardes, who certainly understands how to align the pieces to make a cohesive story, and one that draws from some of the masters of Horror and Sci-Fi. With some further development, we’re pretty sure that he can convert even the most subtitle-loathing American to Chilean Horror. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Embryo 3 of 5 stars.